Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Reinvigorating British Democracy

As we observe the declining proportion of the population that bothers to vote in elections, & the seeming disengagement of many people from the political process, I wonder whether the time has come to emulate the American & especially Swiss way of making democracy relevant to their electorates.

It seems to me, that people are apathetic & even contemptuous of the political process, not because they think politics is irrelevant, but because they cannot see how their vote will actually change anything.

In my view, the basic flaw of our 'representative democracy', is that it only represents the views of a very narrow segment of society, ie the chattering classes. The great mass of people are largely disenfranchised, & have therefore given up on politics.

I think the Americans & especially the Swiss have got a much better idea of doing things. There the frequent use of referenda to decide major & minor issues makes the political process unmistakeably relevant to people. The response that we don't have a tradition of referenda, is both inadequate, & increasingly out dated, as Mr Blair has now reluctantly conceded one over the European Constitution.

Also the idea of a system where the masses vote once every few years to elect their leaders, & then look on helplessly as those leaders make law (and enter into international treaties) without any reference to them, is thoroughly out moded. Surely it was designed for a society where only a small minority of the population had an education. This is no longer the case in the UK, and its time for the political class to open up the 'closed shop' of the political process to the people.

I wonder how many of the laws & treaties of the past few decades would have been passed if they had been subject to a referendum? The abolition of capital punishment?

Also, as I understand it in the USA, a citizen can get a motion on the ballot if he gets say 350 000 signatures on a petition. What a splendid way of connecting the people to their democracy!

Lastly, I think if we Tories were to offer this constitutional change to the people at the next election (Labour has changed it so much already anyway), it would reap great dividends, & outflank Labour completely.


Blogger James F Hamilton said...

In general conservatism tends to distrust referenda, or constitutional innovation at all for that matter. In my more cynical moments I wonder whether Blairs casual and repeated rape of the constitution and the conventions that surround it is just an attempt to make conservatives amenable to the idea of a written constitution.

1:06 am  
Blogger Matthew Hallex said...

The ability to petition for referendums or to recall an elected offical or whatnot vary from state to state and are one of the nicer leftovers from the Populists.

Just about every election, especially for state and local government, there are a number of referenda on the ballot. Turnout is still disappointing.

Does shifting more power to the voters make them more willing to vote?
Maybe at first, when its a novelty, or its an issue thats gotten a lot of media attention and spread much controversy. But Americans still dont vote.

But that doesnt mean that decentralizing power and putting into the hands of the citizenry isnt a laudable goal in and of itself.

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