openDemocracyUK

It's a people's protest

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
29 April 2010

In a powerful analysis that echoes many of the arguments published in OK, distilled into a strong, convincing case, Andreas Whittam Smith argues that we are witnessing a historic protest movement that is bound to make a lasting change even if it is frustrated. I'm for it not being frustrated and am convinced we need to work together to keep up the momentum after the vote itself in a week's time. Andreas writes,

protests have three stages. They take shape, they make their point and then they subside. But they always succeed in changing things. In this election upset of 2010, the parliamentary expenses scandal is the biggest influence. This is what has caused voters to desert the two main parties. For it suddenly ripped the veil from our eyes. We could at last see clearly how low is the quality of Members of Parliament. We had been over impressed by stately titles for too long – Honourable Members, Privy Councillors, Knights of the Realm, Ministers of State, Secretaries of State and the like. As a result we had not comprehended the sordid reality of contemporary politics.

Surely these people, we had said to ourselves, cannot be on the make, cannot be too lazy to attend debates except when their votes are required, cannot have passed Bills without proper examination, cannot have acquiesced in a diminution of their powers in relation to the government of the day, cannot have been silent about the war in Afghanistan, cannot have carried these same careless habits into high office as ministers? But they have done so, unfailingly, repetitively. Three MPs are currently standing trial. Do we know of any other organisation of similar size to the House of Commons (650 people) that has as many as three of its number facing criminal charges? In fact a stricter reading of the laws of theft, embezzlement and fraud would have brought 10 times that number of MPs before the courts.

Things have got to change.

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