The Day Democracy Died in Europe 77

11 November is rightly a poignant day. I wear a red poppy, always have, for the reasons I used to 40 years ago, ignoring the overlay of militaristic propaganda, which was always there but has been hyper-amplified of late.

But this is the day the music died for European democracy. It is of course a mistake to choose a single day or event as the day any historical grand process unfolds. But a single day can symbolise it, like the fall of the Bastille.

I didn’t notice it at the time, but democracy actually stopped meaning anything in England some years ago as all the main English political parties were bought for the neo-con agenda.

In Europe, today is one of those symbolic days as the former Vice President of the European Central Bank is imposed on the Greeks by the Germans as their Prime Minister, and as former EU Commissioner Mario Monti is forced upon the Italians, in neither case with any voter having a chance to do anything about it.

15 years ago, as First Secretary of the British Embassy in Warsaw, my main job was to help move Poland into the European Union. I attended many conferences organised by the EU – and some organised by me – to promote this. At one Konrad Adenauer Foundation organised conference, speaker after speaker outlined what they called “the role of elites” in promoting EU integration. That was the title of one of the sessions. The thesis was put forward, quite openly, that European Union was a great and noble idea which had always been moved forward by great visionaries among the elite, and that popular opinion may be relied on to catch up eventually, but should not be allowed to stop the project.

If you haven’t seen and felt it from the insde, you cannot understand the reverence the eurocrats feel towards the names of their founding fathers, like Schumann and Monnet and Spinelli and a host of others you and I have never heard of. Participants at conferences like the one I was at in Poland, run by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, are made very much to feel that they are a part of this elite, a kind of superman with a superior knowledge and insight to the ordinary pleb. It was heady stuff for ambitious young Polish politicians of the mid 1990s.

I made a speech at that conference in which I warned against the elitist model and spoke of the need for informed consent in a democracy. This was viewed as rather quaint, though I did make a great many rather good jokes. I remain broadly in favour of European integration in principle, and entirely in favour of Europe’s open internal borders, but still very mindful that those driving the European project do not really believe in democracy if it means that common people can tell great minds like them what to do.

11 November may go down in history as the day that helped the ordinary people of Europe realise that.

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77 thoughts on “The Day Democracy Died in Europe

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  • craig Post author


    But to assume that whar works in arab societies would work in the west is quite wrong. The Arabs were not as “developed” as us – which means not as desocialised, not reduced to individual consumers isolated in their own household communing with the TV box, not as reduced to mere consumers.

  • ingo

    Mary, thanks for the copy of Higgins inaururation, what a moving adress. I very much liked this sentence and hope that Paul Murphy MEP, still detained by the IDF, will take it to heart.

    “Our strength lies in our common weal, our social solidarity.”

  • Quelcrime

    Abe Rene
    As for Britain, if anyone has an adequate and serious political vision with the people to work out its ideology and credible policies, they are at liberty to set up their own political parties and be elected, but of course they will have to convince the voters.
    And in the USSR anyone was at liberty to join the CP and fight their way to the top and institute reforms. Someone did – it was possible. I’m not sure it’s really possible here, and if it is it’s certainly a lot more difficult.
    I wonder if Obama really intended to ‘change these United States and change the world’ and found it wasn’t so easy, or if he was never more than a slick liar.

  • Stephen

    “not reduced to individual consumers isolated in their own household communing with the TV box”

    Craig – you clearly don’t have teenaged children – this isn’t how they communicate nowadays – mine hardly watch the tv nowadays.

  • willyrobinson

    Watching the news unfold simultaneously in the Irish, Spanish and British media, I’ve been following the same narratives given without any dissenting voice:
    ‘How dare the Greeks hold the rest of Europe to ransom with a referendum?’
    ‘Elections in Italy now would be a disaster.’
    ‘What’s needed in the interim is an all-party govt of technocrats.’
    Maybe you could have another book competition with prizes for any mainstream outlet with a different message. Thanks for this blog – w

  • Chienfou

    If people are finally starting to notice that the EU is profoundly lacking in the mechansims for democractic process then may be there is hope yet.

    Is it not time that there was a movement for EU democracy?

  • angrysoba

    Craig Murray: Stephen,

    But to assume that whar works in arab societies would work in the west is quite wrong. The Arabs were not as “developed” as us – which means not as desocialised, not reduced to individual consumers isolated in their own household communing with the TV box, not as reduced to mere consumers.

    Have you been at the C.B MacPherson again? Can someone by him a Playstation to fiddle with?

