WE SHOULD, I suppose, be
grateful that we do not have politicians like those in Greece or
Italy. Far-Right MPs in Athens have been arrested on accusations of
being part of a criminal gang responsible for extortion, possession
of unlicensed weapons, and - most chillingly - murder, after the
disappearance about 100 immigrants.
Italy is being brought to
the brink of crisis by Silvio Berlusconi, that acme of political
self-interest, who has collapsed the coalition government after
only seven months, amid moves to expel him from parliament after
his conviction for tax fraud and accusations of sex with under-age
Some might argue that the
situation in Italy is proof of the practical inadequacy of the
fairer-sounding system of proportional representation - just as
others could point to the paralysis to which government in the
United States is prone, in its split of power between President,
Senate, and House of Representatives, and its locked-in cycle of
elections to each.
Let us leave arguments of
systems of government to another day. What recent events have
thrown up more urgently is the increasing attraction of politicians
to a venal populism which is distinctly unhealthy for our public
life. But it is not just Mr Berlusconi's refusal to allow Italy's
budget deficit to be curbed, or the wilful refusal of the neo-Nazi
Golden Order party to face the reality of Greece's economic plight.
It is as alive at home, too, as the party-political conference
season has repeatedly shown.
I am not just talking here
about the delusional fantasy offered by Britain's blokeish
poujadist-in-chief, Nigel Farage of UKIP. Indeed, he has been
anxious to row back from the further reaches of BongoBongoland,
where sluttish feminists fail to clean behind the fridge, by
sacking the most populist of all his MEPs, Godfrey Bloom.
But buy-a-vote tactics have
infected all the main parties. So we had Ed Miliband piously
announcing to the Labour Conference that, in 20 years' time, his
children would say to him: "Were you the last generation not to get
climate change, or the first generation to get it?" His answer was
to freeze fuel prices - hardly the most obvious start to reducing
Then George Osborne joined
in the election bribes by promising motorists that he would freeze
duty on petrol, so that he could electioneer that petrol would have
been 20p a litre dearer under Labour. The Conservative Party
Conference also heard Michael Fallon, the energy minister, pledge
to scrap proposed green taxes.
These are odd priorities
within days of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's
announcing that man-made global warming is now 95 per cent certain,
and that, if the science is more complicated than previously
thought, the situation is no less urgent (Comment, 27 September).
At least Nick Clegg did not hammer the environment further with his
pre-election bung of free school meals for the middle classes.
But the prize for the
queasiest piece of political crowd-pleasing went to the Home
Secretary, Theresa May. The woman who in opposition called her
Conservatives "the nasty party"seems in office determined to fulfil
the prophecy. She announced a plan to deport foreign criminals
first, and then make them fight their legal appeal from abroad.
There is about this a suggestion of "shoot first, ask questions
later", which smacks of state vigilantism.
Pursuit of the popular vote is seducing our politicians away
from the common good. The will of the majority is not synonymous
with what is best for society. Responsible politicians need to face
up to that, not to exploit it.