What we have in this country (and in America) is supposedly a system of democracy. According to Wikipedia: “Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens participate equally”.
By that definition; what we have isn’t democracy – clearly politicians and the media play a much bigger part in the process than the average Joe – it’s really a case of “some are more equal than others”. What we have is an elected oligarchy – power is concentrated in the hands of the few, but the public do have some say over who those people are, and the few are supposed to represent the views of the public. It doesn’t seem to be working very well though – the public feel they have limited influence over our elected representatives once they’re in power, and in many cases the choice at election day feels like a false one.
On election day, each person’s individual beliefs and choices must be condensed down into a selection between a number of candidates. In my case, my political views are most closely aligned with the Green party – but even then there’s a problem – well, two problems actually. The first is that, depending on the constituency you live in, the party who most closely represents your views may have absolutely no chance of winning your seat – so then you’re left with a choice between voting for what you believe in (and wasting your vote), or voting tactically to avoid the worse of two evils. If you live in a safe seat for one of the major parties; your vote is basically worthless anyway so you might as well not bother. Proportional representation (proper PR, not the weird, wonky version cooked up by the Lib Dems) would go some way towards fixing this problem, and in my case I was lucky anyway because I was in the Brighton Pavilion constituency and Caroline Lucas of the Green party actually did win their first ever seat here. However, the problem remains – the choice we’re offered at the ballot box is not a free choice, there are constraints placed upon it by our broken electoral system.
This leads me onto the second, more serious problem with our party political system – what if there is no party that is aligned perfectly with my views? In my case the issue is over Nuclear power – I agree with pretty much everything the Greens say, until it comes to the issue of Nuclear power; where I am strongly in favour, and the Greens are still mostly against. I feel strongly enough about this issue that it’s almost sufficient to disqualify the Greens from receiving my vote.
This puts me in the position where, no matter who I vote for, I still feel like I have to betray some of my own beliefs in order to do it. There is no candidate or party that I can vote for, and feel confident they will represent my views in the house of commons. This is leaving many ideological young people feeling completely disaffected by the whole political system, many view it as something that’s not designed to serve them, and don’t feel that their vote will have any influence – so they don’t vote. It’s sad, because these people do have political views, they do care, they’ve just lost hope in their democratic system to deliver any kind of engagement for them.
Our political choices are largely spoon-fed to us via the machinery of party politics, and the media’s portrayal of it. But even once we’ve made the decision to vote for a political party, and even if the political party we voted for wins, we often still don’t feel happy with the way they’ve represented us in parliament. Looking back at Blair’s first election victory in 1997, I remember people being very excited for change when he came into power, and I remember that excitement gradually draining away over the course of his reign, as we realised that many of his decisions were “antipathetic” to the views of those who elected him.
So, even once we’ve elected someone we feel happy with (such as Blair in 1997), we often don’t get what we bargained for. This is because politicians are people, and people can be influenced; by the media, by other governments, by lobbyists, by god, by anyone, and those people can get it wrong – both in terms of taking the wrong decisions, and also in terms of failing to represent the portion of the electorate who voted for you. Blair went to war against the wishes of most of his supporters, Clegg allowed the coalition to raise tuition fees, despite it being one of his primary manifesto commitments not to do that. It just leaves us feeling cheated by the whole system, and for some people it makes them withdraw from it – resulting in an even less democratic system.
Increasing numbers of people are disengaging with democracy and seeking alternative mechanisms to get their views across. I’m thinking about the Occupy movement, as well as the riots, and the fracking protestors, and the no-dash-for-gas protestors. In some cases it’s successful, others not so much. We’ve always had protest, of course, but there are times in history when protest reaches a climax, and the tectonic plates of society gradually begin sliding towards a new world order. I believe now is one of those times.
It’s all very well complaining about the state of the current system, and I’m sure I’m not the only one to do that – but not many people have a coherent solution – it was a critisism often levelled at the occupy movement – they knew they weren’t happy with how things were, but didn’t really know what to do to fix it.
Well I have a proposal that I would like to raise for consideration and debate – as I see it, the biggest problem with our democracy is that we’re voting for parties and personalities, not policies. We vote-in a party, and then have to trust them to act for us in the house of commons, often they let us down. What we need in order to fix this, is a system of voting whereby we vote for the policies, not the parties. I’m advocating a system in which every bill that passes through the house would trigger what is effectively a referendum.
In my proposed system, the political process would continue as it is, with parties elected and bills raised in the house in the way they are now, but at the end of each debate, when the division bell rang; instead of the archaic Harry Potter-esque ritual that occurs at the moment, the vote would instead be put to the public, via an online voting system. Members of the public would be able to vote on the bill, as if they were a member of the house of commons, but they’d be able to do it in a couple of minutes in their own homes from any internet-connected device – and the vote of the public would be binding. Government would become purely an administrative body (the Admin Bods, as Russell Brand puts it), all the decisions would be made democratically by the people, not a select ordained few.
This has been technically possible for a while, but I think we’re probably a long way off it actually being implemented. The electronic voting saga of the US elections and our government’s persistent failure to ever deliver an IT project that actually works will probably make this impossible for the foreseeable future. However, I believe it is the only route to true democracy. An elected dictatorship is not a democracy, a democracy is a society in which the people have the power of self-determination.
That we should be grateful for the chance to choose our dictator is absurd. Absurd and unnecessary. We do not need to nominate someone to make our decisions for us, we can make them ourselves. The internet makes this a practical reality – but as far as I’m aware, I’m the only one pointing this out.
You may say that the public is ill-equipped to be making important decisions about the future of the country, but I would counter that by saying that they can do no worse than the terrible decisions being made by our current political class. Furthermore, if decisions were fully representative, the bias towards the rich and powerful in politics would be removed – this would result in more decisions that benefit the “greater good”.