  • Stephen

    “Imagine what it would be like if Iran did.”

    A bit like this blog but with the dissenters silenced would be my guess!

  • Chris2

    Talking of Chartists, this movement was, in terms of its demands, its petitioning character and its loose organisation based on the legacy of William Cobbett. Who was, effectively, the world’s first and most powerful blogger, a one man enterprise more powerful in the Press than all the enterprises of the Whigs and Tories in the country. A man whose power was based entirely on the strength of his prose, which was derived from the prescience and honesty of his critical appreciation of the world.
    Cobbett’s influence grew as the obstacles that the political classes put in his way piled up. Most people know little more about Cobbett than the patronising rubbish that the founders of the modern system and its ideology have written about him. But what is crystal clear is that, essentially through his own efforts, he was able to convince millions of Britain’s labouring classes that the solution to society’s problems lay in their gaining political power and using it to do ensure that all in society were afforded access to the basic necessities of life.
    Cobbett found that the Whigs and Tories were virtually indistinguishable, as they were (it is not insignificant that Gladstone was a High Tory whose family owned 1000 Guyanese slaves at the time of Emancipation), with the Whigs playing the role that New Labour plays today, that of the “shoy hoy” or scarecrow, an empty bundle of hay and old textiles designed to trick inattentive fledglings into believing that they act on their own.
    The point is that, given imagination and openness, honesty in appraising developments and an eschewal of conspiratorial organisation and elites (cf “Leninism”), it is very possible for individuals to make their views heard and listen to those of others, continents away. The media is not the problem, its power is declining for many reasons, not least that it sells utterly unconvincing rubbish which has no bearing on the unfolding reality of a world plunging into deeper crises.
    One of Cobbett’s favourite metaphors, taken from the drama, was that of the curtain being torn aside to reveal manipulators behind the scenes- the Wizard of Oz idea. That is what is happening now as people see that the “experts” running the economy are idiots whose only ideas, in the last analysis, when all the persiflage has been boiled away, is to make people work harder for less.

  • havantaclu

    Stephen – I seem to remember that the Corresponding Societies (especially the London one) were effectively closed down during the 1790s – in fact several of their leaders were prosecuted for treason. Although they were found not guilty, the elite continued to speak of them as felons, and virtually all of them disappeared back into private life (John Thelwall for example).

    The Chartists came later, gathering strength from the passing of the 1832 Reform Bill.

    I agree with Craig – the elites still think of themselves as the natural governors (they may consider themselves the cream, but they’ve long ago gone sour!).

    Democracy has to be fought for, year by year, decade by decade. It may come to actual conflict, as the elite seem to be closing outlets of disagreement by homogenising the media (and I would add the political spectrum)in many countries. There are many, of the younger generation in particular (and at least some oldies – moi par exemple!), who can in fact see little point in following the present political system, and are looking in hope at other forms of communication with similarly-minded people.

    We are living in what the Chinese would call their prime curse – interesting times!

  • Abe Rene

    Quelcrime: in the USSR, to join the Party one had to sbscribe to its ideology. In democratic Britain, anyone can set up a political party and run for parliament. There’s no ideoogical test. I grant you that he can’t burn poppies on Remembrance Day or swing on the flags of national monuments and get away with it. Also the media pay most attention to the most powerful parties. But they won’t stop him propagating his views.

    But the main thing that makes us democratic is – he must genuinely convince the voters, who do not have to subscribe to his ideology.

  • John Goss

    Mary, you might be interested to know that Buckingham, mentioned in the Hague posting above, is a Tory party donor, oil-tycoon, mercenary and a colleague of Hague’s. Wouldn’t it be great if the whole lot could be brought down over their greed for oil?

  • Komodo

    I am so much happier that pro-Israeli groups have the ear of the MSM. Imagine what it would be like if Iran did.

    I tried that. Usurious banks would be freely scrutinised and the Sun would demand their reform, Iran’s military would be a lucrative investment for BAE Systems, and at last we might be within reach of a Palestinian solution as we all got accustomed to vigorous sanctions on Is….sorry, got carried away there.

    (“Don’t mention the war.”)

  • Stephen

    Chris2 and Havantaclu

    You need to read your EP Thompson – there are clear links through from the corresponding societies to the Chartists (though what you say about treason etc is correct_, although there were other strands coming together including Cobbett’s Political Register, various Working Mens Groups, anti Corn Law organisations etc. The basic point however is that you have to be prepared to change what you do in order to get the message across – and it takes time and persistence.

