Friday 11 June 2010

Politicians - Different Country, Same Lack Of Democracy

Think of New Zealand/Aotearoa and what images come to mind? More than 24 hours flight-time from Heathrow, imported lamb, the All-Blacks, Māori culture, its splendid status as a nuclear-free zone, the excellent Whale Rider, the stunning backdrop to Lord of the Rings? Perhaps.

Probably not, though, politicians caught up in an expenses scandal involving the misuse of taxpayer's money on , amongst other things, the purchase of luxuries, alcohol and in one instance pay-to-view porn films - we thought we'd cornered the market in that one here in Britain. But, as the Press Association reports:

Former New Zealand government ministers used their official credit cards to buy pornographic movies, Bollinger Champagne, flowers, and even an airline ticket, official records have shown.

The first public viewing of more than 7,000 pages of credit card expenses booked by former Labour government ministers between 2003 and 2008 revealed hundreds of purchases outside the rules.Former Labour housing minister Shane Jones admitted using his ministerial credit card to pay for "adult movies," blaming it on being red-blooded.

You may be thinking: why on earth would a kiwi government minister risk paying for porn on an official credit card (actually, you may be thinking, with the internet awash with pornographic images, why pay for it at all?) The reason's the same in Zealand/Aotearoa as it was for our own MPs' expenses scandal - politicians never expected to be called to account for their actions.

For all the claims that elected representatives in capitalist democracies are in touch with their constituents, the reality is that election tends to bring greater isolation from the lives of ordinary people. The assumption that politics is best left to the professionals means that, whilst the rest of us know exactly what would happen if we abuse the office petty cash, the process of becoming a politician makes MPs believe, with a few honourable exceptions, that they exist above the rules that are imposed on the rest of us.

If our elected parliamentarians were really representative, there would be no question that up to 725,000 public sector workers would risk losing their jobs in order cover the cost of the bank bailout of more than £130 billion - whilst bankers received bonuses estimated at £6 billion in 2009, up from £4 billion the previous year. But the problem with our democracy is that it isn't particularly democratic - there are virtually no working class MPs, a third of them are privately educated and so it's hardly surprising that real power therefore remains in the hands of the tiny minority that make up their class.

No amount of tinkering with the electoral system will change this - whilst bullshit arguments like this one that " the public expects [cuts] and most people will be OK with it" simply make me despair about how far the centre of politics has shifted to the right.


Yesterday, the Robin Hood Tax campaigners highlighted a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), which explores the possibilities of taxing the financial sector. The report concludes that taxing the banks and a crackdown on tax avoidance is a fairer way to balance the UK budget than regressive measures that hit the public hardest.

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