ONE INEVITABLY pities the next generation's students of British social history, whose text books will be encumbered with longer and longer lists of the many abbreviations now in common use to describe the various organisations and institutions in our society. A future exam question, for example, may ask "what, in the year 1984, did the EEC, GLC, ILEA and SDP have in common?" One possible answer could be "a conflict with democracy." But the answer, of course, would need careful paraphrasing.
The present difficulties of the EEC will, almost certainly, never be completely resolved whatever compromise or short term reprieves are devised. As a result, more and more people are not only regretting the British decision to join the Community in the first place, but are remembering the fact that there was never any clear popular mandate to do so. The referendum on the subject, it will be recalled, was taken after we were already members and was characterised by massive propaganda, financed by international business, that Britain should stay in.
Not all the arguments in favour of British membership were bad ones, but most of them were based on hopes rather than facts. The hopes have been disappointed and it is now generally supposed that another referendum (quad Deus avertati) would go the other way. Loss of British sovereignty in certain crucial areas is now recognised as having been suffered. And former opponents of entry are no longer so easily dismissed as cranky "Little Englanders."
This example alone, however, is unlikely to persuade people that British democracy is under any serious kind of threat. But there are other factors at work which should be taken into simultaneous consideration.
The GLC and ILEA are threatened with extinction by a bill the Government is about to introduce into Parliament. The White Paper explaining the scope of the bill is vague about viable alternatives to the present coordinating framework for local government in the Greater London area.
In particular, poor and troubled boroughs such as Hackney, compared with rich and favoured ones such as Westminster, are extremely worried as to how they will be enabled to get a fair share of finance in the inevitable free-for-all which will occur when and if all the boroughs achieve so-called "independence." Catholic schools in particular would be likely to suffer with the disappearance of the coordinating activities of the Inner London Education Authority.
But unfortunately the issue has been initiated on political rather than practical lines and, despite the attempts to mount an effective popular protest, central government will almost certainly win this contest.
As for the SDP, the worry stems from the exclusion of its leader, Dr David Owen from such ceremonies as the laying of a wreath at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day and from the guest list for official banquets at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. This is not a decision of the Queen's household but a result of guidelines laid down by the Prime Minister.
It is not necessary, moreover, to be an SDP supporter to see the principle which is here at stake. That particular party collected 3.4 million votes at the last General Election, more than 10 per cent of the votes cast. Were parliamentary seats apportioned by way of a more democratic electoral method, such as proportional representation, the SDP might now have upwards of 60 MP's in the House of Commons.
Few need to be reminded that this is 1984. The year began with much speculation on the Orwellian nightmare, the general conclusion being that it had not arrived and did not seem to be imminent. But if we are unduly complacent we might find the year ending with some ominous and perhaps irreversible advances having been made by Big Brother.
The areas mentioned above are little more than random examples. To the sensitive and vigilant, other areas will surely be no less apparent.