We’re all big fans of democracy. It’s a core western value. We’ve invaded countries to impose it, obviously believing that democracy flows from the barrel of a gun.
Over recent days, however, democracy has come to bite our current western dispensation on the bum. We have been told that deficits must be reduced across the western world and that can only be done through austerity programmes of various levels of severity.
This is all well and good until people say ‘no’. Many in the UK have said ‘no’ through demonstrations and latterly local elections. In Greece, the ‘no’ has been more emphatic with at least 60% of the electorate voting for anti-austerity parties. The response of European institutions and the IMF is to tell the Greeks to try again because their version of democracy hasn’t delivered the right answer.
Even more interesting, in Ireland voters are responding to a new tax – being levied to pay the nation’s bond holders – by not paying it. Large numbers, perhaps a majority, are refusing to pay the 100 Euro levy and daring the government to prosecute them.
So, I’m wondering whether we believe in democracy at all. Our current government assumes that we’ll all get it if they shout louder, as if we’re the kind of foreigners that the English have always assumed will understand if we only speak louder and more slowly! The problem is that it’s the government that doesn’t get it (and this applies as much to the EU institutions and the IMF). The voice of the voters is democracy saying ‘we’ve heard what you’re offering and don’t want it; so offer something else.’
That’s what the Greeks have said – and to a lesser extent the French (though it remains to be seen whether Hollande will be that different from Sarkozy) – and what the Irish are saying in their defiant tax strike.