Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The limitations on the power of a government in a liberal democracy (cont) as illustrated by differences between France and Britain.

Astonishingly, given I’ve blogged about it before, there are still some people who don’t appreciate how difficult it can be for a government to do what it wants in an advanced liberal capitalist mixed economy democracy such as ours.

‘The government should do something’ is a frequent cry from, for examples, single-issue groups, naïve political dabblers or the sad powerless folk who lurk behind lace-curtains terrified by what they’ve read in ‘the papers’.

But there are many and varied forces which can prevent, or at least slow-down, government action. Powerful groups such as financiers, lawyers, doctors, the press and, to a lesser extent than in the ‘good old days’ trades unionists can do all sorts of things to box in our leaders. And then there’s the will of ‘the people’. Remember the Poll Tax ‘riots’ or the fuel protesters’ blockade?

France has a nominally right of centre government and yet has been unable to introduce a new contract of employment for young workers which would be laughably lax if proposed in Britain. Britain has a nominally left of centre government yet is unable to increase the price of petrol (it’s now cheaper here than in France) in order to invest the money raised in improving public transport. It had to rely on an independent mayor to push through London’s congestion charge.

France gives this casual observer the impression of being far closer to a socialist paradise that Britain does. They have wonderful railway networks, their towns are cleaner and brighter than ours, there seems more sense of communal responsibility than in England. And yet their unemployment levels are far higher than ours, racial tensions much worse and many in their government (including the Prime Minister) are unelected appointees.

It’s a funny old world, eh?


At 18:31, Blogger Bob Piper said...

We could learn a lot from the French about local democracy if we had not had successive Governments applying more and more central control over decision making to the extent that they've brought local democracy into disreput.

At 21:39, Blogger Hughes Views said...

You've pre-empted one of my future posts Bob - at the very local level the French are miles ahead of us. Watch this space.

What particularly makes me laugh about the Tories is the way they bang on about devolving power but:

a) their great heroine Mrs Thatcher took more power away from local councils than any other PM before or since


b) they often don't like the results of local decisions and then complain about post-code lotteries etc (see also earlier post)

At 00:56, Blogger Paulie said...

At the core of the problem in the UK, I'd argue, is the pernicious mix of a highly centralised political settlement (no bicameralism, and a cabinet picked by the PM rather than the other way around), and a highly irresponsible media.

At 09:53, Blogger Hughes Views said...

Paulie welcome. I confess that I had to look up bicameralism and my spell-checker doesn't like it. We and the French both have an element of it of course but an awful lot of power lies with the PM. In France, of course, an awful lot of power lies with the President.

Certainly our media is pretty dreadful and must take the blame for making so many people unnecessarily gloomy. The irony is, that by most objective analysis, compared with times past neither Britain nor France have any major problems that need to have a 'core'...


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