It seems to me that most of my most futile political arguments are about that most sacred of cows, democracy. You cannot question its alleged virtues without being looked at as though you are advocating mass genocide or ritual pederasty.
There are oh so many things wrong with democracy in all its myriad forms, I can scarcely begin to enumerate them. But I’ll give it a go.
Firstly, there is the issue of the tyranny of the majority. Or in many cases, the tyranny of the minority. Let’s assume we have a “genuine democracy” (whatever that may be!) where one party wins 50.1% of the vote and turnout is 100%. This is clearly a majority. But even if there is an outright majority, that still leaves a significant minority that has pretty much no say in anything till the next election.
It’s even worse in the UK, where as little as 36% of the electorate can get to decide how the other 64% live for the next four or five years. In fact, in the UK it’s much worse because the overwhelming majority of seats are “safe”, i.e., they will return the person wearing the correct rosette colour for the rest of eternity. So the actual decisions are made in a relatively small handful of “swing” seats.
And think about all those seats where the governing party didn’t return a representative. There are whole swathes of the UK which are overwhelmingly Labour that effectively have no representation for the next few years. (Whether that’s a good thing or not is not my point!)
Despite the fact that an entire county may “be Labour”, they have no say in how they are governed for the next few years. In a few years’ time, the situation will doubtlessly be reversed and entire swathes of Tory country will have absolutely no say in how they are governed.
Another major flaw is that once elected, the winning party doesn’t have to actually do any of the things it said it was going to do. It can always cite external catastrophes or post-election complexities as legitimate reasons for failing to do what they said they would. Quite often, they also do things they said they wouldn’t – “no new taxes” is one particularly prevalent example.
So, how do we get around this? Referenda? Well, that’s a potential way to address significant issues (Switzerland does this) but even this is fraught with difficulties. How do you phrase a referendum question so that all the complexities are addressed? What happens if none of the options for the referendum matches your view? It can also be time-consuming for you to understand all the issues underlying the referendum question, so it’s very onerous on the public to be subjected to referenda all the time.
Another suggested solution to this is alternative forms of voting. One of the features of the UK’s first past the post system is that is usually leads to a clear winner and the need for a coalition is rare. Another feature is that it leads to tyranny of the minority.
Proponents of other voting systems claim that doing away with first past the post voting is that coalitions will become the order of the day and that the views of the majority will have to be considered, so policies are less likely to be radical and tyranny of the majority (or minority) will become less prevalent. Another way to think about it is that policies will be negotiated between different political parties and policies will become based on a frenzy of mutual back-scratching on deals discussed behind locked doors.
The American system (for some reason held out as a bastion of libertarian society) has led to so-called “pork-barrel politics” on a truly industrial scale. So their system isn’t any better.
It really doesn’t matter which kind of democracy you have, once the politicians are elected, they are effectively unaccountable for their term of office. Does it really matter if you vote Gordon Brown out once he’s destroyed the economy? He still has his salary and his pension.
And in truth, the other big problem with democracy is the voter. Everywhere you look at democracies, voting is treated primarily as some sort of tribal game. The overwhelming majority of voters will be voting exactly the same as they have since they started voting. Even though David Cameron is the wettest “Tory” since … well, ever, he will still be voted in for his constituency come the next election, no matter how useless and incompetent and sleazy (and un-Tory) his government may be.
Tribal voters will continue to vote the same way they always have, based on the colour of the rosette and entirely ignoring the issues or policies proffered.
In exchange for this farrago of nonsense, politicians get to spend our money, dictate how we live our lives and tie us all up in a sea of controls. Is it really such a noble thing, democracy, when you see it as the excuse for thuggery and bullying that it really is?