Letter to Blunkett about democracy

23 March 2005

For those of you who missed it in today's Guardian (UK), here is openDemocracy editor-in-chief Anthony Barnett's letter in response to former home secretary David Blunkett's piece in that newspaper, which in addition to defining englishness feebly in our global multicultural times etc - tried to nick the phrase "open democracy". Scandalous! Below is the uncut version of the letter:

Letters Editors, The Guardian

22 March 2005

In his charivari of clichés and non-sequiturs, David Blunkett writes (Saturday 19 March), "We must look to an open, tolerant, inclusive England, which embraces the values of a Britain that still leads the world in terms of an open democracy…"

What rot. When we launched openDemocracy.net we wanted to distinguish our call for global argument from the closed democracies of the West not least that of Royal Britain. Here, our special brand of parliamentary democracy leads the world, if at all, in rule from above, centralisation and unaccountable power. Rare moments of defiance – such as we saw recently when the Lords objected to detention orders issued by ministerial diktat (what 'foreign' tradition did this idea spring from, Mr Blunkett?) – are usually crushed.

Yes, we need to teach citizenship and have ceremonies for those who join us. But the first lesson of civics is that citizenship needs a democratic constitution. It is by no means sufficient. It sure is necessary.

For a start such a constitution would have made the Human Rights Act our own. It is pathetic that after eight years and many essential improvements, a leader of New Labour calling for toleration and historic values cannot bring himself to mention a great reform that should be a matter for pride rather than electoral embarrassment.

Human rights too, which protect the weak from the strong, are essential for both citizenship and openness, not to speak of an Englishness for all.

If England can't do better than stuff like this from Blunkett, doesn't it deserve to be ruled by Scots?

Anthony Barnett

Founder Editor openDemocracy

Speaking of Blunkett: word is he is set for a speedy retrun to politics, having resigned with a cloud over his head in relation to an unfortunate personal issue.

And heres a plug for something we like: on the same letters page appears a letter from openDemocracy friend human rights lawyer Helena Kennedy. Speaking as a member of the commission of the Power Inquiry, an independent investigation into the state of British democracy (a good idea, as Ghandi maight have said), Helena has some choice words for Max Hastings who pooh-poohed the whole thing the previous day: "...low political participation is not caused by indifference," she schools Max, "For many, the frustrating reality is that there is no point getting involved or voting as it makes no difference to the decisions taken by the politicians... if you give people real influence, the particiaption will follow." You go, Helena. For more on the Power inquiries see Dominic Hilton's "Trust me, I'm a politician" here on openDemocracy.

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