“George Monbiot’s article about the proposed Oxford-Cambridge expressway exposes how grand schemes are conceived and presented for “consultation” when only the trivial issues remain (These projects shape our lives. But we have no say in them, Journal, 22 August).
My work takes me to parts of the world often criticised for being undemocratic, where plans worked out behind closed doors and backed by powerful interest groups are indeed presented for “consultation”. This fait accompli approach fails to give people a real say, however, and gives a veneer of democratic accountability to projects with negative social and environmental impacts. Western governments express concern over how local rights are ignored in such places, but this is also happening here.
To expressways and HS2s, add hundreds of smaller decisions imposed on people against their wishes. In my town, in spite of 100% local opposition, a successful secondary school was closed, with serious consequences for local demographics and economic life. Local voices in the UK are powerless against a system that is essentially authoritarian, blind to community issues and needs, and light years away from asking if the relentless pursuit of growth really is the solution to all our problems. As in many countries where democracy is cosmetic, our leaders resort to “national interest” or “we know best” arguments, while pandering to corporate interests or driven blindly by political targets.
The Oxford-Cambridge expressway is an example of a much deeper malaise at the heart of our democracy, where people have little say over what really affects their lives.