Saturday, January 15, 2005

We, the lobbyists, in order to form a more perfect union

Peter Beinart has written a highly interesting article regarding Arnold Schwarzenegger's "State of the State" address to the California legislature. I have not read the whole of Arnie's speech, but it seemed to gain a favourable media reaction - quite cleverly written and designed as an attack on the political class. He began with the line "most politicians like to begin their speeches by announcing the successes of their rule. I would like to do the same. Last year, there were 300 days of sunshine in California. This year, there were 312." (Although this asks the question - why didn't he get such good lines when he was an actor?)

The point Beinart wants to make about his speech was Arnie's attack on gerrymandering. Whilst gerrymandering is in the finest of American political traditions - the term is named after Elbridge Gerry, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and delegate to the Constitutional Convention (who refused to put his name to the document) - it is manifestly against the principles of good government. When redistricting after a census becomes an exercise not in creating fair electoral districts, but rather an exercise in protecting jobs, democracy becomes a sham.

Because politicians are supposedly elected to serve their people. For all the faults of the British system, and there are many, the fact that politicians of all parties in safe seats still depend on the acceptance of their party for their career provides a clear incentive to continue acting in the wishes of the people. And, as far as I am concerned, politicians serve their communities far better when they have to justify their positions at elections - not know that they are going to be voted in because the voters would choose a monkey in a red rosette. (Incidentally, gerrymandering at the Boundary Commission is an under-appreciated tactic of New Labour - for a case in point, look at the shape of the Sedgefield constituency.)

A divorce of politicians from constituents is in no-one's interests. There is already a problem inherent in unrestrained capitalism that big business can stifle competition if allowed to become too powerful. Similarly, if politicians become too powerful, and people who effectively have tenure on their positions, then they can stifle effective movements from the populace. Instead, much shadier, less accountable groups (on all sides) set the political agenda for their own gain. Now that really is inimical to a proper popular democracy.