A plague o’ both your houses.

Democracy has many problems as the old story of the lamb and two wolves voting on what to have for supper clearly illustrates. However, as Winston Churchill opined ” democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried“. Democratic systems are probably the only way that mankind can live in reasonable harmony and in stable and fair communities. However, for democracy to work a few basic principles need to be observed.

The democratic process needs to be inclusive, so that no-one and their opinion is excluded. It needs to equitable; each person’s vote must carry the same weight are every other persons. There should be a secret ballot so that there is no possibility that others can coerce the voter’s decision, and the democratic unit should be small enough that every vote does count and the system avoids, as far as is possible, the risks of the tyranny of the majority. Finally, the executive of the state must act in accordance of the democratic decisions, it can not pick and chose amongst the outcomes which it agrees with and which it will effect.

Britain’s system had in the main held to these principles and could lay a reasonable claim to the title of “the mother of all parliaments” but over recent times this seems a much less apt description.

I am not simply talking about the reneging on the results of the EU referendum, which three years after the vote has still not been enacted in any form whatsoever, but also of the recent shambles in the house of commons when the constitutional safeguards that we normally relied upon have been sorely, and perhaps fatally, tested.

Firstly we had Boris Johnson attempting to prorogue parliament in such a way as to reduce the amount of time for discussion and scrutiny in the House of Commons. There is also a strong suspicion that he lied when he described the reasons and processes behind this.

Secondly we had John Bercow, the speaker of the house, shamefacedly ignoring the traditions of neutrality of the speaker and being vocally and proudly partial. While this might be seen as useful to some MPs at the moment, as it suits their long-game, we may strongly regret tolerating this precedent in the future when less benign options are being processed.

Thirdly we have our opposition parties trying to avoid an election. Some, like the liberals, have a sizeable component of MP’s who never stood under the banner of the party they now purport to represent. To these parties it is more important to overturn Brexit than it is to even know public opinion, let alone follow it. They clearly think the public has made a mistake and want to correct it but are fearful that the public might not yet have got onboard with the message. Their priority is their agenda, it is not working in agreement with the outcome of a democratic process.

It reminds me of Bertolt Brecht’s poem “Die Lösung (The Solution)

Die Lösung

After the uprising of the 17th of June
The Secretary of the Writers’ Union
Had leaflets distributed on the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could only win it back
By increased work quotas.

Would it not in that case be simpler
for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

Bertolt Brecht 1953

Even if the opposition parties do get around to thinking they should put a democratic veneer on this charade we will still have problems. A second referendum violates the basic democratic principle of “one person – one vote” – they are saying “those of you who voted last time don’t count we want the vote of a new populace“, as Brecht suggests.

When we do this once we can do it again, and we are damaging faith in democracy itself. If the state starts to ignore democratic decisions then the whole basis of democracy is undermined. There has been precious little regard for our political leaders over recent years, it seems there soon will be even less. Why vote when your vote may not count or the system is so rigged that change is not forthcoming ? I think none of the main parties can expect to see their popular base growing and I would be very surprised if we didn’t continue to see populist parties, on the left and the right, who listen to the public (or at least pretend to) growing in strength. The blame for this can squarely be placed at the doors of the existing parties. To misquote Shakespeare :-

A plague on all your houses.

The Child is Father to the Man

The Child is Father to the Man

I was enfranchised and able to vote for the first time in 1975. It was a time of turmoil and unrest. Unemployment was high as was inflation (at one point inflations reached 24%). Young people felt that their futures were bleak and many felt society was becoming increasingly unequal. The European Economic Community was held by many to be one of the major causes of the many problems of the time; it was seen as a club designed to benefit business and the wealthy at the expense of the poor.  As a young man I allied myself with the progressive forces and campaigned for a “NO” vote in the EEC referendum on the 5th of June 1975.

We had a major battle ahead of us. The big money was against us and all the media, except the Morning Star, had sided with the YES campaign [1]. But we fought on. Our experts warned of increased food prices as a consequence of the Common Agricultural Policy, syndicalist groups warned of the effects for labour and statesmen of every hue warned about the loss of political power which would follow a shift of power from London to Brussels [2]. The nationalists in Scotland, Wales and Ireland joined the fray and warned against loss of sovereignty [3].

Our experts were correct, but we lost. We lost heavily it was a “landslide” for YES [4]. The young, the better educated and the left had been outvoted by the rest. We saw what had happened and knew what to do. We needed to continue to work to see if it was possible to change the European project from the crony capitalist support network it was becoming, to see if our criticisms were correct and our fears did indeed manifest, and to build a political consensus. In the next 41 years we discovered that the EU could not be changed from within, our fears were in fact correct and we had been able to build a political movement.

4o or so years later, we young voters, now more experienced, older and wiser, got a second chance and we took it. The youth had grown into the man and the man was able to look to the youth’s future.

 

 


My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold

William Wordsworth

My heart leaps up when I behold

A rainbow in the sky:

So was it when my life began;

So is it now I am a man;

So be it when I shall grow old,

Or let me die!

The Child is the father of the Man;

And I could wish my days to be

Bound each to each by natural piety.


1         Walsh J. Britain’s 1975 Europe referendum: what was it like last time? The Guardian. 2016.http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/feb/25/britains-1975-europe-referendum-what-was-it-like-last-time .

2         News B. EU referendum: Did 1975 predictions come true? – BBC News. BBC News. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-36367246 .

3         Meyer J-H. The 1975 referendum on Britain’s continued membership in the EEC. cvce.eu. 2016.http://www.cvce.eu/obj/jan_henrik_meyer_the_1975_referendum_on_britain_s_continued_membership_in_the_eec-en-eb67b6cf-33ef-4f79-9510-b6fab56d2509.html.

4         MacKie D. Anatomy of a Landslide. The Manchester Guardian. 1975.http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2015/6/3/1433347013098/Mckie-7-June-1975-001.jpg