3 MAY 1997, Page 55

High life

Misplaced power


Both Plato and Aristotle thought very little of democracy. And the Ancient Greeks, in their infinite wisdom, practised it selectively. In The Republic, Plato insists that the only true superiority is that of the wise over the unwise. In today's context, this meant that a deadbeat or a complete fool did not have a vote, whereas a useful member of society did.

Aristotle conceded that the masses might occasionally hold the governing class in check, but believed that when everybody attempts to transact public business the door opens to demagogues and makes intelligent administration impossible.

Today, to be all things to all men is what democratically elected officials strive for, and it is this that makes politicians so dis- honest. Most of the problems facing coun- tries today require at the minimum 20-year solutions, yet when was the last time a politician thought of such a time span? No democratic government is interested in anything farther off than the next election.

The successful democracies so far have either been nation states, growing out of smaller city states, or cantons, or new states, as America was some 200 years ago, where all arrivals had the same rights after an initiatory experience. And upon the condition that old national and ethnic allegiances were discarded.

But what really makes democracy impos- sible is the new idea of nationality — as in being European — in which old citizenship is discarded because it was exclusory and new virtues are invented, especially diversi- ty. If there is no central community to which one can owe allegiance, but rather a cluster of sub-communities manipulated by bureaucrats and petty officialdom, then democracy as we understand it today is bound to be replaced by a kind of corpo- rate fascismo, as the Hurds, Howes, Heaths and Santers of this world are trying to achieve here. If there is no such thing as nationality, if EU citizens can wander at will throughout Europe, then all power will Pass from self-governing communities to the secretariat.

This is the way democracy destroys itself — by ceding powers not to men and women, but to ideas that seem clever for a tune. The real cleverness of the EU idea is the manner in which those governing us rammed it down our throats while every- one slept. Which brings me to those who are sup- posed to be vigilant about such matters: the hacks. Carlyle described journalists as the Fourth Estate because of the enormous power wielded by those who direct the flow of information. Hacks have the power to publish information damaging to individu- als and to institutions. They also have the power to justify themselves, to beg ques- tions in their own favour, to set up kanga- roo courts in which they figure as prosecutor, council, jury and judge.

And speaking of the misplaced power of the media, I never thought I'd live to see the day when the British Fourth Estate dipped even lower than that of my birth- place. The 1997 election will go down as the one that saw the lying done by the politicians matched by that of the media. The Guardian, needless to say, led the way. Although I don't read it, its campaign against Neil Hamilton on as yet unproven allegations qualifies it as nothing more than a scandal sheet, and one definitely not confined by fact. In my Atticus column in the Sunday Times, my copy was cut when I referred to Alan Rusbridger as a low-life ex-gossip columnist now posing as an edi- tor. Instead, 'the' appeared as by magic in front of `hoi polloi'. In my ancestors' speech the word `hoi' meant and means Even the best weekly in the whole wide world does not come out smelling of roses. Last week Petronella Wyatt did not distin- guish herself when she wrote about Put- ney's invisible Referendum party. Since 12 January, to be exact, Lady Annabel Gold- smith and her supporters have spent six hours every day except for Sundays in Put- ney, and Sir James himself has gone there twice a week. He is, after all, head of the RP, and has to go to all constituencies. But the Speccie did make it up with Paul John- son's column on how truly grotesque and mendacious the hacks are. (More about that in the future.) `Could you prescribe green pills? Our bathroom scheme is earth tones.' There's never been a political party purer than the RP, yet the media chose to ignore or lie about it. It shone like a bright light into the dark corner of politics and one day soon will receive the kudos it deserves. It will swell from the present 225,000 paid-up members to over a million in one year.

They say only fools predict election results, but this one is in the bag. Six weeks from now in Amsterdam, Blair and Cook will get a continuation of the European rebate, make a big thing about it, then give away foreign policy, defence, home affairs and more power to the European institu- tion. England will have come full circle.