The trouble with democracy

The trouble with democracy

The trouble with democracy is that unless the majority vote for it you have to do what they want and get rid of it. The reverse is true of autocracy. If someone doesn’t like it you have to do what they don’t want and get rid of them. This self-evidently puts autocracy in a stronger position. At least for a while. When the mass of people want to get rid of autocracy they can only do so with violent uprisings and revolutions. Lives are lost; others are ruined; the statues of the Great Autocratic Leader (GAL) are besmirched and pulled down. Some years later this may be reversed when the next GAL plans his or her own version of immortality which, of course, requires the acknowledgement of a GAL system as both desirable and successful.

It’s easy to make fun of autocracy, though not if you are in its jurisdiction. To see the fun of democracy you have only to watch the British House of Commons at work – only marginally distinguishable from play – or, better still, the American Parliament, which provides almost unlimited amusement as they try to rationalise diametrically opposite points of view with common sense. At a very young age I was told that “the duty of His Majesty’s Opposition is to oppose”.  I asked what for and was told that ‘the elders knew better’. An early form of autocratic teaching.

Nobody has yet worked out the sensible compromise between these two rather icy political systems but if they don’t do so pretty soon the need will have disappeared, possibly for another million years. So what can we do to save democracy? It has, after all, given most of its adherents a higher standard of living than autocracy, although autocracy shows serious signs of catching up. It has given the cognoscenti the right to criticise, to suggest alternatives and to investigate crimes of malfeasance. It has helped the law to be somewhat separated from the executive, though some will laugh at this. Most importantly it encourages a level of creativity somewhat alien to autocracy. The practical moves that could be made are mostly dismissed on the grounds that the average voter’s assumed intellect cannot cope with it. That is probably not true but what may be the obstacle to a revised democracy is the voter’s quite understandable distrust of political leaders and of any manipulation they may want to make to bring the voting system up to date.

A general boredom with politics, so many distractions that are more interesting and a feeling that a good Netflix hour is better than the best political hour on television, are among the many reasons democracy is dying.  I think, too, that freedom is something on ‘the other side of the fence’ whether you have got it or not. It certainly is when you have lost it but even when you have it – rather like good health – it is something for others to worry about, not you. Is it possible to rouse the interest of the democratically free, enough to work for its freedom? Freedom House is certainly trying to do that in a polite and thoughtful way – the way of democracy. But I fear it may take a lot more push than they and others devoted to democracy are able to provide. The responsibilities that accompany the freedom to choose seem to have been neglected by those who need them.

With a view to eventually having weighted voting rights reflecting the contribution a voter is making to the country, I suggest that a very small preliminary step in the right direction might be for weighted votes allowing voters to show their preferences progressively. So, if there are five candidates for a constituency, voters have five votes showing as many – five – or as few – zero – they would cast for each candidate. Initially most voters would vote five for their candidate of choice. Gradually they would learn that, even though their vote might be mostly for their candidate, they could also express an opinion about other candidates. It wouldn’t affect the results of a straightforward ‘first past the post’ system but the published results would show the sentiments towards other candidates. This would display the voter’s feeling about new, potentially good members of Parliament.

As a first step it would be easy to explain and implement.

And there is just a chance that it might start to revive interest in politics enough to develop the system further.

Who knows?

Good morning

John Bittleston

Please tell us if you think this would have a chance?