Opinion: Do we really want to risk another media mogul running the country?

If there is one thing that the Murdoch affair has confirmed it is that politician’s lust for power knows no bounds. The acquisition of power has been likened to a heroin rush and judging by the extent that Blair, Brown and Cameron, particularly, have been prepared to jump to Murdoch’s commands – we must believe this to be true.

Although it is likely that an attempt to clean up politics will take place over the next few years, now that it has been made so clear that a media giant can have such an impact on the government of a nation the size of the UK, surely it is the height of naiveté to believe that another global media mogul will not already be plotting to replace Murdoch – assuming he does not recover his position – albeit by more sophisticated means.

Whereas before globalisation, the funds available to the most powerful commercial organisations were limited to some extent, now that we have many global giants to whom the funds available for bribery and corruption are so vast, even the most honest politician, policeman or official might be tempted in this increasingly material world.

In the past there has been a clear reluctance by the political class to trust the common view of the people with regard to the administration of the nation. There has been a strongly held belief that the politicians know best and it is for them to decide how the nation should progress, even if these goals were against the will of the people. However, few can argue that the common view of the people is inferior to that of a media mogul who is a foreign national and whose primary goal is the acquisition of wealth and power.

If it is accepted that, under the present rules and any that can be devised, it will be impossible to prevent another media baron, with immense wealth, from assuming Murdoch’s role, for who will argue that politician’s lust for power is or will diminish? Surely the only group who can provide adequate control are the people themselves and who also have the greatest legitimacy.

This could be achieved through the introduction of a developing form of direct democracy that would, eventually, cover all aspects of government activity – both central and local. As first steps the House of Lords could be given the power to call a referendum on any proposed change by the government that they could not wholly support and a guarantee that any petition that gained 100,000 signature would also become the subject of a referendum.

Clearly the first steps on this course would not be completely successful, but they would ensure that the appalling state of an immensely wealthy, foreign national, governing the nation from the comfort of his luxury penthouse suite in New York would never reoccur. Also, given that the best known example of direct democracy, Switzerland, is recognised as a very well run, civilised nation with a high standard of living – a move to direct democracy can only provide real hope for the future compared to the bleakness the current system offers.

The trivial nature of the e-petitions arrangements announced yesterday, yet again, demonstrated that our administrators do not want the people interfering in the self-interested preferences of the leaders of the two alternating tribes that run the nation.

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27 Comments

  • Simon McGrath 30th Jul '11 - 2:17pm

    ” a guarantee that any petition that gained 100,000 signature would also become the subject of a referendum”. They sounds fun. Wonder which one we would get first, return of capital punishment, leaving the eu or abolishing all green taxes.

  • Any petition? So, if I could get 100,000 to sign a petition for the abolition of Thursdays, we have to have a referendum on it?

  • If you don’t like democracy just come out and say so, then you can start arguing over why your preferred oligarchs should be in charge.

    But remember it’s not a democracy so no one has to listen to you.

  • Jack Holroyde 30th Jul '11 - 3:29pm

    Having seen the power the media has over referenda in may, how is it taking power from the media to have more of them?

  • Guido Fawkes is already pushing his idea for a referendum to bring back the death penalty.

    Never mind the previous miscarriages of justice where we would have executed innocent people (Birmingham Six anyone?). Yes, forensic technology has improved dramatically but that does not 100% stop an innocent person being killed. Apart from that issue of never being able to bring back the dead, do we really trust the now proven to be corrupt police? I don’t. Do we really want to give the corrupt establishment the power to kill us again? I don’t.

    In my humble opinion, a country with the death penalty is a country which does not value human life. I’m all for locking up murderers, rapists, child abusers, and people who commit hate crimes for a very long time indeed. But as much as these people and their ideas and actions make me feel ill, I know I am better than them because I do not call for state sanctioned revenge in the form of murder.

  • @John Roffey
    I thought you left the Liberal Democrats?

  • Direct democracy is just as bad as a media mogul running the country – both are equally stupid forms of governance for the same reason: power without accountability.

    The whole point of representative democracy is that the public elect representatives to act on their behalf, but those representatives have to take ultimate responsibility for the decisions they make while in office.

    If 45 million people take a decision collectively, not a single one of them is responsible for it.

    And that’s even leaving aside the myriad other problems with referenda, especially the fact that most people wouldn’t have the first clue what the pros and cons of any proposal are. I know I wouldn’t, and like most commenters on this site I’m way more politically engaged than the average voter. Why bother having a civil service if we don’t care whether government decisions are going to make any sense or not?

  • Daniel Henry 30th Jul '11 - 8:39pm

    Won’t a media moghul have even more power with direct democracy. Remember the AV referendum? I think we need to reform the way we do referendums.,e.g. Make adverts accountable to the ASA

    I’m still sort of in favour though. How about advisory referendums so parliament would have some options.

  • David Wright 31st Jul '11 - 11:36am

    It is well known that if you ask people whether they want lower taxes or better services, many say “Both”. That’s why most political parties offer to improve services but pay for it in ways they don’t think will impact their key supporters.

