Mary Riddell, writing in today's Telegraph,.is really full of it. She quotes Abraham Lincoln almost 150 years ago, saying "the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth". He did indeed say that. She says however "that democratic dream looks more perishable by the day." What are these people on? When there are beginning to be democratic governments in north Africa after decades of dictatorship? OK, they are tending there to elect the wrong people, but that is another matter. When international observers are critical of the elections in Russia? How many international observers went to elections in Russia in the 1980s? How many elections were there in Russia in the 1980s?
Riddell says that the gulf is widening between the governing and the governed. Is that right? As opposed to the golden age when the governing sat down for cups of tea with the governed? All of them. All the time. Yeah, right.
While in Australia last month I had a chat with a member of the extended family who is about 22 years old. He is Australian, of Spanish and British heritage, and was educated in the US for a number of fairly formative years. He was much exercised about the oligarchic pressure (he did not put it like this) on democratic representatives in the US, and the effect that has on democracy - because money is involved. And yet, it is in the US that you need to be seriously rich to have a hope of being elected to anything serious. For him (the family member) it was partly about anti-Americanism, which is depressingly prevalent among those, especially the young, who describe themselves as of the left politically. And part of it was anti-democratic. Because that is what the Occupy chappies are about. No ballot boxes for us, we are on the streets. Well, no, actually. go on to the streets, in any half-way free and democratic society you must not be prevented from doing so. Well, not most of the time, anyway (see the European Convention on Human Rights, which includes a number of scenarios in which freedom of assembly and other freedoms may legitimately be curtailed). But campaign for the changes you want in society through the democratic process. There is no other way.
Mary Riddell goes on in her article to bewail the insufficient resources available for home care for elderly people in the UK who need that help. I am quite sure she is right there. She is also right to mention the fact that a jointly funded insurance-based elderly care system could be set up for the next generation (mine, probably), but that the present UK government will not do this.
France, where I live, has an utterly enviable health care system. While sorting out emails the other day I came across one I sent in 2008, just after I had had my varicose veins removed (the NHS prescribed me a surgical stocking) which required five days in a clinic. I described the last lunch I ate before leaving the clinic - white bean and carrot soup, supreme of guinea fowl with coulis of vegetables, bread and local smoked cheese, and mousse of red fruits with meringue, tisane to drink. The portions were small but very tasty. And elderly people in France get home care. But they pay for it themselves, as everything here is insurance based. The state system pays for a proportion, any "mutuelle" or top-up insurance the person has pays for most of the rest - but there might still be a gap, especially when a person goes into residential care. At that point the person's offspring become legally obliged to pay the difference. If they can show by notarised affidavits that they cannot do this (and people have been known to sell their own homes to pay for an elderly parent's care, not necessarily willingly) then the State will make up the difference. But as a loan. From the person's estate, to be recovered when they die. This includes assets or property the person may have in another country. There is some evidence that people of north African origin who have been French citizens for decades and who are now beginning to need elderly care are concerned about family property in Algeria or Morocco which is supporting other family members there. Well, don't say I didn't warn you.
On the subject of health, there is currently a measles epidemic in France. Because some people do not get vaccinated. In Australia I discovered that if your children do not have the full complement of vaccinations there you lose a proportion of the equivalent of child benefit. Good. Pay something back for the risk you are posing to public health. There is a six-year-old child in a public hospital in France today who is seriously ill after contracting measles, and who is currently blind and may stay that way. Well done, all of you who do not wish to pollute your children with vaccines.