Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Who guards the guardians?

The incident between Ken Livingstone and the journalist from the gutter press has revealed the existence of an unelected Quango with the power to suspend or ban from office any elected councillor deemed to have brought their office into disrepute.
This confirms that today local councillors and mayors are not really the elected representatives of the people that they are generally supposed to be, but more elected civil servants charged with spending government money and subject to the same sort of disciplinary measures as ordinary civil servants.
The website of the so-called Standards Board of England is clear enough:
"If an allegation is referred for investigation, then an Ethical Standards Officer will carry out an independent investigation. If the investigation concludes that a matter is serious enough, they can refer the case to the Adjudication Panel for England. The Adjudication Panel is an independent statutory body who will make a final judgement. They may suspend a member for up to one year, or disqualify them from holding office for up to five years".
Ethical Standards Officers, what next! Not quite as sinister sounding as Ethics Police, but bad enough. Last Friday’s edition of the South London Press reported that two Lambeth Labour councillors had fallen foul of these snoopers, no doubt on a complaint from some other councillor with a grudge against them or anxious to score some political point. They were accused of printing "misleading" quotes from council officials in an election leaflet. "The Ethical Standards Officer also concluded that Councillor O'Connell improperly conferred an advantage on the candidate in the by-election" (see full report ). So these "Ethical Standards Officers" have now arrogated to themselves the right to comment on the contents of election leaflets. Leaflets from the conventional parties are notoriously full of misleading quotes, statistics and arguments, but it’s up to other candidates and other interested people (including us, which we do all the time) to expose these and for electors to judge for themselves. That’s the way democracy should work and the existence of the so-called Ethical Standards Officers with the power to censure election leaflets goes against this.
If they ban Livingstone from office simply for expressing a view (it's not as if he's been caught with his hand in the till) it would go against all the principles of democracy and freedom of speech. That would turn them into Thought Police. In a real democracy it would be up to the electors and no one else, and certainly not some unelected board of appointees with pretentious titles, to throw out an elected official. But we are not living in a real democracy, only a limited one where power is concentrated in the hands of the centralized State needed to enforce capitalist class rule and policies in their interests that go against those of the majority (such as going to war or running down essential local services).
In socialism, as a classless society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production, this dominating top-down structure, in which local councillors are virtually elected civil servants responsible to the State rather than to those who elected them, will be abolished. The power of the State, which operates from the concentration of centralized power in the hands of governments, will be replaced by a fully democratic system through which decisions would flow from the broadest possible social base to represent the views of the whole community. Councillors wouldn’t be subject to disciplinary measures, including being thrown out of office, by appointees of any central State. They’d be the delegates of those who elected them, subject to recall if they did’t carry out the mandate given them. Capitalism can’t operate on this fully democratic basis, because it is a class-divided society which needs to have an institution capable of imposing the will of the minority ruling class.

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