The Failure of British Democracy

This article could have been written at any point over the last few months but after seeing that MP’s are set to have their wages rise by 11%, I felt it should not wait any longer. It is infuriating and deeply troubling to live in a society whereby we, the people, are so constantly ignored.

Democracy. What is it? The classic definition of democracy is based on the route of the word. Democracy comes from the Greek  “Demos”, meaning “People”, and “Kratos”, meaning “Power” or “Rule”. Effectively saying that a democracy should be the people ruling themselves. There are many variations of democracy,  each with different methods to allow the people to rule themselves. One of these methods is Representative Democracy, and it is what we have here in Britain. Representative Democracy is where a representative is elected to speak on behalf of the people. The people sacrifice their voice, and their power, by handing it over to a person whom they have voted for. I believe that Representative Democracy is a poor method to run a country. I believe that this system makes it too easy to ignore the needs, and wants, of the population. And I believe that there are better alternatives to this system. Alternatives that give the power back to the people. I agree with John Dunn, when he writes in his book, Setting the People Free: The Story of Democracy, that “modern democracy … is principally the citizens very intermittently, choosing under highly constrained circumstances, the relatively small number of their fellows who will from then on choose for them”.

This, then, is how we view democracy. This is what the word “democracy” means to us. A watered down version of the original Athenian Democratic model whereby those that were eligible were directly involved and actively participated in almost every decision that would affect their lives. Our democracy, and our democratic system with all those that work inside of it, looks to alienate the people, and remove them from any sort of decision making. This is the great, and noble, “democracy” that we export to other countries under the guise of liberation and freedom.

In my opinion, a true democracy must listen to its people, in fact, a true democracy, is the people. If the people have no say in decisions which affect their lives, then the system has no right to call itself a democracy. If a government is to exist then it must be accountable to the people, and it must carry out what the people want. Only then can you truly believe in, and fully adhere to, Abraham Lincoln’s famous statement, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”.

Though I am very critical of the political system we have in place currently, even within this less than perfect structure there are, what I believe to be, truly democratic channels. Examples of direct democracy where the population can participate fully in the decision making process. I believe that referendums are one of these channels, and are a method of empowering the people. The term referendum, in fact carries the meaning, “bringing back”, ie. bringing back power to the people (coming from the Latin word ‘referre’). It’s mere presence acts as proof that within our current democracy the people have been stripped of power, holding little to none. The corruption of the system, however, is even evident here, where it has infected one of the only truly democratic channels. Politicians are well aware of the power of referendums, and so because of this, they use them only rarely. Instead of it being a means by which the government hands power back to the people, it is used as a tool by the ruling group. The terms of a referendum are always decided by those in charge, and it is only really used by the government to show support for policies they already wish to implement. It is a token gesture, simply throwing scraps to the masses when the banquet has ended. Seemingly empowering, but ultimately failing to deliver.

It is both clear, and easy, for the public to voice their opinion on matters. This voice should influence and drive government policy. This is not the case however, because the government do not care about the people. The system allows the government to ignore those who voted them in, and at times even betray them, and because the people have no power there is no accountability. The politicians will get voted in on false promises, ignore the voice of those that put them in a position of power, and then get away with it. The politicians are to blame for this, but the system allows it to happen.

Lets look at a recent history of our government and the decisions they have made which completely oppose the opinion held by the majority of the public. At the time of the invasions both the war in Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan were greatly opposed by the UK public. This current government was not in power then, but since coming to power opinion on Afghan involvement has not changed. The people do not want British troops in there and yet the government has done nothing to make this opinion, governmental policy. In 2008, Two years before Cameron became Prime Minister, it was clear that the public wanted troops to be removed from Afghanistan, a BBC opinion poll found that 68% wanted all the troops out in the next year. If this was a democracy Cameron would have acted on public opinion when he became Prime Minister, he would have removed the troops because that is what the majority of people wanted. He chose to ignore public opinion and nothing was done. Another poll was conducted by YouGov in April 2012, and found a 9% increase in those that supported British troops being brought home. 77% of people wanted to end British involvement in Afghanistan. At that time the 414 soldiers that had lost their lives, and the £20 billion price of involvement was simply not worth it. Yet here we are, over a year later, our troops are still in Afghanistan.

