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Democracy In Britain ‘Catastrophically In Decline’

democracy in decline

A study by Democratic Audit into the state of democracy in Britain conducted in 2012 that looked at the previous ten years warned that democracy was in “long-term terminal decline” as the power of corporations keeps expanding, politicians become less representative of their constituencies and disillusioned citizens stop voting or even discussing current affairs.

Political decision-making, and how fairly the system reflects the population it represents is a principle most powerfully embedded in the concept of one person, one vote. But it doesn’t seem to be working for Britain.

Britain is the only nation left in Europe that continues to use the antiquated ‘First past the post‘ electoral system.

Britain is one of only two countries (the other is Canada) in the 34 nation OECD with an unelected parliamentary chamber and it is by far the largest of any democracy in the world. The majority in the House of Lords are life peers who are appointed by the Monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister, and the balance on the advice of the House of Lords Appointments Commission. None are elected democratically by citizens.

Democratic Audit revealed in their study that there had been 74 areas of democratic improvements but that these improvements were very modest in scope. This was overshadowed by 92 concerns and 62 emerging concerns that democracy in Britain was indeed going in the wrong direction. And remember, that was in 2012.

Almost immediately after election victory this year, the Conservatives announced the impending destruction of the Human Rights Act and dismantling of the Freedom of Information Act along with threats of increased surveillance and lower thresholds of security for citizens with a new government drive towards banning encryption.

The report also says that public faith in democratic institutions is “decaying”; there is a widening gap in the participation rates of different social classes of voters; and an “unprecedented” growth in corporate power, which the study’s authors warn “threatens to undermine some of the most basic principles of democratic decision-making”.

Since the 2012 report, we have now seen the emergence of the truly alarming and secretive TTIP agreement. Millions of European citizens are very concerned about what they consider to be a corporate ‘stitch-up’ and it’s of no surprise that faith in democratic principle is decaying. In the largest study ever undertaken by the EU commission 97% of respondents stating they did not support TTIP with the end result being that governments are proceeding anyway. It is not hard to see why sentiment towards the political process is vaporising.

If democracy in Britain is supposed to representative of its citizens then its core principle is surely about engagement in the political process, political parties and having trust and faith in both. Since 1950 when voter turnout was 84% of the electorate, participation by voters has crashed by nearly 20%. Even the hotly contested election of this year produced an anaemic response barely better than the previous worst three turnouts in over 100 years.

The less democratic Britain becomes or even feels, the less people turn up for elections. This is evident with the European elections. The lowest-ever vote in a European election of 24% was in 1999. The UK’s first ever European vote of 32% was in 1979. The European election average turnout for the UK is just 33.5%.

And who can blame such a low turnout. Following the appointment of the unelected Jean-Claude Juncker last year at the head of the European Commission, a further 27 unelected commissioners were appointed, for the following five years, to their powerful posts in the European Commission.

The biggest decline in voter turnout in Britain started in 1979 under Thatcher, continued under Blair, the coalition and now Cameron.

Only 1% of the electorate are now members of political parties, this is an historic low and overall membership levels continue to decline.

Democratic Audit used over 40 international comparable datasets, including the 34 nation OECD, EU nations, Nordic (Denmark, Iceland, Finland,Norway, Sweden) nations, the six nation consensual (Austria, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland) democracies and five nation (Australia, Canada, Ireland, NZ and UK) Westminster democracies. In virtually every case, the UK ranks below the ”EU-15 average. The contrasts between the UK and the Nordic countries was particularly stark.

The numbers are telling. The Nordic nations have consistently higher democratic scores in almost every metric. Voter turnout is almost 20% higher, participation in political parties is 400% higher and the proportion of female politicians is almost double at 41%.

Britain’s ‘Global Absence of Corruption’ ranking is 20th place, the average for Nordic nations is 4th. Global rankings for press freedom in the UK is 26th, for Nordic nations it’s 2nd. In Rule of Law Britain ranks 12th and lags far behind the Nordic nations who occupy 4 out of the top 5 slots. Lower Corruption, higher press freedom and consistent use of the rule of law in the Nordic nations – accounts for a better functioning democracy.

As the report continues to highlight – “Public faith in democratic institutions is decaying, and reforms aimed at restoring public confidence in democratic arrangements have tended to prove, at best, ineffectual and, in several cases, counter- productive”.

