Fifteenth Democracy café was held at the Playhouse and two topics engendered vigorous discussion
Top of the ballot this time were the likely consequences of the Mid term elections in the USA. The Democrats had assumed control of the House of Representatives but the Republicans remained control of the Senate. The results should mean that things like the investigation into the alleged Russian tampering of the election and President Trump’s problematic tax affairs should get an airing.
The Democrats will need to tread carefully since they could fall into the trap of being blamed by the president for stopping programmes with the risk that people turn against them. How, someone asked, do you handle the rage felt by so many in America about the political system there? One problem with the American system is the size of the state makes little difference to the result. It was noted that President Trump and his policies are hugely popular in many parts of the country – witness some of the election rallies. People cheered at his comments and it was noticeable for example, that at a rally, women cheered his disparaging remarks about Christine Blasey Ford at the Brett Kavanaugh hearing.
We should not forget the power of state governors to influence events especially in states like Florida where they were able to prevent large numbers of people from voting and where there has been vote rigging in several elections.
The question of foreign affairs was also mentioned and the destabilising effect US policy has had in the middle east although in fairness, other countries like Russia and Iran have had a harmful effect as well.
The basic question though was how do you counter someone like Trump who seems not to believe in truth or reason? Truth becomes what you say it is and the spat at a White House press conference with a CNN reporter was in the news yesterday. A doctored video was circulated by the White House showing the reporter Jim Acosta seemingly attacking the female intern when the actual footage showed no such thing. If truth becomes just what you say it is, what hope is there? someone asked.
Should we do away with party politics someone suggested? Should party politics be ‘booted out’ in County Hall for example? There was some support for party politics however as a kind of bedrock set of beliefs that people could subscribe to. There was however the risk of dogma overriding otherwise sensible views.
Did not social media have a role to play? It was easy now for a wide range of views to be published, many of which might be scurrilous, inflammatory or just plain wrong. It was much easier for conspiracy ideas to gain traction and indeed, such ideas were often very attractive. With decline in the print media and the dramatic fall in newspaper readership, there was much less mediation of extreme views. This provided the opportunity for politicians like Trump to prosper. It was primarily about emotions and telling people what they wanted to hear.
The conversation moved away from the US to UK politics and the role of the select committee system was much praised. They were cross party and were able to investigate a topic in depth. Their role and influence had increased once appointments were wrested from the whip’s office: previously appointments were made on the basis of favours and the committees were largely ineffective.
We ended this session with a brief discussion on the likelihood of another crash (likely); the performance of the governor of the Bank of England (poor) and the effects of the ending of Bretton Woods.
Well it cannot be long before this topic arose for discussion and the People’s march a few weekends ago; the continuing problems of the Irish border; Jo Johnson’s resignation the previous day, and the announcement of an investigation by the NCA into the mysterious funding – or rather source of funding – of the Brexit campaign and the role of Aaron Banks had reinforced the view by some, for a second referendum. There was some discussion about when such a referendum could be held and its possible effect. If agreement could not be reached in the next few weeks, what then? Could there be an election even …?
It was noted – as Lord Adonis had said at the Salisbury for Europe meeting on Thursday – that people needed to be informed about what they were being asked to vote on. Since we do not have an agreement yet, we would still be voting with only incomplete knowledge of the future arrangements. Was there any point therefore? The view of Brexit supporters was that they knew what they wanted, had made their position known and people had been free to vote other than the way they did.
The point was put that the first Referendum was an in-principle question and it was left to parliament to sort out the details. This was in contrast to the Irish referendum for example where every voter received a copy of the Good Friday Agreement. In Ireland they also tried the Citizen’s Assembly idea – a similar idea the Salisbury Compass group is keen to promote.
It was noted that the Brexit debate had engendered a great deal of anger and there was a need to detoxify the whole question. If a second referendum was held, would it not stoke up the toxicity of the whole subject? Some of the hostility (which can be seen in the below the line comments in the Journal) arose because people who voted for Brexit were feeling patronised by Remainers for having voted to leave because they had not apparently, understood the implications.
The point was made that as time went by, demographics were changing (if that isn’t a truism). Gradually, the predominantly leave supporting older voters were – not to put too fine a point on it – dying off and younger voters – who were generally in favour of the European Union – were becoming eligible to vote. It was noted however that they did not actually vote in great numbers. Education was an important factor and there did seem to be a relationship between voting patterns and education attainment levels.
A familiar Brexit argument is the alleged control over the UK by ‘Brussels bureaucrats’ or more usually ‘unelected Brussels bureaucrats’. In the European tradition, bureaucrats are unelected. The question one participant asked of people who said this was ‘what has the EU stopped you doing that you wanted to do, or, made you do that you didn’t want to do?’ He said he was still waiting for an answer…
One of the puzzles of the whole debate about the EU was that if you looked at the major problems we have experienced as a nation over the last say, 30 years, how little they, Europe, had to do with it. The Iraq war was entered into because the USA wished us to; the 2008 crash originated in the USA with insolvent banks; the obesity crisis was in part at least due to American foods and eating habits, and so on. The much loved NHS was under threat, not from Brussels, but from major American health firms who are keen to get hold of chunks of the service as the government privatises it. It was our relationship – the much vaunted special relationship – with the States which was a factor in these problems yet people’s ire is solely directed towards Europe. In no way is it clear cut but it does seem that all the criticism is directed solely at the EU with almost none directed across the Atlantic.
Two interesting debates with some diversions into ID cards and the likelihood of the next crash.
Next meeting is on Saturday 8th December at 10:00