Challenging the Outers’ Trump card of democracy

Monday 4 January 2016

Eurosceptics and the out campaign always revert to the Trump card of democracy in the in / out referendum debate. It is the magical elixir and core of their argument that cannot be challenged or contested. The EU, they contend, is made up of thousands of unelected, undemocratic, faceless bureaucrats who make our laws. But is the democracy aspect of their argument as watertight as they would have you believe? Let’s look at democracy in the EU and the UK and see which is more democratic.

The EU is made up of the following:

The European Parliament = MEPs that are directly elected by EU voters in their member states every 5 years. The UK has 73, more than every country except France (74) and Germany (96). Unfortunately they are mostly made up of people who do not defend the UK’s interests (and claim taxpayers’ money for the privilege of not doing their jobs).

The Council of the EU = Government ministers from each EU country that adopts and passes EU law together with the European Parliament.

The European Council = Elected Heads of state and leaders of EU countries and the President of European Commission. Sets the agenda and deals with complex issues that cannot be dealt with at lower levels of intergovernmental cooperation. It does not make laws (like a UK government cabinet meeting. Determines direction and agenda but does not make laws – that’s the Parliament and the Council of the EU).

The European Commission = Appointed by EU member governments. Commission proposes legislation that is given up to three readings in the European Parliament and the Council of the EU (just like UK governments proposing legislation to Parliament and the House of Lords – oops, the House of Lords is unelected). The proposals after this process of readings and changes and re-readings are either adopted into EU law or rejected.

Now let’s look at the UK.

The UK is a Constitutional Monarchy. Our monarchy acts as our Head of State and our laws are passed through Parliament (having been required to pass through an unelected upper chamber of the House of Lords). Monarchists and Eurosceptics will tell you that this is the ‘best of both worlds’.

The machinery of government and state – what could be described as the establishment – is not elected. These are life positions that are hereditary and are born into (like the Monarchy). Peerages are also given as a reward for helping parties win or stay in power, usually having been in the form of huge donations made during election campaigns. Hence if you’re rich enough you can buy a peerage and vote on laws without being elected. You’re then part of the establishment. You have power and influence. Doesn’t sound very democratic to me.

The honours system is also part of this. This looks nice, and what’s wrong with being rewarded for doing good things, goes the cry? The reality is much more sinister. In reality, lifetime peerages and honours are a system of establishment control and entry. They are a barrier and a palisade to true democracy and equality. They enable the permanent entrenchment and protection of unelected hereditary power, privilege and influence, forming a protective ring around the Monarchy and the establishment. That’s their raison d’être.

Britain’s Constitutional Monarchy also enables Prince Charles to pay no corporation or capital gains tax on his huge multimillion pound annual landowning income (£19.8m in 2015), and to only ‘voluntary’ pay income tax on the amount left over after business expenses. This amount paid is also not independently verified.

This is the democracy Britain lauds to the world.

Not a single person in EU institutions votes on or amends EU law who is not elected. In Britain there are 760, more than the entire ‘elected’ European Parliament of all member states: 751 (http://www.europarl.europa.eu/meps/en/about-meps.html).

The EU, then, is more democratic, more representative and more transparent then our own system of governance. So let’s hear no more mistruths and manipulation from the Eurosceptics on the question of democracy. If they have no stake in the privileged advantages of being part of our unrepresentative and undemocratic establishment, then they have been fooled and manipulated. If they have, then they are dishonest. Either way, steer well clear. There’s a reason why John Redwood only gives interviews at night.

This country will never be truly democratic and truly equal until the monarchy is politely asked to retire to Balmoral (unless it’s state owned of course) and we base our democracy on a proper written constitution, instead of the mouldy parchment of the Magna Carta that apparently represents the ‘best of both worlds’ of our oxymoronic ‘unwritten constitution’.

The Monarchy is defended to the hilt by calls of symbolism (Prince Charles – imagine what he would be like if he were king); tourism (Paris is one of the most loved cities in the world – who’d have thought it without a powdered Louis the XVI sticking his head out of the Louvre Palace? – watch that sash); admired around the world (Kate would soon be replaced from the covers of Uruguayan girls’ fashion magazines); charity work (the Royals can continue their fine charity work as private citizens, as they would no doubt be very keen to do); and the head of the Commonwealth (a bunch of countries too polite to tell us what they really think of us for what we did to them).

This is nothing personal – it’s a question of democracy and equality.

Bring back Thomas Paine, and let’s have the EU referendum open our eyes not just to the democratic realities of the EU, but also to the undemocratic realities of the UK.

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