January 21, 2022 12.44 pm

John Marriott: Are we now living in an anocracy?

Despair over western ‘democracy’

“Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you?”, the late Tony Hancock famously asked, “Did she die in vain?” It’s a few centuries (over eight to be precise) since King John put his mark on that famous Charter at Runnymede and I’m just wondering whether it was all worth it.

Joking aside, I really am in despair as to the direction of travel that western ‘democracy’ appears to be taking. In particular I refer to the ‘democracy’ on both sides of the Atlantic, although the situation in many parts of western and eastern Europe does not fill me with joy either.

I suppose that most of you, except, possibly, our friend, Barry Turner, may not be familiar with the word ‘anocracy’. To be honest, neither was I until recently and, every time I type the word into a text, my rather ancient iPad doesn’t recognise it, insisting on underlining it in red. Well, it’s apparently a form of government, which Wikipedia tells me “mixes democratic with autocratic features”. As Teresa May famously asked: “Sounds familiar?”

In both the USA and the United Kingdom our ‘democratic’ institutions have moved little since the 18th century. In the former, its much vaunted written constitution, designed when the country was still a collection of small colonies clustered on the eastern seaboard of the continent, is now struggling to accommodate the aspirations of the changing population of a superpower. In the latter the parliamentary system, which may have worked on a severely limited franchise, when Britannia ruled the waves, is now failing to cope with the UK’s demise as a world power and its inability to find a way of living in relative harmony with its near neighbours let alone with the rest of the world. The judgement of the late Dean Acheson is as valid today as it was back in the 1960s. Put simply, “Fings ain’t wot they used to be”. I reckon that, after the past few years of upheaval, most of us would agree.

Both the USA and the U.K. have something else in common. Both are in grave danger of becoming an anocracy, where compromise and bipartisanship are becoming impossible and could continue to prove a fertile ground for populism and those who profit from it. The fact that such characters as Donald Trump and Boris Johnson could ever have achieved high office is surely an illustration of this worrying tendency. That both politicians still enjoy loyal support from a large section of voters and that their respective parties appear afraid to distance themselves from them does not give me confidence that the kind of democracy I favour will be able to push back against the demagogy that continues to hold sway in places like Beijing and Moscow?

I shall be watching with great interest to see how true democracy fares across the channel in the next few months. There would appear to be several states, including Hungary, Poland, Italy and France, where it would seem to be on trial. As for us over here, let’s see whether Johnson, to save his neck, continues to scatter policies about rather like the Labour Party did daily in the run up to the 2019 General Election. Defund the BBC? Militarise our coastal waters? Redraw our parliamentary constituency boundaries? Make voting harder? Ban any form of protest? What next? The ‘big dog’ is still barking. When are we, or rather perhaps his handlers, going to put him out of his misery?

Judging by the events of the past few days, it would appear that ‘big dog’ has morphed into a cat with nine lives, currently on number eight or even nine, depending on your politics, and, of course, the Sue Gray Report on the goings on in No 10. My guess is that a certain Mr Cummings is also awaiting the findings of the report on ‘Partygate’ before he decides whether or not to throw some more petrol onto the bonfire of standards in public life, which this dysfunctional government represents.

John was a councillor for thirty years, finally retiring in 2017. A schoolteacher by profession, he served on the North Hykeham Town Council (1987-2011), the North Kesteven District Council (1987-1999, 2001-2007) and the Lincolnshire County Council (2001-2017). He was also a County Council member of the former Lincolnshire Police Authority for eight years until standing down in 2009. In 1997 he was the Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate for Sleaford and North Hykeham. He is currently not a member of any political party.