Among the more melancholy rituals of British politics these days are the regular meetings of those committees of Lords and Commons, whose task is to “scrutinise” draft laws affecting Britain that emerge from the EU. These were originally set up under a “Solemn Resolution” that no British ministers could approve laws made in Brussels unless the peers and MPs had first given the go-ahead. But in practice this has been ignored wholesale, because there is nothing Parliament can do to stand in the way of that inexorable Brussels juggernaut.
This is yet another reminder of how many important issues are not mentioned in this election campaign because so much of how we are governed is now decided elsewhere, by European and global bodies not accountable to Parliament – and over which our votes cannot have the slightest influence. Treaty by treaty, we have given away the right to make laws and policy over an ever-greater swathe of issues, shrinking ever further those areas over which our elected representatives have any say.
No government department’s policies are more completely under the sway of Brussels than the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, supposedly responsible for everything from farming and fisheries to food safety, managing floods and how we dispose of our rubbish. There was a time when, in a British election, such matters might have attracted heated debate. But the power to decide on all these things has now been handed over, first to Brussels and then to unaccountable quangos, such as the Environment Agency or the Food Safety Agency, whose responsibility is simply to carry out what Brussels has decreed.
Nothing has diminished our politicians more than the way they have abdicated so much of their old responsibility that, without explanation, they have removed many of the issues which affect our lives from the democratic arena.
We may have heard the odd mention in this election of “tax avoidance”. But how often do we hear any politicians honestly explain the reason why Google, Starbucks and so many other multinationals, including our foreign-owned water and electricity companies, can “offshore” their liability to pay tax on their British earnings? It is simply because this is entirely legal under EU treaty rules, and those laid down by even more mysterious global bodies such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Again we hear mention of defence, but only centred in the vaguest way on whether Nicola Sturgeon will stop us having nuclear weapons or whether David Cameron will keep our defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP. Nowhere do we hear any proper discussion of what our Armed Forces should actually be for, let alone of how our defence spending has been so distorted by building those giant aircraft carriers, without aircraft, to fulfil our commitment to creating a “European Rapid Reaction Force” which seems already to have faded into history.
As for our foreign policy, it seems doubtful following the debacle of our intervention in Libya whether we actually have one at all, apart from our blind subservience to the EU’s vaunted “Common Foreign Policy”. Its only real achievement has been the shambles created by the EU’s reckless urge to suck Ukraine into its own empire, provoking a wholly predictable response from Russia that has left the West looking weak, divided and utterly ridiculous.
Equally we hear no real discussion of what should be the proper purpose of our incredibly wasteful £12 billion-a-year aid budget, the second highest in the world, which only gets mentioned when we are told by Brussels that, under “international accounting rules”, we must now increase it by a further £1 billion, to meet that legal commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of our GDP on which all our main parties are agreed.
All this and much more we never hear being discussed in this pitifully shrunken, stage-managed election, where all that seems to matter is who said what about the latest “gaffe” by someone we scarcely recognise or care about. They say we get the politicians we deserve. But I can’t recall any election where so many people seem convinced that we really don’t deserve any of them.