Thursday, July 05, 2007

Shining Great Britain and its Parliamentary Democracy

With a smooth transfer of power to the next leader and popular handling of floods and terror plots by the new PM, these are the times for UK to feel giddy. Commentaries are pouring about pervasive ‘feel good’ sentiment in UK. Shining Sterling Pound rising to 26 years high against Dollar and generally sound economy add to benign economy backdrop. Outgoing PM Blair secured reasonable concessions against expanding EU bureaucracy and he is back in the lime light as the global Middle East Envoy; it is hard to miss the presence of UK in global affairs.

This is a remarkable turn of events for the country. Thriving Global Financial Market in London is essentially carrying forward the entire UK. If this market caused party continues for few more years, which is quite likely, London Olympics in 2012 will be the ‘graduation’ of these good times.

One can argue these are the fruits of Labor rule over the last decade. With the Iraq involvement reasonably contained, Blair gone, it is the problem essentially of USA only. In a way UK is off the hook. Good for the country and very right for the subjects of the crown.

While UK is getting solidly entrenched back in the global political and economical discourse; there are some questionable political policies PM Brown is intending to pursue. One of these policies is devolving power of declaring war from PM to Parliament. In British Parliamentary system, it is the Union Cabinet which has the prerogative to declare the war. Since Cabinet members are from Parliament, Union Cabinet is expected to represent the will of the parliament faithfully. Since PM’s office is never separate from the Parliament, it is much less use to emulate the American System. Since American President is directly elected and is never a part of Congress, oversight of the Congress on the war policy is a perennial vexing issue. With Parlimentary system, executive branch is never far away from the Parliament itself (note how Parliamentary system could have dumped a leader like President Bush long ago) and hence the question of devolving the power of declaring war to Parliament is redundant. One wonders whether that would compromise UK’s ability to undertake crucial decisions like initiating military retaliation in crisis times since bodies like Parliament are never meant for executive actions like declaring a war.

Such policy proclivity seems more due to European style Left thinking as well as political need of PM Brown to set the differentiating tone on Iraq war compared to his predecessor. The outgoing PM Blair literally dragged the parliament in the Iraq war. Further it needs to be kept in mind that just because more persons are involved; it does not mean better political decision making. American Senate sheepishly followed Iraq war resolution and failed to do its duty of being critical about the Iraq war policy. So by devolving war declaration policy to Parliament, problems are unlikely to go away.

Next, PM Brown’s another of proposals - confirmation of important government post nominations by the Parliament – simply seems a copy of American system. When you have parliamentary majority, PM’s nominations are anyway going to get confirmed. One only needs to recall how GOP dominated Congress approved ‘heck of job Brownie’ for the FEMA position!

Parliament is for a serious political discourse and the beauty and strength of the parliamentary system is the total involvement of PM and Union Cabinet in the regular brawl of parliamentary politics. As is PM has less political room, copying American system will not help. The constant struggle between the Congress and the President is as old as the Old Glory. That is part and parcel of the American System. None of those measures are unlikely to help in the Parlimentary System.

Finally, we have two major variants of Democratic Systems on this planet – American Style and British Style. For the health of political systems on this planet, we need this diversity to be retained. Indian Republic at the age of 60 years is doing some fine innovations to the British Style (by and large dominance of large states of the republic, influence of regional satraps, indispensability of regional parties; all quite useful for the Indian situation). Contemporary Russian System started with some innovations, though lately it is all dictatorial Putin style police state. And of course, French have been busy in fine tuning their political systems for over two centuries (sometimes peacefully and sometimes violently). It is the genetic pool – for the longer survival of a species, genetic variety is needed. Same for political forms of organization for humans – we need variety. American System may be great, but we want rest of the world to be more innovative and come up with more true to the soil, stronger democratic institutions. British Parlimentary System is one such beautiful, strong and deeply respectable institution. Transplanting aspects of Jefferson’s political thought may not be necessary improvements for this institution.

Umesh Patil
July 4, 2007
Cupertino, CA 95014.

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