    Havantaclu – the elites have always thought of themselves as natural leaders – and I suspect they always will

    Chris2 – while you may see New Labour as modern day whigs – it is worth remembering that many Radicals came out of the Whigs and Tories – Cobbett for example started as a Tory.


    Totally agree – the argument that democracy is rigged and can never works is far too often used by those who know all too well that they cannot genuine acceptance for their ideas – you can often tell them by how they keep their own ideas very quiet while they concentrate on the problems society is paying. There are also the genuinely clueless who don’t have any idea what to do.

  • Tom Welsh

    “I made a speech at that conference in which I warned against the elitist model and spoke of the need for informed consent in a democracy”.

    Unfortunately, the “informed” bit is missing presumed dead. Never mind the voters – the small fraction of them who actually do vote – our bankers are uninformed about banking, our economists are uninformed about economics, and our politicians are deeply uninformed about everything except how to climb the greasy poleand kick others off it.

    What’s worse is that things are going in the wrong direction. A century ago, an educated optimist would have assumed that by 2011 the vast majority of the population would have had at least 10 years’ excellent schooling, while many would have the benefits of a university education. Moreover, there would be opportunities for continuing education throughout life. Thus, everyone would be well informed about the state of domestic and foreign politics, economics, and all other relevant topics and would vote intelligently and constructively in the light of the facts.

    Instead, as more and more people spend longer and longer in the educational system, profound ignorance and anti-intellectualism seem to be spreading further every yar.

  • Stephen

    Tom Welsh

    Would it not be easier
    In that case for the government
    To dissolve the people
    And elect another? (Aplogies to Brecht)

  • Komodo

    “3 October 2011, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told viewers of Iranian state TV “People should know all these (responsible) will be pursued. … God willing, the traitorous hands will be cut.” The leader also stated the media should not use the case to “strike at officials.” [2]

    The speaker of the Iranian parliament Ali Larijani says all three branches of the government are determined to deal with the recent banking scam case.[9][7] Ahmad Tavakkoli member of parlimant said on Sunday (18th September 2011) that the embezzlement of 28 trillion rials (3,000 billion Toman) is an intolerable scandal, adding that if administration officials are not able to handle the affairs, they should step down. In addition, he said that a number of MPs have introduced a motion, which envisages the establishment of a special committee to pursue the embezzlement case.[10]
    Still sounds a little more positive than “You’re too big to fail, please continue charging what your imagination tells you to for loans, paying fuck-all for deposits, and just to help you out, here’s a lot of taxpayers’ money…”
    I was in any case talking about usury, which Islam deplores, not fraud, which is universal beyond a certain income.

  • passerby

    eyes have they, but they see not:
    they have ears, but they hear not:
    noses have they, but they smell not:
    Psalms 115: 5, 6