 

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Finance

The Huge Racial Injustice Hidden in Our Credit Scores

Worried about the use of big data for corporate gain? Look not further than the credit scoring system in the US, which has profound impact on our daily lives and is a source and perpetuator of systemic racial injustice.

In response to aggressive marketing by the “big three” multinational credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – employers, landlords and insurance companies now use credit reports and scores to make decisions that have major bearing on our social and economic opportunities. These days, your credit history can make or break whether you get a job or apartment, or access to decent, affordable insurance and loans.

Credit reports and scores are not race neutral. Rather, they embed existing racial inequities in our credit system and economy – to the point that a person’s credit information serves as a proxy for race.

For decades, banks have systematically redlined black and Latino neighborhoods, refusing to make conventional loans or locate branches in non-white and lower-income areas, notwithstanding laws that obligate banks to meet the credit needs of all communities they serve, consistent with safe and sound banking operations. Thanks to financial services deregulation and the advent of asset-backed securitization, a multi-billion dollar “fringe” financial system has filled the void, characterized by high-cost, destabilizing products and services, from payday loans to check-cashers – which banks typically also own or finance.

People and communities of color have been disproportionately targeted for high-cost, predatory loans, intrinsically risky financial products that predictably lead to higher delinquency and default rates than non-predatory loans. As a consequence, black people and Latinos are more likely than their white counterparts to have damaged credit.

This firmly-entrenched two-tiered financial system has had devastating consequences for entire neighborhoods of color. Starting in the 1990s, financial institutions began flooding historically-redlined neighborhoods with predatory mortgages that ultimately led to the meltdown of the global economy. Waves of foreclosures hammered neighborhoods of color for more than a decade before the crash and black and Latino Americans bore the brunt of the ensuing foreclosure crisis, recession and spiking unemployment. Droves of people turned to high-rate credit cards to cover even basic expenses, contributing to the consumer debt crisis and spawning a bottom-feeding debt-buying industry that purchases old debts on the cheap and then uses the courts to extract judgments disproportionately from people and communities of color. These judgments are then listed in their credit reports, which also brings down their credit scores, in turn limiting a whole range of opportunities.

Although Wall Street is no longer pumping toxic mortgages into black and Latino neighborhoods, people and neighborhoods of color continue to reel from the foreclosure crisis, which many predict is far from over. Meanwhile, racially discriminatory and subprime auto lending are on the rise, payday lenders continue to extract billions of dollars from low-wage workers, and student loan debt has surpassed the trillion dollar mark. One in five Americans has unpaid medical debt, with more than half of all African-Americans and Latinos carrying medical debt on their credit cards. By definition, people who take payday loans and have uninsured medical debt are struggling, and are likely to miss payments. Missed payments translate into decreased credit scores.

This information – unpaid medical and credit card debt, student loans, and mortgages, as well as foreclosures, bankruptcies, debt collection judgments, wage garnishments – appears on people’s credit reports and lowers their credit scores. And the credit bureaus make humongous profits by selling this information about all of us.

In New York City, a coalition of labor, community and civil rights groupsrecently won the strongest ban on employment credit checks in the country. It’s a major economic justice victory, but we know it’s just a first step. We knocked down this discriminatory barrier because there is no demonstrated connection between a person’s credit history and his or her likely job performance or character. Credit checks can also block applicants with no or “thin” credit histories, including many students and immigrants. Rather, using credit information to make hiring decisions – or to rent apartments, set insurance terms, or extend credit – is a clear way to perpetuate inequality, poverty and segregation.

Credit reports and scores are mirrors of our manifestly two-tiered financial system, and more broadly our system of racial wealth inequality and unequal opportunity. In our culture, indebtedness – and certainly failure to pay one’s debts – is deeply entwined with concepts of morality. The insidious notion that our credit history speaks to our reliability as human beings is largely taken for granted.

The credit bureaus and the information they sell have out-sized influence over our lives. It’s time to stop these pernicious practices and the systemic injustices that underlie them.

 

daily alternative | alternative news – The Huge Racial Injustice Hidden in Our Credit Scores

via The Huge Racial Injustice Hidden in Our Credit Scores

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