"I love small nations. I love small numbers. The world will be saved by the few."
The last words of André Gide (1869-1951)
Fans of Peter Sellers remember with a smile his 1959 film The Mouse That Roared, in which the USA is accidentally defeated by the tiny army of a fictional European microstate, the Duchy of Grand Fenwick. With names like Bascombe, Benter, Buckley and Cobbley, the characters are provided with what might well be viewed as Wessex roots.
Another small state, this time in the real world, should have been making the headlines recently but appears to have fallen victim to a conspiracy of silence. That country is Iceland. Would we rather be hearing bad news from around the Med than good news from up near the Arctic? Perhaps it all depends on who ‘we’ are?
The saga has two themes, one dealing with economic causes and the other with political consequences. The economics is familiar to everyone: a neo-liberal free-for-all that went sour, leaving banks too big to fail. Except that in Iceland the banks proved too big to bail, resulting in some major write-offs of debt, at the insistence of voters, who in a referendum voted 93% against paying for bankers’ blunders. People power caused the Icelandic government to resign, and its replacement to launch a radical rewrite of the country’s constitution. The law enforcement agencies have been unleashed on the bankers and the politicians. Now the pressure is on to get the new constitution ratified and to stop the ‘interests’ clawing back ground (which, of course, they are poised to do). Have we been kept informed of all this daily through the media? No! Just the universal lie of TINA, as usual.
The Coalition’s junior partner has been, perhaps rightly, pilloried for wanting to make Lords reform an issue at a time of (supposedly) grave national crisis. Lords reform is indeed the wrong target. It reinforces the idea that decisions taken in London matter, and should matter. Our view, bluntly, is that if they do, then they shouldn’t. Sweeping constitutional reforms are certainly needed to make that point clear to all.
A crisis is precisely the time to reform the constitution, because if the old one had worked then the crisis could never have begun. And that means it needs reform now – before anything worse is permitted to happen. Those who oppose reform because it might make their own positions untenable and their culpability evident are precisely those whose advice we should heed least. And that includes all three of the parties currently propping up the unfit-for-purpose London regime.