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.


Anonymous said…
custard any just over 600 turds.
Sean said…
for be it for me to defend this corrupt lot but "Remember the debate about Iraq? We marched, we debated, we won the argument. They invaded Iraq anyway."

Just plain wrong,check the opinion polls the day before invasion, as for the march, 4 million people on the same day played or watched sport.

debate is one thing, votes in the commons is what matters, and hopefully will always be the thing that matters.
Sean, the bloated size of the government now means there's a nice hefty payroll vote that scuppers most 'debates' before they start.
Olive said…
Just plain wrong,check the opinion polls the day before invasion

@Sean- could you post a link please? All I've found is the EOS Gallup poll from Jan 2003 showing 70% opposed to war with Iraq.
The Heresiarch said…
I don't think the problem over the Iraq invasion comes down to numbers opposed. All governments that are worth their salt do things that are unpopular at the time, in the greater interest. The fact that a million marched, and that polls suggested widespread opposition (or even support), is less relevant than the fact that the decision was not properly debated, even within government. What the non-released minutes showed (according to Clare Short's recollection) was Tony Blair saying, "We're going to invade Iraq, right?" and the rest of the cabinet shuffling their feet. And that example could be repeated many times. In a sense, then, the sense of public alienation from the decision-making process is a symptom of a more serious malaise, which is that decisions are made for the wrong reasons, in the wrong way, often by people who are in no sense democratically accountable and may have vested (or future) interests. Which is why we end up, for example, with ruinously expensive, unnecessary, intrusive and insecure IT projects.
A very valid analysis.

Labour warp democracy and accountability in a way that no other government has ever matched. They abuse consultations to the point of making them worthless and refuse to put their ideas to the test before implementing.

It is shameful and it is going to hurt them badly in 2010.
Olive said…
The fact that a million marched, [...] is less relevant than the fact that the decision was not properly debated, even within government.

Indeed. If only Harriet Harmon's court of public opinion


had been in session
PissedOffandBored said…
The ability to rationalise with this government has proportionally declined in relation to the length in time in power they have had. There is no debate in the country anymore. There are numerous splinter groups/ interest groups/ and political parties. The agenda is being set by these and not the population. Even to write a comment you have to register with a blog, in general!
Wasp_Box said…
Here's an example of the consultation process in action. Just sickening.
David Bull said…
I take your point about legislation being railroaded through without proper debate, but is there any reason to believe that the Tories, the only other party likely to win an election, would be any different?

If the Conservatives win the next election, in four or eight years time won't we all be having the same discussion? Or a different discussion but with the same end result - we need a change, let's give the other lot try this time.

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