Democracy Denied By Kelly Grehan

On Friday, as on so many other occasions, we saw evidence that our democracy does not function properly.  As is now well known a tory MP, Sir Christopher Chope was, singlehandedly able to stop a bill which would have made taking photographs up womens skirts a crime in its own right from progressing.

According to Gina Martin, a campaigner to bring about this new law, Chope told her shortly afterwards he did not know much about ‘upskirting’ but objected to it ‘on principle that it had not been debated.’

So Parliament’s archaic procedures have allowed one man to prevent progress in protecting women, despite his having no real knowledge on what it was about.

Whilst the upskirting bill got all the headlines yesterday, he and his gang also blocked bills making tyres more than 10 years old on a public hire bus or coach an offence, stopping paid for parking in Hospitals and extending FOI requests to public contractors and Housing Associations – a successful days work for them then.

Chope, who has been awarded a Knighthood for services to Politics, has a long history of sabotaging Private Members’ Bills – sometimes by talking at length, known as filibustering, and other times by shouting his opposition as the bill is called.

Other indefensible political decisions he has made include:

Raising an eleventh-hour objection to the Hillsborough debate taking place because he believed a debate about MPs’ pensions was more important;

Objecting to the second reading of the Alan Turing (Statutory Pardon) Bill in the House of Commons – causing the Government to use the royal prerogative of mercy instead;

And blocking revenge evictions being made illegal.

Sir Christopher Chope has tried to claim his actions represent some kind of moral crusade against private members bills.  I think this is nonsense.

If he disagrees with private members bills why did he support one attempting to give employers the right to opt out of paying the minimum wage?

It is apparent that Sir Christopher Chope is a vile man, and it is very unfortunate that by representing the safe Tory seat of Christchurch it is unlikely he will ever be held accountable for his voting record, despite experiencing the wrath of his fellow tory MPs on Friday.

But what is surely ridiculous is that all MPs present at the second hearing of a bill are allowed to block the progress of a bill, simply by shouting ‘object’.

This debacle is just the latest of numerous examples of one or two MPs being able to prevent bills that would make life better for ordinary people.

For example in  2015 Labour MP Karen Buck introduced the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill intended to ensure residential rented accommodation would have to be provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation.  The bill was ‘talked out’ meaning that it was not put to a vote and dropped.  In fairness the proposals were reintroduced in 2016 as an amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill when 312 tory MPs voted against it and the amendment was defeated.

Then there is that beacon of non-democracy – the House of Lords.  

Now, I’m in favour of a revising chamber, but the House of Lords needs reform.  It  is the largest parliamentary chamber in any democracy, surpassed in size only by China’s National People’s Congress (2987 members).

Following 13 new peers being appointed in May there are now 785 peers, none of whom have been elected by the public – they are there either because of the family into which they are born (92 hereditary peers), or because they have been appointed.

It is therefore another area of our ‘democracy’ ripe for undemocratic processes.  

It also costs £93 million per year, of which £20 million is paid direct to the Lords themselves.  It is also noted that the chamber only seats 500!

Despite half of Britain’s now following no religion, 26 places in the House of Lords are reserved for Church of England Bishops – the UK being the only democratic country in the world to give seats in its legislature to religious representatives as a right.

The presence of the Church of England in the House of Lords entrenches a privileged position for one particular branch of one particular religion.

The House of Lords Appointment Commission was established in 2000, to appoint non political peers, but most of the life peers were appointed by Prime Ministers – so inevitably we end up with career politicians continuing their career – often after being rejected by voters not long before.

Then we have the ridiculous situation of the UK government being propped up by the DUP; a party whose values are so at odds with the majority of UK citizens that it is hard to fathom that they exist at all.

In a ludicrous twist of fate, their measly 10 seats have left them as Kingmaker of the UK Parliament, with power over our democracy not deserved by their voting share.

Further threats to democracy come from the fact the arrangement between the tories and DUP mean that the potential of favouritism towards one Northern Ireland party is sufficient to undermine the government’s insistence that it is impartial and  it appears to introduce a political bias which may breach the terms of the Good Friday agreement.

No one in England, Scotland or Wales voted for the DUP, but yet they now take centre stage in deciding what bill will be successful in the House of Commons in return for Northern Ireland receiving an extra £1 billion over 2 years (So there is a Magic Money Tree).

Then we have the strange situation brought about by privatisation of various industries which mean corporations keep any profit they make, but any losses are bailed out by the taxpayer – who had no say in the decisions that led to the loss in the first place – the railways are a prime example.

The UK is already one of the least regulated economies in the developed world, with little or no scrutiny or democratic debate, the policy-making process has been brought under an unprecedented level of control by private economic interests.

The very essence of democracy is that all decisions should be in the interests of the common good.

Private companies primary purpose is to generate profit for shareholders and this is often in conflict with the common good, so companies, often receiving money from the taxpayer such as those running the railways, care contracts, health contracts, refuse services and countless others often act contrary to the public good.

Up until recently the public were fed the nonsensical line that ‘regulation was bad for democracy’ and those being paid by public money (Serco, Carillion etc) acted pretty much as they liked despite their profits coming from the tax coffers.

Where will this all end, who will draw a line in the sand to protect the principles of democracy: ‘for the people, of the people, by the people.’

So all in all, our democracy needs some amendment as power spreads further and further away from the people, undermining the very principle of it.