Tag Archives: parliamentary reform

Opinion: Why not try democracy for a change?

It has become a truism to say that interest in politics has hit an all-time low among “ordinary” voters. All parties have come up with proposed remedies, but none of these shows any sign of working. At the same time, we have recently seen in the US an example of how exciting politics can be. Why, in a country which boasts of being one of the world’s oldest democracies, should things have come to this pass?

Part of the answer is that our present political model is totally inappropriate to the contemporary scene. We have a system which in every respect, from our voting system through to the arrangement of MPs’ seating in the House of Commons, assumes confrontation between two parties opposed to each other on every issue. Yet we currently have not two but three major parties, which seem to crowd onto the centre ground, with ever fewer obvious differences of principle between them.

Nonetheless, despite the lack of obvious differences, the parties behave as if they were still driven by diametrically opposed principles. What one party proposes is, with few exceptions, immediately rubbished by the others.

The result is that most people feel a profound disillusionment with political activity, and an alienation from the posturing, as they see it, of politicians who seem to them to be driven by personal ambition rather than political principles.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that, increasingly politics is seen as a career choice. It is by no means uncommon now for talented young graduates to serve for a few years as researchers or assistants to an MP, then move straight on to a safe seat. This means not only that they have no real experience of anything other than politics, but also that the skills they acquire from the start are those of the politician – the skills of presentation, of turning the question asked into the one for which one has a good answer, and all the other skills which collectively are know these days as “spin”. Is it any wonder that when such highly skilled and talented men and women talk to “ordinary” voters they all too often fail to convince people either that they are speaking from experience (they are usually not) or that they are sincere?

Add to all this the fact that, since the days of Mrs Thatcher governments have stripped away many of the powers of local government – and increasingly rely on non-elected or indirectly elected quangos to run the things that matter to people – and we are left with a situation where only at the highest level, that of Parliament, is there anything which can reasonably be described as “democratic”, in the sense that MPs are elected, and are accountable for what they do in office. (By contrast, councillors are elected, but then have their actions circumscribed by central control of their spending, meaning they are not meaningfully accountable).

How, one might ask, can there be meaningful parliamentary democracy when at all lower levels democratic structures scarcely exist?

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , , and | 3 Comments
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