Friday 10 December 2010

Waving Goodbye to Democracy

This week has given us the proof that democracy has become little more than a word, rather than a practice. Both in Britain and the United States, government has bared its fangs quite openly.

In the US, various payment services have cut off Wikileaks after suddenly (and, coincidentally, all at the same time) discovering it had violated their terms of service. PayPal at least had the decency to admit pressure had been put on it by the US government to sever any ties with Wikileaks. Both Mastercard and Visa took action right as it was revealed that the US government had put pressure on Russia to allow them to continue doing business in that country and not be frozen out by a new system. A quid pro quo? You hardly need to ask, do you?

And all this because the US is highly embarrassed by the cables coming out into public view of the way it does business and conducts policy. The Emperor’s new clothes have been shown to be nothing more than a mass illusion. More than that, it certainly ripped away any last vestiges people might have held of Obama as a man of real principle, standing up for right and justice.

On this side of the Atlantic, the coalition forced through a measure not really discussed before the election, without the mandate of the people, and only because a number of Lib Dems have been willing to blatantly break a written promise they’d made. Kudos to those who stood firm to their pledge, and those who resigned positions to be able to vote no on increased student fees, especially the Tories.

More worrying is David Cameron’s position on the student demonstrations. He can only focus on damage done by a few of the thousands out there, not the general sense of outrage and betrayal. Nor does he mention the wanton violence of the police, some of whom seemed to relish the violence, and to operate in ways that are, at best, on the edge of the law. The tactic seems to be to punish the young for daring to speak out. If, as Cameron says, those who broke laws should feel the full force of the law, that should apply equally to the police. Ideally, no one should get hurt, but when the police are so provocative (banging weapon on shield or metal as an aggressive tactic is older than the Romans), charging students on horseback, squeezing into smaller and smaller spaces, lashing out indiscriminately and dragging a protester from his wheelchair, this isn’t a force there to serve the public, it’s one meant to cow the public.

The focus of today’s papers is the horror of Charles and Camilla having to face a very small group of angry protesters. They represent the type of entrenched privilege this government wants to perpetuate at the expense of the less well-off. I’d have been angry to see them, too. What is truly worrying is that the head of the Metropolitan Police felt that the armed bodyguards showed great restraint – as in not shooting anyone.

The good news is that the Web makes fighting back possible. Hackers have attacked Visa, Mastercard and Paypal. Tweeting, texting, and other things help savvy protesters evade police and also quickly document outages. A generation has become politicised. In both the long and short term, that’s a good thing. In Britain these demonstrations are likely to continue and grow as the cuts truly start to bite. As well they should.

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