Following my first post in this series, Richard North, EUReferendum, in the second of his series of posts leading up to the ‘Harrogate Gathering’, notes that The Boiling Frog has joined the debate on this subject. While I am a believer in Direct Democracy (and tailored to suit the needs of the United Kingdom) it would appear that The Boiling Frog wishes to retain the present system of representative democracy, albeit slightly amended – so, in the interest of debate ahead of Harrogate, perhaps we should look in greater detail at the proposals of my fellow attendee.
First, TBF maintains that democracy, translated as ‘people rule’, can easily lead to two wolves and a sheep having a vote on what to eat for lunch. Two wolves and sheep having a vote on what to eat for lunch is exactly the situation we have presently where the two main parties (Lab/Con) and the electorate are involved. If we accept the idea that democracy is but ‘people rule’, as I defined democracy in my first post (linked above), then surely what we would have is 60 million wolves and 2 to 4 sheep debating what to have for lunch – a much more interesting and worthwhile scenario!
Second, TBF further maintains that propositions of reform of our current system are likely to gain far more traction to a British public largely afraid of substantial change than suggestions of abolitions or wholesale upheavals. This suggestion does not ‘hold water’ because, on the basis that our governments (over the last how many decades?) has been formed by Labour or Conservative administrations; have we not suffered substantial change and wholesale upheaval based on the point that one party believes in private enterprise and the other believes in state control. Has the country not been pulled from one ideology to another and in the process suffered substantial change and upheaval? In fairness, where TBF is quite right is in stating that the constituents of Witney have been disenfranchised by their Member of Parliament also being Prime Minister and that he conducts his surgeries de facto as a Prime Minister, one elected to that position not by Witney but by his own party. This leads neatly onto my third point.
Third, TBF talks of representative democracy, but while the political class are allowed to continue acting in accordance with the definition provided by Edmund Burke nothing will change, because Burke’s definition is what allows our political class to act as dictators:
“ …it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” (emphasis mine)
It is because of adherence to Burke’s beliefs that MPs are prone to be a party to TBF’s complaint about how they act and behave that has led to the dire political straits in which we find ourselves – and thus ‘bastardizing’ the system of representative democracy.
Fourth, let us now consider TBF’s proposal that the Parliamentary term, at 5 years, is too long and that we should consider one of 3 years and that, presumably after an initial period of 3 years, every year thereafter there is a general election whereby a third of any parliament is up for re-election. Let us extrapolate that proposal wherein, initially, a government (let us say Conservative) is elected with a small majority of say 20 seats (one could, in this example, call it a ‘Major’ majority). In year 4 a third of the parliament that are up for re-election are changed by the public vote to an extent that the majority who are elected are Labour thus causing that party to then have a majority in the House of Commons. At a stroke the Conservative government would have to fall, allowing a Labour administration to take office, which would then result in yet another situation whereby the country -and the electorate – would then be pulled another way, ideologically. Let us assume also that the following year the situation is reversed. Such a ‘see-saw’ of political fortune cannot be to the benefit of either country or party.
Fifth, a binding referendum on any budget is a ‘given’ on the basis that politicians should and must obtain agreement from those that are providing the funds for political objectives. This, however, raises the question that if the public has a right to control taxation, then should they not also have the right to control any political proposition that a government proposes? Such an argument, whilst logical, would be totally unworkable when considering the time that would be involved – the country would be virtually in a state of ‘continual referendum’.
Sixth, the question of whether political parties should be ‘banned’ and only the names of candidates allowed on ballot papers. It is logical to assume that were the present incumbents in our politics to stand as independents that the electorate would not know that Ed Miliband is of the Labour Party; that David Cameron is of the Conservative Party and that Nick Clegg is of the Liberal Democrat Party? It is accepted that independent candidates have won parliamentary elections and have, at most, lasted one maybe two terms only to lose their seats. I do not recall any election where one independent candidate has been succeeded by another – invariably the seat in question has always reverted to a party candidate. Why is this? I would offer the suggestion that voters believe in an ideology and, in order to express their views, they need a candidate of similar belief, consequently they need a ‘banner’ or political party to represent said views.
Seventh, TBF believes that important issues cannot simply be dismissed based on the colour of the rosette but would have to be discussed on merit – but discussed with whom, the public or ‘stakeholders’? If it should, as it logically should, be with the public because they are the ones affected either nationally or locally, then we are entering the reasons why direct democracy is the only way to proceed.
It is agreed that presently there is too much government and that its costs are excessive – therefor any system that halves both the amount of government and its cost must surely be welcomed, whilst also putting power back in the hands of those to whom it belongs. Representative democracy is a system that has had its day, it is broken beyond repair and no amount of ‘tinkering’ will repair it – in which case let us discard it into the dustbin of history.