Hong Kong protests: We champion democracy abroad, but our own doesn't look so good

The reality of the situation is that we live in a country that looks increasingly undemocratic

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The Independent Online

From the Arab Spring to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, there is always a fascination from the British public when there is a pro-democracy movement in a distant part of the world. The current pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and the British reaction to this is the latest example of how obsessed we are by the potential spread of democracy to areas we perceive to be autocratic and resultantly un-British.

The press will cover it frantically and ordinary people will show solidarity with the protestors, urging them on from a far and condemning the harsh crackdowns that usually follow. Social media is littered with links to major news outlets and one doesn’t have to go far to find an image of rather rough looking police guards with gas masks on.

Such an obsession with democracy elsewhere clouds the political situation at home. Whilst there is a belief that the political system here is more advanced than it is in many areas out east, the reality of the situation is that we live in a country that looks increasingly undemocratic.

Three parties dominate the political spectrum with senior politicians from all three tending to be white, male and privately educated at one of England’s elite public schools. The lack of choice is alarming and partially explains how a party such as UKIP is able to poll at 17 per cent.

On the 26 of September the British parliament voted on whether to authorize air raids to fight Isis in a vote that was won overwhelmingly 524- 43. Regardless of your view on the air strikes, the convergence of the political parties on this issue is worrying for the state of British democracy. Likely fearing their party whips, only 24 Labour politicians, six Tories and one Liberal Democratic voted against the strikes. The major political parties converging on key issues – for another example just look to the united front they demonstrated on the Scottish referendum - brings into question how much political choice we really have

As well as a convergence on policies (such as an adherence to neoliberal economic policy) there is a feeling – highlighted by Oxfam’s report ‘Working for the few’- that the rich have greater access to policy making. The cash for questions scandal that saw Patrick Mercer exposed for essentially taking bribes crudely demonstrates that money buys influence. Civil servants also regularly leave their jobs to look for positions in the private sector in what is known as the ‘revolving door’ between public and private sector. Ordinary people simply do not have anywhere near as much influence over policy as big corporations or the rich. An explicit example of this is how the ‘big four’ accountancy firms assist the government in creating tax law and then use their intimate knowledge of the system to advise clients in how to avoid paying taxation. This is not to mention the existence of a swelling House of unelected Lords. Or the revelations about GCHQ spying on British citizens.

There needs to be attention paid to popular movements abroad. But this should not draw attention away from the fact that democracy in this country is significantly overstated. Deals such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Treaty, described by George Monbiot as representing a ‘full-frontal assault’ on democracy, are becoming more common in a globalized and corporate dominated world order. With income inequality at levels not seen since the 1920s one has to ask: who is this so called democracy actually benefitting? A small group of establishment elites have a strange hold over British politics, shaping policy and perpetuating inequality.

Britain’s brand of democracy is increasingly resembling an oligarchy, rather than a full-fledged, representative democracy.

Maybe it is time we started focusing on our own problems, rather than patronizingly preaching to those abroad.

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