    We see this most strongly in California, which does have enforceable public referenda. This is why it’s now effectively bankrupt; people voted for propositions to limit taxes, and for propositions to improve services. They also voted to ban same-sex marriages, a deeply illiberal decision which left people who’d already been married in San Francisco in limbo for years.

  • @John Roffey

    Ah yes, the fabulous Swiss democratic system which finally deigned to allow female suffrage in 1971 (at least in most cantons – a few held out even longer until eventually a federal court had to order the last canton to allow women to vote in 1991).

    And Swiss economic health is due more to the structure of their economy than their democratic system – Germany is also doing well without direct democracy and Asian economies are booming, often (e.g. in China’s case) with minimal democracy of any kind.

    In Switzerland the ‘referendum threat’ is basically used as a tool for special interest groups to obtain concessions from the government. In fact, Swiss doctors have historically used the referendum threat as a substitute for union strike action.

    If the voters ‘did not have a clue’ on some issue that was offered up for a referendum – they simply would not turnout in sufficient numbers.

    Hmm, I think that’s wishful thinking – look up the Dunning-Kruger effect for why a certain amount of knowledge about a subject is necessary just to grasp the fact of how little one actually knows. It’s common to know virtually nothing about topic X whilst simultaneously believing yourself to be well-versed (I’m sure we’ve all done that – I know I have!).

    Ask yourself this – would you submit to democratic medicine? Decisions about your treatment made by people who are not experts in the field? Or democratic car maintenance? How about us all voting on how to fix your toilet the next time you have a plumbing problem? In all these fields most reasonable people would put the decision in the hands of an expert – someone who devotes a large amount of their time to becoming sufficiently knowledgeable and experienced in a particular subject. On what basis do you assume political decisions are any less complex and requiring of expertise?

    And I’m not even making this argument from the point of view of saying that the average voter is too disinterested in politics – it applies just as much to people who do take an interest. Would a football club put decisions about starting line up and tactics into the hands of the fans? Of course not, because however well-informed and interested the fans are they’re not as skilled as the manager. Not to mention that if a manager consistently screws up, he’ll get the sack. If bad decisions were made by the fans, they would face no direct accountability.

    As for responsibility, how valuable is it if there are no appropriate consequences? It is true that Blair ‘took responsibility’ for taking us to war with Iraq and it is true that as a result his party is out of office and his political career is over. However, he has become a very rich man for pleasing his corporate backers and can look forward to a very comfortable future.

    Do you really believe this would’ve been different if the decision had been subject to a referendum? Looking at the polls at the time there’s a high likelihood that a referendum would have produced a ‘yes’ vote. Referenda have often been used to provide politicians with a shield to avoid responsibility for controversial decisions.

    I’m sure there are cases where elected representatives evade the negative consequences of bad decisions, but in most cases MPs and other politicians who make numerous ill-judged and rash decisions or who fail to serve their constituents properly get booted out by voters who hold them to account. Direct democracy removes even the potential for decision-makers to experience tangible repercussions for their decisions.

    When there is no incentive to avoid a bad decision (no chance of losing your job as a direct result of where you choose to put your X) and when you know that your vote is one out of several million (as opposed to one out of a few hundred in the HoC), it would take a remarkably responsible voter to give a proposition serious thought.

  • People often tend to make the error of equating ‘liberalism’ with ‘democracy’ . Historically philosophical liberalism throughout most of its history has been opposed to democracy, often for good reasons. Remember it was JS Mill who warned of the ‘tyranny of the majority’ .

    The whole notion of ‘rights’ would hold no weight in a 100% democratic society. When democrats say that we should leave policy decisions to the public as a matter of principle what they are really saying is that if the public voted for gays to be stoned this would be legitimate and the right decision, if the public voted for Jews to be gassed- this would be legitimate and the right decision, if the public voted for the return of the death penalty- this would be the right decision, if the public voted for us to leave the EU this would be the right decision.

    As they believe in democracy as a matter of principle – i.e. democraticallymade decisions are always the right decisions then they logically support the idea that we should all hold a vote over scientific theories such as the theory of gravity vs theory of relativity. Or perhaps the public should decide what level to set interest rates at.

    And, of course, this reductio ad absurdum doesn’t even take into accoun the well known ‘paradox of democracy’. That is to say, if the majority of the population vote for something you disagree with or didn’t vote for, you are still obligated to do what they say. That is not very ‘democratic’ in the true sense of the word.

    When people campaign for issues like direct democracy and call themselves ‘democrats’ they should instead call themselves what they really are: ‘majoritarians’.

    Shutting down debate and engaging in hyperbolic namecalling because people disagree that democracy is a good thing in every circumstance is simply a mark of a childish and simplistic mindset.

    If you want to encourage the spread of democracy you must first tell me what it is exactly that you think is good about democracy. Don’t just start from the assumption ‘democracy is always good’ . Explain to me why you think it is good, and whether or not it is beneficial depending on circumstances.

