“If you want to check someone’s principles, give him authority. Then have a seat & watch”
When considering the principles of politicians one can do no better than to refer to the words of David Cameron on the steps of No10 Downing Street on
attaining usurping the office of Prime Minister (10th May 2010):
“…. it is about making sure people are in control – and that the politicians are always their servant and never their masters….. “
Yes, these words I have quoted in previous posts, however they are quoted again to underline a belief held by A.V. Dicey.
Regular and informed readers will be well aware that A.V. Dicey was a British jurist and constitutional theorist perhaps best known for his work: An Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution published in 1885; the principles expounded therein being considered part of the uncodified British constitution.
It will have been noticed of late that there has been much discussion about the possibility of a referendum on this nation’s membership of the European Union; and it will have also been noticed that some politicians are against the principle of referendums because they argue that foremost among the principles of Dicey’s work (and politicians are extremely fond of quoting Dicey) was the “Sovereignty of Parliament”.
Intriguingly it would appear, from research on the internet, that A.V. Dicey was the first to advocate the use of referendums in 1890 with an article in Contemporary Review, one entitled: Ought the referendum to be introduced into England?. It is indeed paradoxical that Dicey should be the first to advocate the use of referendums as, according to Dicey, central to the British Constitution is the Sovereignty of Parliament – and the Sovereignty of Parliament, as just mentioned, some MPs maintain precludes the use of referendums.
Yet A.V. Dicey held that there was an inherent weakness in the British system of representative democracy and its government. In a letter to James Bryce on 23rd March 1891 (source: Bryce Papers, Bodleian Library MS 3 fo.83.) he writes:
“the possibility….which no-one can dispute of a fundamental change passing into law which the mass of the nation do not desire.”
In effect what Dicey was alluding to was the fact that the foundation of representational democracy was, to use the vernacular, shot to hell; and by inference that it was not Parliament, but the people, who were sovereign.
That attempts by those of us who wish to change our democracy to one of direct democracy face a fight with our political elite, one which we readily recognize, is again illustrated by A.V. Dicey. In 1915, in the Introduction to Law of the Constitution, 8th ed (London: Macmillan 1915 p.c.), he wrote:
“It is certain that no man who is really satisfied with the working of our party system will ever look with favour on an institution which aims at correcting the vices of party government.”
Rhetorical question I know, but are we still in doubt that our political elite are content with the existing party system. one which really does place them as participants of the current system of democratised dictatorship?
All believers in the system of direct democracy believe, as do I, that the only truly democratic way to make decisions on public policy is by the full, direct and unmediated participation of all the electorate. It is they who should set the agenda, discuss the issues and determine the policies. All things considered, any indirect form of participation, such as decisions by elected representatives without recourse to the electorate, cannot be fully democratic. Did not Dicey, by inference, state that it is not Parliament that is sovereign, but the people?
Addendum: Being constrained by limited battery life, in view of my power outage, it is acknowledged that this article is incomplete where detail is concerned however I felt it worth publishing in order to provoke further discussion among my readership – and hopefully beyond.