Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Useless, fraudulent incompetents?

I sort of sympathise with David Aaronovitch here.  He’s arguing, basically, two things.  The first is that a liberal democracy is better than an authoritarian dictatorship (well, duh…) and arguments that the increasingly intrusive powers assumed by the state would be positively dangerous in the hands of an authoritarian Government are meaningless.  If an authoritarian dictatorship were to take power, it would ignore the existing laws altogether, or make new ones, or do what the hell it wanted.

It’s a good point.  The famously liberal Soviet constitution of 1936 didn’t matter a damn.  Hitler came to power legally, and then changed the law utterly.  I think it’s worth protesting against the spread of the surveillance society on its own merits, but that’s a separate argument. 

Aaronovitch’s second argument is that we are too quick to dismiss all politicians as useless fraudulent incompetents.  What about, he says, the things that went right?

The new schools. The defeat of bullying. The new hospitals. The waiting list reductions. The expansion of nursery education and of parental rights. The city regeneration. The Right to Roam. The many public sector IT projects that - quietly - worked. Northern Ireland. Were these all done by the wrong people and despite the broken system? So, in a messy adult democracy you get achievements and you get stupid errors.

I agree with the sentiment here, but most of these examples are a bit specious.  The defeat of bullying?  What does that mean?  The expansion of parental rights?  To what?  What public sector IT project?  If we’re left with the Right to Roam as the prime defence of the British system of government it’s a pretty shocking state of affairs.

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