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May Was a Bad Month for Democracy

CH | 03.06.2007 19:45 | Analysis | Repression

You might think that a month that (finally) saw the resignation of Tony Blair would be full of hopeful events but it seems like there's an unusually large number of reasons to be cheerless if you are a person who likes democracy and human rights.

In Scotland, of course, the main event was the joke / sham / disgrace that was the Holyrood elections. 200,000 people, 2% of the electorate were disenfranchised by a combination of confusing ballot design and non-arrival of postal votes. If that doesn't sound much, consider that this is the equivalent of 15,000,000 in a US Presidential election, where 150,000 dodgy ballots in 2001 saw Bush scraping home.
Perhaps worse than the election itself is the lack of response. The Minister responsible, Douglas Alexander, hasn't resigned or even apologised. Small parties and Independent MSPs were effectively wiped out, leaving only the same four parties that people had been so unimpressed with in 2001. The SNP, barely the largest party, were left without coalition partners in what looks like a deliberate freeze-out by the 3 other parties. They've formed a minority administration but the Labour party were reported to also be preparing a legislative programme. While I'm not against a parliamentary deadlock per se, 4 mutually antipathetic parties are a recipe for government by catcall, not consensus.
All the Parliamentary wrangling and gossip has served to keep the papers distracted from the real issue: what happened with those ballots? An unholy convergence of interests means that no-one is looking for out for Scottish citizens. The media don't understand or like the small parties, the SNP are (nominally) in power, Labour are glad to escape a drubbing and the Lib-Dems are in tight with them (
For all the effect votes had in the election, we could have followed the Philippine example and decided on a coin-toss (
Meanwhile, Tony Blair resigns and despite months of speculation, lobbying and wasted energy by some activists, no-one comes forward to challenge Gordon Brown's coronation. No-one expects the authoritarian drift to end or Westminster to become more open or accountable. MPs voted to make themselves exempt from Freedom of Information legislation. A military biowarfare experiment over London begins with no meaningful information on risks to the public ( ID cards are shuffling into place, with the beginning of interviews for passport renewal. News of the scheme's cost over-run was illegally delayed until the day of TB's departure announcement (
Outside of Parliament, its repressive laws are starting to bite. Anti-war campaigners Milan Rai and Maya Evans were found guilty organising an illegal demonstration by reading out names of the casualties of the Iraq War. Two Iraq War “whistle-blowers,” David Keogh & Leo O'Connor, were jailed for leaking a memo, apparently about George Bush ( Absurdly, the contents are deemed so serious that even though its contents are apparently known, they can't be reported in connection to the mens' case.
The Metropolitan Police won a court ruling regarding London's Critical Mass bike ride. The “organisers” of the event are liable to inform them under the Public Order Act. Despite the ride being spontaneous and having no organisers, this could open the way for the police to take action against it in some way. More restrictions on freedom of movement were afoot in Stirling Sheriff Court, where a rich family attempted to have their estate exempted from the hard-won “Right to Roam” legislation ( The decision is due in Autumn.
In Germany, the police attempted to ban a march to the site of this year's G8 summit. Though a court ruled this was unconstitutional, that decision was overturned, leaving the march “illegal” again. Further flashbacks to 2005 were prompted by raids on social centres and activists where no charges were laid, but many “terrorist plot” headlines were garnered. As were, in a throwback to the Stasi era, smell samples from activists ( A solidarity demonstration in Edinburgh was harshly policed (, with cops reportedly saying “you have 20 minutes to demonstrate before we start arresting you.”
Globally, it was reported that Internet censorship was on the increase ( not restricted to “undemocratic” countries. Increased repression of the press was reported in Russia and Turkey,,2085395,00.html, though given the sycophancy of UK journalists, harsh measures are clearly unnecessary here.
So, potentially pretty depressing stuff. There's clearly no point hoping that voting will provide an alternative direction. Time to link up with friends old and new and take action against the forces seeking to control you...