Gordon Brown, the UK PM, will be calling for a general election very soon; he may even become the first to make that call in the Commons.
This is happening at a time when trust in the parliamentary process is low, perhaps even at an all-time low; my perspective is clouded by reports about expenses and second homes and cash-for-questions, cash-for-honours, cash-for-lobbying, cash-to-protect-oil, cash-for-something-or-the-other.
Against this backdrop, it would seem prudent to surmise that one of the issues this election is likely to be fought on is that of trust.
Trust. I’ve always seen trust in the way I see beards. It takes a long time to grow a decent beard. And minutes to lose the beard. So it is with trust.
Which is why I find the behaviour of our elected officials bizarre in the extreme when it comes to the treatment and passage of the Digital Economy Bill. If you want to know more, read Cory Doctorow here.
Did I say “elected officials”?
My mistake. I shouldn’t have said “elected officials”. Because when it comes down to it, many of the players in the Digital Economy Bill are anything but elected officials. Let’s take a look at who’s pushing the Bill and some of the key people involved in the debate.
Lord Mandelson. Unelected. Appointed. Powerful friend of the Powerful. Friends include Lucian Grainge (Universal) and David Geffen (Asylum, Warner, Dreamworks SKG). Lord Birt. Unelected. Appointed. On the Supervisory Board of EMI. Lord Triesman. Unelected. Appointed. Chairman of the FA. Lord Clement Jones. Unelected. Appointed. On the board of a company that makes its money on intellectual property law, and publicly showing himself to be of the opinion that civil breaches are similar to criminal offences.
A bunch of unelected officials. With clear ties to vested interests in music, film and intellectual property rights.
I’m used to bias. We all have bias. I think it was Einstein who said that common sense is the collection of prejudices we build by the time we’re eighteen. We all have masks and anchors that frame what we think and say.
But this is not about bias alone. Because, besides being unelected officials, we need to look at the way the Bill is being bums-rushed through Parliament. With no time for a proper debate. With a complete disregard for all the debate that has taken place earlier, proper or not.
Major amendments being put through in the days before Easter, in the days before the calling of a general election. Major amendments that would give presidential powers to ministers with scant regard for law or for human rights. Major amendments that would not stand the close scrutiny and heated debate that would normally take place. Major amendments being relegated to the horse-trading of wash-up, at a time when many of our elected officials are too busy thinking of a precious break away from it all, at a time when many of our elected officials are preparing to fight to be re-elected.
So we have unelected officials. With clear and present bias. Driving a process that is as far removed from trust as it is from democracy. Hoping people won’t notice.
People are noticing. And people will notice. There are many people who will make sure that people will notice.
The Digital Economy Bill now represents a wonderful opportunity for would-be next-Parliament MPs. Show us why we should trust you. Show us that you will stand in the gap and uphold democratic rights and due process. And think before you alienate a good slice of your electorate.
I guess dinosaurs have to be allowed their ritual dances as they exit the evolutionary stage. And this Bill, flawed as it is, may still become law. Because of clever timing, apathy. And the Power Of Not Being Elected.