The bedroom tax, as it has come to be known, is another example of the government not following the wishes of the people. As of November this year, 45% opposed the bedroom tax, a small majority but a majority nonetheless. This sort of slim winning margin, for one side, or the other, implies that the public is divided on the matter. If this is the case then its clear that policy should not be implemented as it does not have the backing of the large majority of the people. The burden should be on those who attempt to change, or introduce new, legislation. There needs to be proof that there is enough public support to justify the change, or the implementation of the new law. If the correct figure, say 66% public approval, is not reached, no change should be made, no new laws introduced. After being voted on in the Houses of Parliament the bedroom tax is set to go ahead, in spite of the fact none of those that voted will be affected by this new law, and in spite of the fact that the majority of the public oppose it.

The extent to which the government ignore and dismiss the people they are meant to be representing is clear when we look at the NHS, the Royal Mail, the energy companies and the Railway companies. Recent polling by YouGov shows huge support for the nationalisation of these industries. 84% believe the NHS should be run in the public sector, 68% the energy companies, 67% the Royal Mail and 66% the Railway companies. These are great majorities and yet not only is the government ignoring these, they are in fact implementing the complete opposite. Both the Royal Mail and the NHS are set to be privatised, or at least partly privatised, and the public owned Railway companies are looking to be sold off.

There are numerous examples available. HS2, the high speed rail network, is opposed by 55% of the British public, yet that is set to continue. The renewal of the Trident Nuclear Missiles has shown “strong and consistent opposition” according to The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. They list 13 poll outcomes, from as early as 2006, that show public opposition to this initiative. In 2009, 58% of the public voted against renewing Trident according to a ComRes poll for The Independent. Despite opposition the government approved the initial assessment phase for the construction of new Trident submarines on the 18th of May 2011. As of August this year 42% of people are against the governments badger cull according to a YouGov poll, and though it states in the article that public support of government policy has slightly increased there may be an obvious reason for this. If contentious issues, such as the mass slaughter of innocent wild animals, are not supported by public opinion, it is highly likely that the government then spends millions of pounds persuading the public that it is in fact, the correct thing to do. When the issue is one of killing, it is likely the government does its best to get the public onside. It is termed personal relations, but it in reality it differs little from simple propaganda. Over 300,000 people have signed a UK government e-petition, the highest figure ever, stating that they were against the cull. These voices are ignored, as the cull continues and is set to expand.

56% of British people support a ban on zero-hour contracts and yet they still exist. An astonishing 80% of the British public support “the criminalisation of ‘reckless’ bank management”, but we are yet to see any bankers imprisoned because of the economic crisis, and what we are in fact seeing is bankers awarding themselves some of the largest bonuses in history. A mansion tax, which would consist of an annual tax of 1% on homes worth over £2 million, is widely supported across Britain. A poll from July shows that 65% support the scheme but you would be foolish to think that this will become governmental policy. The decision to raise University tuition fees enraged and politicised thousands of students across Britain. They were not the only ones who disagreed with the policy as 45% of the public did not support the idea. Regardless of this opposition, University fees were trebled. As was predicted this led to University applications falling significantly. Not only were the students ignored, but they were priced out of higher education. 60% of people even support a new tactic of decriminalisation mirroring Portugal’s approach to the “War on Drugs”, the Deputy PM Nick Clegg himself supports the idea, and yet, once again, we see no change.

Perhaps worse than the times when the peoples voices are being ignored, are the times when they are not even present. When there are no polls, no referendums and policy is simply created with no public participation at all. Without any feedback or communication, policy and decisions that affect peoples lives are implemented. Bailing out reckless bankers, raising the retirement age and the latest in a seemingly never ending line of fiascoes, a pay rise for MP’s. It is no wonder that politicians seem so out of touch. It is because they are, and this is because they shut themselves off from the real world, and ignore the voices of real people.

The system is set up so that the people have no power. One of the only powers we wield, and posses is being able to vote for who our dictator is for the next five years. There is no accountability, because in this system it is impossible to hold our “leaders” responsible. Once they are in a position of power, should we not be able to remove them if they consistently oppose public opinion and consistently dismiss public desires.

You have to go back to October the 12th 2010 to find the last time more people approved of this government than disapproved. For over three years we have been under the rule of someone we did not wish to have, and for over three years we have been forced to accept policies we did not agree with. This is British democracy.

It is no wonder that people are losing faith in both the system and the politicians, that voting numbers are steadily falling, and have been for decades, it is no wonder that people are disillusioned. To quote Emma Goldman, “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal”. This seems to speak more truth every day, as it appears that voting is rapidly becoming a redundant activity. Voter turnout is declining in almost every established democracy on the planet. It is no coincidence. I believe that people are realising the truth, that even in our “democracies” your opinion, your voice, and your vote means nothing.

Britain has no democracy.
Democracy is dead.

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