This forum is about wrong numbers in science, politics and the media. It respects good science and good English.
As is probably obvious, I don't share the esteemed Professor Brignell's political views on Europe. Politicians, whether elected or appointed (and lets not forget most decisions in most countries are made by appointed people whether lords, European commissioners, quangos or advisors and lobbyists) tend to have their snouts in one trough or another. The clean ones are in a tiny tiny minority. The faux outrage at a few MPs paying their family members as "researchers" is just that - faux - or am I really the only person who knows this has been going on for decades?
States and supranational entities exist with the consent of the governed. The powers they have are those the people have devolved to them - under modern democracy an increasingly apathetic populace is allowing the state to take more and more powers. I don't agree with it, but hey - that's democracy for you. But even I agree that some things need governments, and some things are best governed at a local level, some at a national level, and some at an international level. Sometimes that means (whether the decisions are right or wrong) the EU telling borough councils they can't errect turnpikes or make littering a capital offence, or national governments telling the EU they aren't going to join the Euro, and sometimes it means borough councils telling the EU or national government that that incinerator isn't going to get built on their patch of land. Getting the balance right - both in terms of what powers we devolve to governments and which level of government we devolve those powers to, is the hard thing.
So, leave the politicians be - accept that some level of corruption will exist - disgrace those who get caught pour encourager les autres, and prosecute the more egregious examples of nest-feathering, such as that for which the Santer commission was in fact, er, sacked by the European Parliament. What short memories we have.
States and supranational entities exist with the consent of the governed.
That would be one of the founding principles of the United States. It does not apply to the UK.
Large parts of the British state, up to and including the Head, are not subject to the democratic will of the people. Quite the reverse, in fact.
While I disagree profoundly with JamesV (would he really agree to let me off burgling his house on the grounds that people have always burgled houses?) he has a point about government only being possible with the consent of the governed. This is not a high-faluting political principle (if you'll permit the oxymoron) but simple practicality, and there is a time lag involved. Thus a group which has seized power will not usually face an immediate reaction from the people but unless they perform in power a gradual groundswell of discontent arises, possibly over generations, before breaking out in outright revolt. Once the revolt is under way there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. Examples are provided by most of the great European revolutions - the French and Russian both had deep roots going back half a century or more.
When the British revolution starts, let's hope that we don't make the same mistake as the Russians. They kept the bureaucrats and shot the Tsar!
The burglary analogy is a good one, but I'd make the point that the cost of reducing my risk of burglary to zero outweighs the benefit. It's better to accept a small risk of burglary than live in a police state behind an electric fence and spend all my spare money on a security guard. Likewise, it's better to accept that some degree of corruption is the way of all things than to make peoples' lives hell for doing a bit of minor ripping-off that's been going on (and usually far worse) for centuries anyway. This is not to condone or even encourage the practice, I did in fact say that those discovered should be shamed, but if you insist that no-one can become a politician if they have ever had a parking ticket, or failed to declare all their income, or slept with someone they shouldn't have, or smoked a joint, etc etc etc, you are narrowing the field somewhat. If anything, real-world experience is desirable and that involves having made real-world mistakes. That has to be better than the likes of Blair who was institutionalised all the way from boarding school to no. 10 via Oxford and the inns of court. He's never even had to iron his own newspapers poor little thing.
I'm aware that the "consent of the governed" bit doesn't technically apply in a country which is so averse to constitutions it doesn't even have one of its own, but it is so obviously true that freedom can only legitimately be taken from the people with their consent that I suspect even the esteemed political philosophers Messrs. Brown and Cameron would agree.
The problem with politicians is not that they fiddle their expenses. I've been known to fiddle mine. It's that they impose standards on us and fail to meet them themselves. Nobody can get £20,000 pa to run a second house where they need to work and not have it taxed, except MPs. If we get some sort of allowance, we have to produce receipts. There's pretty much nothing left you can get tax-free nowadays. It's not the fiddling, it's the featherbedding that annoys me. It's that they can get caught and not punished because they turn out not to have broken even commons rules, let alone laws. BUT at least we get a vote for our own MPs, in the case of Europe there is a massive disconnect, we can't get rid of them in any legal way, and they do not police themselves properly either, viz the failure of the EUs accounts to pass scrutiny every year without fail. I agree with all of JBs rant. More power to him.
So vote for someone who will change the rules on what MPs can get!
Do you complain as loudly about not getting a vote for the Queen, or the House of Lords, or the British ambassador to the United Nations as you do for not getting a vote for your commissioner? Or is it OK for those persons to be appointed to powerful positions by the government (or accident of birth) because that's the British way of doing things, while European habits of appointing people to powerful positions without a popular vote (European commissioners, President of Germany ...) are unacceptable? Why not petition the government to provide for the election of the UK commissioner by popular vote? There's nothing to stop them doing that. Or vote for an MEP who will keep tabs on the commission as they did with the entire Santer commission and more recently with Rocco Buttiglione. Or bear in mind that nothing the commission proposes currently passes into law without the agreement of all 27 national governments. With that in mind it doesn't really matter how undemocratic the commission is. They could call for the final solution if they really wanted to, but no-one would agree to it, let alone everyone. I can't vote for the civil servants who write German or British law either, and why should I care about that? Do you care about that? Do you want a US-style democracy where you get to choose everyone from king-president to who gets the next 4-year term as chief librarian at tht local high school? That job, like all jobs paid for by the state (taxpayer) should go to whoever is best at it, not whoever can win a five-yearly beauty pageant. The commissioners, like the high school librarians, should be apolitical. That they are not is their own failing and that of those who appointed them.
Provided there's democratic oversight of everything the state might foist on us, including international obligations (I don't remember any referenda on the treaty of Versailles either) we have no democratic deficit. Cave: commissioners, like politicians in general, would do well to remember they are our servants, not our masters.
By the way, when did the UK government's accounts last pass an independent audit? I just want to know so we can draw a fair comparison with the EU commission.