Thessaloniki, Greece

I’ve just taken the overnight train from Athens. Sitting in the smoky station cafe waiting for the connection to Skopje, Macedonia, having just eaten a sickly sweet king-size chocolate croissant with Nutella-type chocolate oozing out of it.

I just had a seat on the train but managed to sleep a bit. Four hours maybe.

Athens was a messy city, despite the fact that the pavements seemed to be constantly being cleaned. Roads cracking up, cars and scooters parked over the roads and pavements, other cars and scooters weaving around them and the pedestrians who are forced to walk on the roads for much of the time due to obstacles on the pavements. The Acropolis was covered in scaffolding and looking like it had seen better days. A sign said restoration work was being done to repair the damage done by previous restoration work.

Prices in Greece are high, and usually higher than you expect in restaurants since they charge you for extras they give you that you didn’t ask for. I just deducted the charge for the extras off the 10% tip I would’ve given them. After a few days I expected to be charged a euro for a few slices of bread, but in one place, a while ago in Mykonos, the most touristy of the islands, I was with someone else and the waiter brought over an olive dip and bread which then appeared as 5 euros on the bill. People have said prices went up a lot here after they joined the euro.

There’s an advert on the radio here that sounds like something from the Fast Show’s Channel 9.

A woman goes around the cafe clearing the tables and sweeping up. She’s smiling and chewing gum. The Greeks seem to like their cafes. Even though a coffee can cost more than 3 euros most of the seats outside cafes seem to be occupied most of the time. It seems like people buy one drink and make it last.

The Greeks also like their democracy, which means not taking rules or the authorities too seriously, particularly the rules relating to driving. Like if you get stopped for speeding or drink driving you just buy the officer a bottle of ouzo or something. And when I’ve seen TVs on here they’ve frequently had political discussion programmes on.

In the old Greece democracy was something everyone participated in. The Athenian Boule, or senate, had 500 members, ordinary citizens selected by allotment from the ten tribes of Athens. So in their lifetime every citizen would probably at some point be a senator.

Perhaps this is something Britain should replace the House of Lords with. One Lord and one Lady could be selected at random from each constituency, using the electoral roll, a bit like how they select for jury service. Though this would be optional. If you were selected and didn’t want to serve they could just select someone else, but if you did do it, which would be for a limited term, you’d be paid a salary that’s above the average wage, £50,000 a year say, so there would be a good incentive, just in case the incentive of getting involved in politics and having some power wasn’t enough. It would be a full time job so you’d be expected to attend a certain proportion of debates and do constituency surgeries. If Lords and Ladies didn’t perform their duties they could be dismissed by the House and a new Lord or Lady would be selected from their constituency.

Lords and Ladies wouldn’t all have to travel to London for the debates. There could be regional assemblies with video links to Parliament in London, so geordie Lords and Ladies would go to Newcastle, those from the West Midlands to Birmingham etc..

One of the pros of this system is that you’d get ordinary people being directly involved in political decisions. The Lords and Ladies would talk to their families and friends about their work, so involvement and interest would spread, and constituents would now have three Members of Parliament they could turn to, at least one of whom would be a woman, and the Lord and Lady, being ordinary members of the public rather than toffs or party hacks, might be more approachable. However, there’s a chance they might be ignorant bigots or bone idle, but that’s the chance you take with democracy. If you don’t trust the people, stick with the present aristocratic or some similarly elitist House of Lords. Anyway, with a Big Brother style eviction system you could weed out the worst Lords and Ladies, but probably most of them would be okay and some would be very good. Give people some responsibility and they’ll live up to it – perhaps. Bigoted opinions frequently come from those with no power and so no hope of ever actually making their bigoted opinions law. When you’re in that kind of position you start to think: What does it matter what I think? It makes no difference, so what’s it matter if what I think is obnoxious?

The House of Lords (and Ladies), as at present, would be a reforming chamber, not actually making laws but approving or rejecting legislation sent to it by the Commons, and the Commons as the elected chamber would still have supremacy.

Maybe people earning high salaries, more than the £50,000 a year they’d get as Lords and Ladies, would not choose leave their present job for a few years to take a cut in salary and so would turn down the opportunity to serve their country, but that would be no great loss. The rich are over-represented in the Commons as it is and have too much political power anyway through lobby groups, owning media and making donations to political parties – but at least under this system they wouldn’t be able to buy peerages – so a House of Lords with a preponderance of people from low and middle income backgrounds would restore some balance.

4 Comments

  1. Dan · 2 November 2007

    Dear Paul

    I did Classics A level and I remember a module on ancient Athenian democracy. I remember thinking at the time what a great system. You’re right – it would be better.
    What do you think the cafe owner recognised in your face, in your demeanor, that made him offer you a free drink?
    Lovely story about the cat.

    Dan

  2. Mbashta · 3 November 2007

    “In the old Greece democracy was something everyone participated in.”

    What about women and slaves? Not to mention lizzerds.

  3. paul · 8 November 2007

    When I said “everyone” I obviously wasn’t including women and slaves.

  4. paul · 8 November 2007

    Dan – I think the cafe owner recogized money in my face and thought that by offering me a free chai I’d end up staying for something to eat, but I didn’t.