    Stephen “I know I am always right”, asleep, wide awake, with his la la fingers firmly pushed into his ears, and shouting: “I am not listening”, cannot wake up and smell the coffee; the jig is up matey.
    Hence his fatuous, puerile and circular argument, that in the absence of a “democracy” (I should cocoa) what would be the choices; “theocracy”, “benevolent dictatorship” , etc.? The slight of hand is; in establishing that there exists “democracy”, which in reality is an allusion to a Plutarchy (an unholy alliance of rich bastards getting together and sewing up the system as in a gambling casino ran by mobsters, with odds favouring the house that throws a couple of winners now and again to keep the succours lining up to depart with their earnings pronto), that has been busy selling hopes, and failing to deliver the goods promised, then has started selling fear; Al Qaeda is under your keyboard, and Saddam is going to nuke you in 45 mins.
    Ironically Stephen mentions the break up of the Soviet Union, without so much as remembering the prelude to the break up of that entity. Evidently Jaruzelski stepping down and Mubarak’s ouster have no similarities, and are not telling of the gradual break down of the American Century, new or old for that matter. The similarities of Timisoara massacre, to Bahrain, and Sanaa, Taiz are not of any relevance because not long after Timisoara “Massacre” Nicolae Ceaușescu was captured, and in a hastily convened kangaroo court along with his wife was condemned to death, and pretty darn quickly killed, with the photos of their dead corpses doing the rounds as the war trophies by the mouth piece of the same bunch of rich bastards masquerading as the Media.,
    However, in the case of Al Khalifa of Bahrain and Saleh of Yemen the Saudi tanks are sent in to kill the pesky Arabs whom do not bow to their hand picked sock-puppet that is operated as in drones fashion from somewhere in those united states. Stephen is the worst kind of the malevolence, for the plutocracy having failed in its mission to fool everyone all of the time, has unleashed these zealots, armed with a few coverall stock answers, and lines of argument to push the same old same old. This proposition can be gleaned from his cursory reference to Syria. This latter country for months has been in the cross hairs and is deemed to be Libyaed, however given the size of the country and the simple fact Israelis are still occupying some parts of it, and have desires of annexing the said lands, the equation of Libyaing Syria have not worked out all that well. However, this is no obstacle for the keyboard warriors; these rely on the gullibility of their victims, to follow their lead in the game of Simon Says.
    The simple facts before us are, the failure of the “Banking System” which in fact is to denote the failure of the bankruptcy of the ideologies in which plutocracy, and plutocracy (rule of the rich) getting pushed “democracy brand”, and the break up of the political system hinging on this ideological bankruptcy. The cover up for the perverse nature of the current efforts to keep the flagging system going, goes so far as turning the natural laws of nature on their head. This is reflected in the phrases; “too big to fail”, “quantitative easing”, “austerity measures”. What happened to the survival of the fittest? Where did Schumpeterian “creative destruction” disappeared to?
    Alas the current state of affairs do not afford glasnost to the punters caught up in more applications of ye olde nostrums of squeeze the pips out of the poor bastards and all will be fine. Further, judging by the rules of the rigged game there can be no hopes of perestroika. Therefore any attempts in direction of the restructuring and redistribution of power constructs will only result in disappointment. However the fact is people are no longer buying into the narrative of the “freedom” to be hungry, out of work, ill, and have no future, and the gradual shaping of a movement that is not structured as in the usual fashion, and ripe to be corrupted by the same bastards whom are bent on leading/creating their own opposition/dissident transmogrification, because it is a lot more safer doing so.
    Finally the anti theocratic Stephen will unstintingly defend any and all things Jewish, because as we all know in his bizarre world Jewish is a “race” and not a religious affiliation, and Israel is not a theocratic state because Jews area a race, and therefore Israel is a secular state that is despite it having Shabbos Police (Sabbath to goyiem that is you and I), how far we have gone down the rabbit hole?

  • Stephen


    Lets see how close they get to Ahmadjinebad and his friends. And what was the stolen money used for – oh to buy the assets that the state is selling off on the cheap to friends of the government.

    As for Islam deploring usury – perhaps you could explain why many Moslems seem to have no problem depositing large amounts earning interest in the Western financial system? I could also make the argument that in terms of actual cash flows much Islamic banking (not all of the forms I acknowledge – but certainly the main ones) are not different from traditional western usury (except they do have a tendency for the bank take a bigger cut and rip of the poor depositor even more).

  • Stephen


    So you don’t want school children to be told about WW1 and WW2 do you? All the disussions about poppies at school focus on those wars – one of my kids has been studying Anne Frank and reading Michael Morpurgo’s WarHorse in this context. The schools do not discuss the recent wars as they know very well that it may be a sensitive subject with some parents.

  • Komodo

    Stephen: The rich and criminal are always with us. Given the free access of the ayatollahs – as opposed to the rogue Ahmedinejad, who may well be removed in the not-too-distant future – to the Western media, however, we’d be seeing a lot more of Islamic banking, in which investment for profit is separated from banking for security.And less of the western materialism which corrupts moneymen everywhere.

    What we want is a return to morals and ethics. We pretend that the Judaeo-Christian model supplies these. It doesn’t; it demonstrably doesn’t. Time to give Islamic banking a try. And punish the infidels!


  • ingo

    They do not learn anything else but the ww2, because if one would look hard at the Falkland Iraq and Afghanistan war, not to talk of the Libyan attacks, then our children would ask pesky questions.

    Lets not educate them in the preferentual ravages against the develoiping world that are enshrined in the Uruguay and Doha trade rounds . lets not show them the perverse course our allies are steering, we are fine with the near past but when it comes to the present facts, we like to keep our youngster occupied with trivia and gizmotronic’s.

    I want school kids to be told about the Vietnam war and ww2, about Britains guilt in the opium wars as well as what happened in the Boxer wars, it should fit neatly next to the Mandarin teachings our future trade savvies are enticed to learn.
    Survival of the fittest, passerby, has morphed into survival of the have’s and I agree with you, comparrissons of events do not add up, the shefel of light we cast on one issue is of a different colour, intensity and width than the shefel of light we shine on our own exploits, we are not only the propaganda queens, we decide who comes to court, how far they are allowed to advance and who hears their plight.

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