Britain should not lecture Libyans on democracy

Libya has better role models to follow than Britain’s mix of feudalism and oligarchy

BY Neil Clark LAST UPDATED AT 14:48 ON Tue 1 Mar 2011

Is there anything more nauseating about Britain's political elite than the way they promote their country as a shining example of modern democracy that other less "enlightened" nations ought to follow?
 
The latest to advise others to take their lead from the UK is former Tory prime minister Sir John Major, speaking on the Today programme. Major thinks that Britain, with its "long democratic tradition" and "civil aptitude" can "advise and help a great deal" with the "resurrection of civil democracies" in Libya.
 
But are we really the model democracy that Libya should try to emulate if and when the people rid themselves of Muammar Gaddafi?
 
Gaddafi may be barking about many things, but when he compared himself to HM the Queen, another unelected head of state (who is also fabulously wealthy), the Libyan leader, did, one has to admit, have a point.
 
Those who think Britain really is the last word in democracy should make sure they watch next month's royal wedding when the feudal nature of 21st century Britain will be there for all to see. But at least the House of Windsor wields no political power - unlike the House of Lords.
 
Despite the various proposals down the years to introduce a democratically elected second chamber, in the second decade of the 21st century, we're still left with the decidedly undemocratic mixture of hereditary peers, 26 Lords Spiritual and over 600 political appointees. Some of these peers are ex-MPs who were rejected by voters in elections - such as Oona King, defeated by George Galloway in Bethnal Green and Bow in the 2005 general election.
 
Not that the House of Commons, which is directly elected, is much better.
 
"The English people believes itself to be free; it is gravely mistaken; it is free only during election of members of parliament; as soon as the members are elected, the people is enslaved; it is nothing," wrote the 18th century Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and how right he was.

On issue after issue, from renationalisation of the railways, to the restoration of capital punishment, or making the bankers pay up for the economic crisis they caused, our elected representatives happily ignore the views of the general public.

Our government rules not in the interests of the majority, as they should do in a democracy, but in the interest of a small, unaccountable financial elite. To conceal their true intentions, politicians are prepared to tell outrageous lies when it comes to trying to get our votes at election time.

Would the Conservatives have been elected last May if David Cameron had campaigned on a programme of opening up the NHS to private health companies, instead of pledging to protect the service?

Would the Lib Dems have found themselves in government if Nick Clegg had advocated a tripling of tuition fees, instead of signing a pre-election pledge to vote against any increase?
 
The Guardian's John Harris talks of the coalition pulling off a "coup" ... "the most far-reaching attempt to remodel British society in 60 years, undertaken at speed, and with a breathtaking disregard for what was offered to the country only months ago".

If post-Gaddafi Libya needs advice on democratising the country they'd do well to pass over Britain's mix of feudalism and oligarchy and look elsewhere instead.
 
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit's democracy index, the four most democratic nations in the world are all in Scandinavia. (Britain is in 19th place, below the US, Spain and Malta).

It's no coincidence that the top four - Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden - are also among the most egalitarian countries in the world, showing a direct correlation between high levels of economic equality and democracy.

Norway's famous Allemannsretten ('the right of public access'), which gives the citizen the right to pitch a tent on private land (including in the grounds of Oslo's Royal palace), is a wonderful affirmation of the belief that without equal rights for all, there can be no true democracy.
 
In the short story The Comments of Moung Ka, the great Edwardian comic writer Saki argued that Britain is not a democracy, but only "what is called a democracy".
 
Things have improved since then, but there's still a long way to go before our leaders should be getting on their soapboxes to lecture others. ·