Change the system?

When the Brexit result came through, the one thing that stood out was that no-one could say they represented most of the country. 52:48 hardly entitles anyone to say they represent everyone. The same applies in the US (who would willingly vote for Trump or Clinton?) - and also in NZ. Our government can only just get the numbers for some legislation and even had to apply a veto to stop a bill supported by everyone else.

"Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." (Churchill).

Lincoln once said "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." The problem is the system we know today as democracy bares little resemblance to this.

Recent turmoil (e.g. Brexit, Trump vs Clinton) gives me some hope that maybe - just maybe - we can expect to see an improvement. I also found many years ago that expecting unanimity is pointless. A group I was part of discussed exactly what we could agree on. Eventually I said we could only agree we each had the right to follow our particular preference within our choice. Even that met with a strong put down. Some felt we didn't have a right on the issues. It was simply a facility granted by a benevolent government.

So what would I like to see happen?

For a start power has to return to the people - which means it has to be taken from the political parties. I watched the 2006 UK series "The Amazing Mrs Pritchard" and before that the 1970 Peter Cook film "The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer". I also believe that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So I don't expect any system to be perfect. But if it is to restore some real democracy, it has to minimise the possibility of real power being in the hands of a few who can then be induced to do things that are not in the interests of the people. And by that I mean the people of the nation - not of the world.

One of the things that permeates the system is the effect of special interest and lobby groups. Now we need people to have free access to politicians. But perhaps when meetings are held with cabinet ministers, perhaps a shadow minister should also be present. Of course it's possible that there are issues that need absolute secrecy - but perhaps the Official Secrets Act could apply to all politicians (if it doesn't already). But why do our representatives need to be hidden.

There's also the question of a majority. Is 50.1% adequate for every situation? Brexit is a clear example saying yes - even though it was a slim majority, more people wanted out than in - any other option would have been wrong. But 48% still wanted to say in. Could there have been a different issue voted on? Personally I doubt it. There had already been lengthy debate between Britain and the EU.

But there are other examples where a 50.1% vote could have yielded sub-optimal outcomes. Or a political agreement flies in the face of most citizen's wishes (as in the TPPA where loss of sovereignty echoes Brexit). That doesn't mean that the majority is always right. But how else are we to decide in today's world?

Of course another issue is the media, coupled with people's mindsets. Fortunately today (in the West) we have a range of sources of information. We know that particular media is oriented to particular thinking - and can usually find balance to the views we hear. Sadly most people aren't interested enough in most issues to take the time and effort to be well informed. Michael Rimmer (Peter Cook) knew that and gave the people so much input on every option that when he asked if Britain should appoint him as dictator (I can't remember the term he used) he received an overwhelming Yes!

IF (and that's a big if) we could keep politicians and lobbyists out of the process, then the "silent majority" could achieve agreement on a few core issues - and then leave the rest to the politicians. Sadly getting to the core that we could agree on seems so remote - partly because we've become used to everyone being for against ideas simple because they are left or right ideas. The only way we're going to the stage where we can even think about a constitutional type of agreement is if we learn to listen to each other. As long as we keep attacking the opposition rather than the idea we're no better than our politicians.

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Last modified: 28 November 2020.