I have to confess, I was not very happy when the results of UK elections were announced a few weeks ago.
The unfair side of the first-past-the-post election system (there is a fair side to it too, but this is not today’s topic) has had a particularly devastating effect on the number of LibDem MPs in Parliament. Since I happened to be among those people outside Britain who really wanted to see Clegg win, the outcome was a big disappointment. Yet now, with The Coalition: a Programme of Government released today, I believe Britain may have got the next best thing. The political programme of the coalition government looks rather good. In terms of democracy and respect for civil liberties, it looks too good to be true. Surely this means a few disappointments in the future, when (declared) good intentions will come up against the hard realities of politics, economy and security, but I believe it is better to have good intentions and fail than not to have them from the start.
The programme has a section on political reform, including a referendum on the election system, but that was to be expected. What is more exciting, the sections on Civil Rights and Equalities are quite robust, and suggest that if this government is allowed to have its say, the rights of the individual may still be the central value of British politics, even in this age of surveillance cameras and fingerprinting.
The bits I liked most include the statement about the need ‘to restore the rights of individuals in the face of encroaching state power’ (how many government leaders in other countries have the guts to say that?) and the whole section on Equalities. The latter proposes some fairly fundamental measures to promote equality among citizens independently of gender, colour and ethnicity. Special internship schemes in all departments of government for representatives of ethnic and racial minorities, a proposal to do something about the share of women on the boards of listed companies and a promise not to deport asylum seekers who risk persecution in their countries because of their sexual orientation – all of this sounds like steps in the right direction, building on the UK’s remarkable record of policy measures to promote racial and gender equality.
None of the measures proposed in the Equalities section are revolutionary against the European background – there are internship schemes in government for minorities in Ireland, and women’s presence on the boards of companies is at least partially tackled in Scandinavia, but there is added value for equal rights in Europe when these things are on the agenda of the new UK government. Policy approach practiced in the UK is usually more thorough and more transparent than in many other EU countries. That means those of us who want to promote more equality for people in our countries will get more examples of working models and benchmarks.