Voters, Leaders, Democracy

Voters, Leaders, Democracy

There are plenty of disrupters about – Trump, Putin, Duterte, Erdogan, Zelensky and that is before we get to Boris Johnson. They are not all mad and none of them is always mad. They are playing a game dictated by democracy – trying to please all of the people all of the time. It is the basis of our western voting system. You can call it ‘Don’t buy votes, buy voters.’ It applies whether it is through insupportable schemes such as the British National Health Service or by referenda asking, essentially, what would you like me to do for you.

‘One person, one vote’ was a great aspiration when only a limited number of people were entitled to decide who should run a country. Now it is being used to elect populist leaders which means leaders who say they will do exactly what the majority want and forget the minority. When those who decided who ran a country were the privileged few there was a chance that they would be intelligent, educated and wealthy enough not to be easily bought by money. They were still human. They still sought to preserve their own interests first. But their vision was longer term and less of instant gratification. It was not a perfect system but it had some good elements.

Now everyone has a vote – quite right – regardless of whether they are contributing to society or merely taking from it. Regardless of whether they have the information, brains and intention of  voting for who will do the best for the country. They are only interested in who will do the best for them. And do it now. Why should a rogue who has caused disruption and harm to society be entitled to an equal vote to someone who has palpably made a major contribution? We don’t pay people the same regardless of their responsibilities or performance.

Given democracy is a sacred belief because of its fundamental attempt at fairness we should consider changing the rules to better reflect contributions made to society as a basis for a say in the future of the country. A small step in this direction would be to give everyone twelve votes, acquired progressively from age 16 (one vote) to 30, when all 12 would have been awarded.

As many votes as have been awarded ‘so far’, would be subject to court orders which could remove up to all but one of the votes for antisocial behaviour. The last vote would be inviolable. Good behaviour could win votes back, too. In addition to the statutory twelve votes an individual could  be awarded up to a further eight votes for services to the community –  rather in the way that medals, honours and acknowledgements for contribution to society are made today. Instead of a knighthood we could award another vote –  more purposeful if less colourful.

Disruptive leaders have come about partly because of these reasons and partly because there is unprecedented discontent. With wealth comes expectation, basically of more wealth but also of a whole host of improvements including better conditions, better relationships, better comfort, longer life. A touching belief that governments have money and wisdom, leads voters to believe what they are told even when the teller is proved wrong. The Boris Johnson case has profound implications for the future of politicians in the west. The judgement, I understand, was based on lack of precedent rather than common sense or the future of democracy.

There is now a wicked suggestion, supported even by established economists, that printing money is harmless and is a good way to deal with government excesses. Given the role of political parties in bribing the electorate this is one of the most dangerous of many suggestions I have heard in a longish life. I fear it is such an easy route to follow, for politicians whose tenure – with a few notable exceptions – is briefer than a street sparrow’s, that it may well become the next bubble maker. We can only hope and pray that this does not happen.

That our financial systems need a major overhaul is without question. But so, even more compellingly, do our social systems embracing poverty, health and age. In many countries that consider themselves civilised – including particularly America and Britain – so does the infrastructure which is old, outdated and becoming dangerous.

So many problems to tackle that we need all the brains we can muster to deal with them. That means addressing the say that those people with worthwhile contributions to make have and diminishing the say of those less willing to contribute.

In the end, as always, it comes down to the individual.

Let us usefully recognise those who will help the way forward.