Democracy? What Democracy?

As the AV referendum campaign grinds on producing "debates" that scale new heights of tedium, I reckon we are going to hear even more talk of democracy. The opposing campaigns will tell you that their preferred voting system is better for democracy and that what they propose is more democratic. Of course, such comments miss the salient question of whether democracy is an end in itself or simply a means to other ends, but that's a question for another day. What I'd like to ask now is what democracy are they talking about?

Because we have precious little democracy in this country right now. In fact, what we have is a self-perpetuating oligarchy that has ceded much of its power to the EU that happens to face evermore disinterested and diminishing groups of voters in banal elections every few years. To get elected to government, you have to be a loyal, active member of one of the three main parties. And they decide which candidates can contest election.The parties handpick those who they want to join their elite. Any impact of the electorate on those decisions is purely second hand and remote.

Furthermore, there is nothing particularly democratic in the way in which political discourse is conducted in this country. Vast swathes of what could – and should – be legitimately debated is ignored, and when someone dares to raise controversial issues, they are quickly hushed up, or painted to be some sort of delusional demagogue. So you can't really criticise the bloated bureaucracy of the NHS, and good God help you if you dare to suggest it should be dismantled and replaced with something more modern, less monolithic and actually fit for purpose. You shouldn't talk about immigration, even if your point is to say "immigration is good, can we have some more please?" And to suggest you have reservations about the extent, nature and causes of climate change means you are painted as a dullard Luddite, and you end up being lumped together with Holocaust deniers.

So yeah, democracy. How we doing on that? Pretty poorly, I'd say. In fact, some days I think the only reason we actually remain a democracy is because we happen to self-identity as a democracy. Hardly the more ringing endorsement of democratic values now, is it?

A week on Thursday, you get to vote on whether you want AV or not. Regardless of how you vote, please don't for one second believe that you are voting for or against real democratic change. Democracy is dying in this country – it is being strangled by a risk averse, increasingly powerless elite who will only allow for the debate of the least controversial – and therefore, more often than not, the least important – issues.

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11 comments for “Democracy? What Democracy?

  1. Peter Whale
    April 28, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    There is no democracy all parties promised a referendum on the EU constitution, they all lied.

  2. April 28, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Democracy is a word thrown about by the righteous in the same way that they bandy about “progressive” as if they are credentials for their righteousness. Democracy should merely be the means to an end – that of liberty. Unfortunately, what we are seeing is something rather more sinister; the tyranny of the minority. AV won’t change this. It might, just might, dilute some of the power base of the big three. That is all.

  3. April 28, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    As the old adage goes, if voting changed anything, they’d abolish it.

    • April 28, 2011 at 7:51 pm

      Amen!

  4. john in cheshire
    April 28, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    Progressive = marxist.

  5. Sue
    April 28, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    Don’t get me started. What is the matter with people? What do they think a democracy is? Are they stupid or just don’t care? I’m baffled, really I am.

  6. April 28, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    The new generation of voters certainly don’t seem to understand what democracy is.

    I think we’re talking to the already-converted here. I flinch whenever I hear the word ‘progressive’. It’s true that successive governments have lied and, despite our votes, have now arranged themselves into a cosy communitarian clique so that voting means less than it ever did. At this stage, a vote for any Party other than the Lib/Lab/Con con is fine with me. Except for the Greens, of course.

  7. April 28, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    I must concur with Longrider:

    “Democracy should merely be the means to an end – that of liberty”

    I think we should be wary of calling upon democracy, or greater democracy, as the answer to our nation’s political woes, although it’s right to hold up our current system to the light.

  8. William
    April 28, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    There is no democracy in this country. I doubt there ever has been. There is a veneer of democracy which curls away the second a braincell wakes and instructs a finger to scratch away at it but the concept of a government representing the views of the majority of the people is one that has never existed in my lifetime.

    The only version of democracy that comes anywhere near is the Swiss model. There the people are in total control and make majority decisions or even sensible minority decisions possible by ensuring the government is the servant of the people.

    Here the government pretends to be the servant and indeed it is but it is not the servant of the people it is the servant of its human masters.

    With that said I believe that there is no government, there is no country there are only people.

  9. April 28, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    We do not live in a democracy. A vote every few years is not democracy.

    From wikipedia:

    Democracy is a form of government in which all citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal (and more or less direct) participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law.

    This country does not have the above system. We have an elected oligarchy.

    Switzerland has a democracy. There 50,000 voters can call for a referendum on any legislation. 100,000 voters can put legislation on the table. We may want legislation on, say, capital punishment. Will we get what we want? Do we have a say in the question(s) on the AV ballot? Do the bien peasants give a damn about what we want?

    Every time someone says we live in a democracy I want to kill them. đź‘ż

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