Custard Lady Speaks
Leila Deen, writing for Comment is Free:
Yes, custard is a simplistic response to endemic corruption. But at least it highlights the inescapable fact that has somehow eluded these commentators: this government is impervious to mature debate. Remember the debate about Iraq? We marched, we debated, we won the argument. They invaded Iraq anyway.
What about ID cards? The government is losing quite ostentatiously. As debates go, it's a massacre: they can't even manage to explain why they want ID cards. But rest assured, have them we must. Because this government has nothing but contempt for mature debate. They just decide what they want to do to us and then do it.
Nothing exemplifies this style of government better than Mandelson's involvement in the Heathrow decision. Not merely unelected but wholly unelectable, Mandelson is a cuckoo in the nest of British democracy, bullying the other chicks into serving his malevolent corporatist agenda.
I imagine that, politically, I'm quite far removed from Ms Deen and her Plane Stupid campaign, which campaigns against airport expansion. But it's hard to disagree with her analysis of the state of political debate. Of course, the government stages "consulatations exercises" before passing controversial legislation. But these are invariably little more than PR exercises, rigged to produce the answers the government was looking for, and many of the consultees usually turn out to be, in one way or another, on the public payroll.
The best analysis I've read recently of how the lawmaking process operates was by Filthy Smoker on DK:
1. The government feels like giving you a good kick in the bollocks.
2. You don't want to be kicked in the bollocks. You just want to be left alone.
3. A fake charity turns up wielding some bogus study and demands that you be kicked in the bollocks and pelted with turds.
4. The government conducts a bullshit consultation with some other fake charities and, in the spirit of compromise, concludes that you will be kicked in the bollocks but not pelted with turds.
Result: you get kicked in the bollocks. The government wins.
And if the charity is very good at its job, this will be quickly followed by the fake loophole:
1. The fake charity produces a study showing that being pelted with turds is not as bad as taking one in the Jacob's. They say that the government is being inconsistent by allowing people to kick you in the plums but not pelt you with turds.
2. The government agrees and, having set a precedent, it can't be seen to allow one and not the other.
Result: You get kicked in the bollocks and pelted with turds. Democracy has prevailed.
Political debate scarcely exists any longer in Parliament. Measures that prove too controversial to slip by unnoticed by the zombies of the Westminster press may be withdrawn, but you can be sure they will try to sneak them back when no-one's looking. The government dropped plans for secret inquests - Gordon Brown even trumpeted the fact as proof of his love of liberty - but they're back on the agenda and will probably pass this time. Most new laws don't go through Parliamentary scrutiny of any kind, being passed through secondary legislation. And there's quite simply too much legislation for more than a tiny percentage even to be noticed before it's too late.
Meanwhile pockets get stuffed, political pension schemes padded, honours handed out, cosy arrangements with private companies entered into, and there's nothing much the public are able to do about it. So what can anyone do, apart from throw custard?
Ms Deen achieved something with her custard stunt. She cheered the nation, which needed cheering up. She brought publicity to her cause, which she has exploited with aplomb. She presented Peter Mandelson with a challenge, which he rose to: his proportionate and good-humoured response (what a contrast with John Prescott's) raised the Business Secretary in many people's estimation, including my own. So her action was far from in vain. But it is no alternative to a functioning political process. Once the custard is cleared up, Peter Mandelson is still in power, the runway is still on track despite the overwhelming opposition of local residents, and Ms Deen will have to think up a new stunt. Which will also achieve very little.
The depressing thing is that, increasingly, custard is all we have left.