Thursday, March 01, 2007

Golden Years

I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint.
- Hesoid, circa 700BC (possibly)
Not much has changed over the last 2,700 years.

Obviously, the previous sentence is complete crap. Lots of things have changed. But nostalgia for a non-existent utopian past is definitely still with us.

Philip Cowley, reader in parliamentary government at the University of Nottingham, has written a couple of articles on Comment is Free about how this nostalgia affects our view of the House of Commons. His latest is well worth taking the time to read.

Much as I loathe Blair, I have to say that I think he's got a point. There seems to be an awful lot of harking back to "the good old days" going on at the moment but those good old days never did exist. Blair has undoubtedly attempted to sideline parliament and his instincts are clearly undemocratic but the notion that parliament was the very model of representative democracy B.B. (before Blair) just doesn't stand up.

In fairness, the dissatisfaction many people feel towards today's MPs is about more than just nostalgia. For me, and I'm sure for many others too, parliament's failure to hold Blair to account for Iraq was an unforgivable abdication of responsibility. On a matter of the utmost importance, too many Labour MPs put their loyalty to Blair and the party above their responsibility to the nation and too many Conservative MPs were more concerned with political positioning than with doing the right thing.

More widely, in the information age with the Commons televised, 24 hour news channels, TheyWorkForYou and the rest, the public has the opportunity to be much better informed about the workings of parliament than was possible in the past. This means that the weaknesses and failings of the House of Commons are more visible than ever before. This, of course, adds unwarranted credibility to feelings of nostalgia but it really wasn't a whole lot better back then.

On the positive side, this new information age presents a genuine opportunity for real change too. As Cowley says, there is much that is wrong with the current system and much that can and should be improved. Stage one in the process should be to make sure we're not looking back at the golden years through rose tinted spectacles.


sam_m said...

"For me, ... parliament's failure to hold Blair to account for Iraq was an unforgivable abdication of responsibility."

No. If you're going to tackle this at source your complaint is with the people who voted Labour and returned Blair and his Party to power. They're the ones who've not held him to account.

Katherine said...

Well, the trouble with this sort of argument is that it is a short hop, skip and a jump to saying that it's all okay then, since it's always been this bad.

I remember reading a particularly badly thought out piece in The Times 2 once, which bemoaned the public's over-the-top compaints about corruption in politics and how we should be grateful because look at all the continental politicians getting away with all sorts and the public doesn't care there so why should we care here. The obvious point that came from that is that the very reason we don't have that much corruption in politics is BECAUSE we make so much noise about the stuff that is, relatively speaking, small beer.

I think the same could be said here. We complain loudly and vociferously, just as people did in the 50s and for the centuries before that - and thus things haven't got much worse and politicians don't feel as if no one is watching and thus they can get away with whatever they like.