    I support representative democracy, but not for the stupid reasons than many people seem to. I don’t think that ‘democracy = good’. Representative democracy is good because it forces our leaders to take note broadly of the material and political concerns of the population as a whole. Even if the public hate the EU, all parties support staying in the EU because leaving it would make the population as a whole materially worse off, and thus would lead to a drop in support for the government. Paradoxically, some might say, the popular ‘democratic’ act of leaving the EU would make the government ultimately unpopular (although you couldn’t trust the public as a whole to see a causal link), which is the real reason why it won’t happen. That, for me, is a reason why representative democracy is far superior to direct democracy. Representative democracy encourages intelligent, educated and informed people to act in the public’s interest over the long term. Direct democracy encourages populist demagogues to take superficially popular decisions which ultimately damage the interests of the public, who are on the whole too ill informed and too prejudiced to see the link between populist decision making and their own misery.

    Pretending that the majority of the population in a country is always right, or is qualified to make decisions which affect everyone in the country, is plainly stupid when by any definition the majority of the population has an IQ of 100 and are much worse educated than most professional economists or politicians. I’m sorry if that sounds heartless, but it’s a fact.

    Representative democracy though is ‘the best form of government apart from all the others’.

    And finally, a case in point over this trendy populist stupidity is the proposed house of lords reform. Some pub bore reading his newspaper might harp on about it for ten minutes and then go back to his beer, and thus we are all consigned to live with the results of a policy which is supported mainly by ignorant people with only an ill-informed and short term concern about the matter.

    In what way, I ask, woul an elected house of lords improve government in this country? Turning an already increasingly useless and politicised second chamber into another house of commons. What is the point in politicising (democraticisng) policing or the house of lords? The lib dems could have proposed something intelligent- such as having 50% of lords elected from the Royal Society, or have all the Lords be academics pre-eminent in their fields. People who, you know, it would actually make sense to have scrutinising legislation- as opposed to party lackies.

    Democracy in the house of lords in no less stupid than elected police comissioners.

  • @john Roffery

    “It does not require a plumber to tell you just to turn off the tap as is the case with immigration, when we have high unemployment and around a million 16 – 24 year olds out of work.”

    An excellent case in point, giving a perfect example of why direct democracy would be a bad idea. Economic illiteracy and public house philosophy from people simply too lazy to inform themselves about the relevant matters and the complexity of the debate before forming an opinion on the matter at hand. Something which, however much we may hate them, politicians, civil servants and economists are actually paid to do.

    Look up the ‘lump of labour’ fallacy and then report back with your tail between your legs. The fact that immigrants come to this country to work does not necessarily negatively impact the number of jobs available to the population- that is an economic truism. Immigrants often cut costs for businesses, meaning they can grow more easily and afford to employ more people. Of course most of joe public.don’t know this and can’t be bothered to think about it long enough to work it out, which is why they elect representatives who are paid to think about these matters for them and who will act in their material interests in order to be re-elected (often based on information which is not readily accessible to the public for a variety of reasons which cannot be helped).

    At the end of the day direct democracy is a bad idea because people like Anders Breivik and Gillian Duffy, although not comparable in any way, have as much say in key decision making as Paul Krugman, Nick Clegg and Stephen Hawking. I don’t know how anyone was conned into thinking that is a good thing.

  • @john Roffery

    “Unfortunately, for some time now the inner worth of politicians has been of a very lo order and in these circumstances direct democracy is a far better choice. Mistakes may be made, but they will be as nothing to those made by the corrupt administrations we have seen in recent years.”

    You think that direct democracy would help the problem. IMO the problem is already that politicians pay too much attention to what the public think and how they’ll vote, to the extent that often they will take actions which go against national interest. Take Thatcher and the ‘right to buy’ policy, for example. A case of shamelessly bribing people for votes for no ethically justifiable reason whatsoever. Things like that would be more common, not less, under a more democratic (majoritarian) system.

    And I’m sorry if my prior posts were rude, but the way you appeared to attack people for not sharing your viewpoint earlier in the thread irritated me.

  • It does not require a plumber to tell you just to turn off the tap as is the case with immigration, when we have high unemployment and around a million 16 – 24 year olds out of work.

    LOL, were you deliberately attempting to prove my point about the Dunning-Kruger effect or do you really have such a poor understanding of the labour market?

    And according to your theory, people with no clue about a particular topic wouldn’t vote in a referendum on it. Somehow I doubt that you would therefore decline to participate in any referendum on immigration, the EU or global financial governance. If your comments are anything to go by you seem to believe that you have an excellent understanding of all of the above. Therein lies the problem (well, one of the problems) with direct democracy.

    There is a reason why it’s the representative model and not the participatory one that is classified as ‘liberal democracy’.

  • @John Roffey: So you think that freedom of movement should be decided by referendum. What about freedom of movement by capital? Surely you would have to tackle that too in a referendum since a possible response by business to a restriction on labour in this country is to set up their companies in tax havens (like the Cayman Islands) and put offices/factories/etc where labour is cheaper. Surely a referendum on immigration needs a referendum on the freedom of movement of capital too?

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