Winston Churchill once said: "Democracy is the worst form of government, except all those others that have been tried from time to time"
I think there is a lot of truth in this simple statement and I think it's a message that has rarely been more pertinent then it is today. For today we live in a world where Russia is able to create the Ukraine crisis and then fund, arm and reinforce a proxy army to seize the territory of its sovereign neighbour without any response more serious then tough words and economic sanctions. Indeed, as this crisis developed the EU and UK response, we are told by the House of Lords, has been woefully inadequate throughout.
Nor is this the isolated case or crisis that some would like to portray, but rather the latest in a pattern of Russian aggression and maneuvering that the West has completely failed to counter or respond to. Whether it is supporting the murderous regime of Basher Al-Assad in Syria, invading and nearly crushing Georgia or brutally suppressing Czechnya and the other Caucaus republics, Russia, and her president Vladimir Putin, have shown the utmost contempt for not only the international status quo but also the stern words and wagging fingers of democratically elected leaders. Despite all the efforts of Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande, this seems unlikely to change any time soon.
How has this situation been allowed to develop? Well, put simply, the Liberal Democracies of the West, and in particular Britain and the United States, are having a crisis of confidence.
The reasons for it are simple to see and with each new revelation about GCHQ or Guantanamo Bay they only become more obvious. The once shining image of the democratic ideal has been sullied and tarnished and where once optimism and hope were the bywords of a liberal democracy they have been replaced by cynicism, distrust and fear. We are rightly outraged by the actions of our governments, or else consumed by the fears of home-grown terrorists or less important internal issues such as immigration and benefit claimants.
All these things turn our gaze inward, and that introverted mentality is one that outside forces are happy to perpetuate. It is no coincidence that the Russian government has poured millions of dollars into Russia Today, their English language news service and full-time propaganda device, nor that groups like ISIS devote significant time and resources pouring out a message of hatred on that most decadent of Western vices, Social Media. Both Russia Today and the rantings of Jihadists share a common theme; the steady discrediting of Western governments and denouncement of our way of life as somehow more decadent and weak then their preferred ideology (Russian nationalism and violent Islam, respectively).
It is time we shook ourselves from the malaise and cynicism and remembered that, for all the faults and failures of our governments and our culture, it is still much better then any of the alternatives actually achieved.
Yes, the British and American governments have massively invaded the privacy of citizens and impinged upon our rights... but they were exposed by a free and liberal press and rightly brought forward for public condemnation. Not a single journalist has been prosecuted for this revelation and, while the US continues to hope for Edward Snowden to be tried for breaching state secrets, no one is ever likely to be.
Yes, the misguided invasion of Iraq was a quagmire that has now boiled over into a region-shattering crisis. We need to take responsibility for that and we should all be outraged at the delays of the Chilcott Inquiry. However, we should also remember that there is an Inquiry and that sooner or later the facts will be brought to light. If the Inquiry is found to be lacking the force of public pressure will undoubtedly force another and we will continue to hold our leaders to account.
We are not perfect, our governments are certainly not perfect and we must not be afraid to admit our failings. However, we must realise that though our failings may have disastrous consequences the alternative, the grey seductive draw of inaction, may have repercussions that are far, far worse.
For where in the West a free press can criticise and hold governments to account in nations like China and Russia dissenting voices are ruthlessly crushed.
Where in a democracy a person may still face prejudice for their gender, race, religion or sexuality they may also find recourse in an impartial court. Elsewhere, the suppression of religion and different sexualities is the norm.
Where we may fall short of lofty goals, others will ever succeed to plumb the depths of cruel utility to serve their own interest.
For all these reasons and a thousand more we must recapture our voice, our confidence. We must stand proudly against the forces that would silence us and remind the world why once they placed their trust in us, and perhaps why they should once again.