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Lithuanian Embassy Talk

1st May 2007

Dear All
Received from Jeff Roberts

Best wishes
Ute

BLS – Lithuanian Embassy Talk Thursday, 3rd May 2007:

Jeff Roberts did his Ph.D. in geology in Finnmark, the far north of
Norway, then worked briefly as a wellsite geologist in the North sea
before joining Wood Gundy's international oil team in 1973 to cover the
North Sea and Middle East. He soon had two careers competing with each
other in the 1970s and 1980s – one in the City as an analyst in oil & gas;
then German, Swiss and Continental shares – the other as a local
councillor in the London Borough of Hackney. All changed with the 1987
Stock Market Crash when he went to work in Finland as Director of research
for the then leading Finnish stockbroker. That led to an interest in
Estonia and nearby Russia, including Murmansk and Apatity, where he is now
connected with A.O.Pana, www.panapgm.com Hackney helped him understand
the former Soviet Union and provided the inspiration for this talk.

*********

DELEGATE VERSUS WESTMINSTER DEMOCRACY

Many people are convinced that 'democracy' precisely equals
'representation'. This simple 'black and white' idea gives too great scope
to politicians and too little to their curbing. From my experience as a
local councillor in the London Borough of Hackney in the 1980s, I see
representation as sometimes in conflict with meaningful democracy: the
power of the voters to get rid of politicians who have abused their power.
As Lord Acton, 1888: 'Power tends to corrupt, and Absolute Power corrupts
absolutely'. Hackney, with its layers of committees (soviets) transmitted
the people's wishes upwards through a great pyramid of power, eternally
controlled by The Party, which never changed and therefore was = The
Constitution. Until we came along in 1982 and took all the Shoreditch
council seats, i.e. 7 out of Hackney's 60.

This raises the issue of scale in elections. Shoreditch, a former London
Metropolitan Borough like Stoke Newington, had been swallowed up by a
Great Hackney in 1965. So Shoreditch people, like former Republics in the
Soviet Union, could change their Delegates to the great Power Pyramid, but
could not change how they were governed. Any move towards larger electoral
units, reduces the chance of change and imposes national political parties
on local communities.

Learning from my fellow Liverpudlian, 'Jones the Vote' on Liverpool
Council, and my mentors in Tower Hamlets, where The Party had even had
control by virtue of uncontested seats in the 1970s before any election
had even taken place, I first got elected in a bye election after years of
concentrated work in Hoxton, within a week of The Hon. Charles Clarke in
central Hackney. In 1982 the Opposition went from just me to the
Shoreditch Seven where I became Chairman of the Shoreditch Housing
Committee and Charles the Master of the Hackney Housing Committee. We had
enough rope to hang ourselves but managed to avoid doing it until 1987,
the Year of the Crash.

I will argue that Proportional Representation is poison to true democracy,
and hence favoured by knaves everywhere. There are special lessons to be
drawn from Russia, where PR and national party lists have been one of the
many tools to curb democracy. Formerly, Russians could vote an eccentric
'No' to all candidates and force a re-election with a new slate, but that
great principle has gone, along with the right to choose your own regional
governor.
I hope we can discuss the diseases of democracy and the need to treat
politicians more like old socks than cozy poodles of the party of power.
I will try to stick to useful ideas in my talk, and my main objective is
to promote such a discussion as I have never heard in public. For
successful politicians, the proposal that representation is not the Holy
Grail of democracy is an impossible mouthful; as my political career
collapsed in the 1980s, I hope I might present an honest view.

It is also salutary to wonder whether the days of unbridled power for the
Immortals without Liabilities (that's what a joint stock company with
limited liability actually is) can end without some great Catharsis in the
Anglo-Saxon world.

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