elected representatives don't understand what democracy is
On 21 March 2003, Newsnight posed questions regarding the role of the "Stop the War" coalition now that Gulf War Two had started. Loosely representing the establishment, one Crispin Blunt MP (Conservative), spoke thus of the Coalition's efforts:
( hear it for yourself here.)
It clearly illustrates how narrow is the typical elected representative's view of Democracy. He genuinely believes that Democracy is adequately served by the discussion and decision made amongst 650 people in a population of 60 Million. Note, in particular, how he assumes the support of the public in an almost "moral obligatory" sense. (subtext: You've had your freedom of speech; your chance to demonstrate, to TRY to influence the Parliamentary process. Parliament obviously disagrees. We know better. Now be good chaps and obey your elders and betters by dropping your objections and supporting our decision) The problem is that many people, certainly most politicians but even many of the disenfranchised voters who are subject to this system, actually agree with him. They have a variety of reasons for suppressing aspirations towards genuine Democracy. These range from practical objections to the conduct of referenda through to straightforward support for a limited definition of Democracy which is nothing more than authoritarian meritocracy.
During the Panaroma the following Sunday Labour Party activists (LPAs) were shown taking part in a debate in Jack Straw's Blackburn constituency Labour Party HQ. The Branch voted heavily in favour of the demand that Britain should not go to War without a 2nd UN Resolution specifically authorising the use of Force. An activist called Peter Dawson was asked to comment on what trouble this would make for Jack Straw:
WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.
Well, actually, technically, under the British Constitution, it is completely Correct. And that is exactly why we can't call our system of Government a Democracy.
If the first duty of an elected representative is to act according to his own beliefs then, OK, its a system of Government, and you can even argue that its a good system of government. One that works. One thats worth preserving. We don't agree with that argument, but it is a legitimate argument. And, if you want to preserve that system, then, fine, be completely honest and argue for it. But don't steal our clothes and pretend that what you are offering is in any meaningful sense a Democracy.
The first duty of an elected representative, in a Democracy, is to represent the wishes of the people as THEY choose to express them. S/he is entitled to advocate a particular policy; no more entitled than any other member of the community but it would not be surprising if s/he was better than most at such advocacy and if the voters generally liked the way he or she represented them, it would not be surprising if s/he was on the winning side of the argument more often than not. Nevertheless, at the end of the debate, particularly on something as important as the decision to go to War, We the People reserve the right to have the final say. The job of the elected representative then, is to carry out the policy dictated by that decision. If, for any reason, they consider that the policy is wrong or immoral, and cannot support it, then they can, of course, step aside and allow someone else to implement the policy on our behalf. They have no right whatsoever to impede the Democratic decision.
This is not an alien concept. Its exactly how membership of the Cabinet works. If you can't go along with the majority decision once the vote has been taken, then you are out of the Cabinet. This does not constrain the debate within Cabinet, or reduce the effectiveness of a Cabinet member's contribution. This exactly how it should work for any elected representative. That forces full accountability - the only basis on which we can democratically delegate authority to a representative.
Now, you might not like this picture. Fine, don't vote for it. Vote for one of the others - but like we have to say to the politicians - whatever else you vote for, don't kid yourself that it is Democratic.
What all this reveals, of course, is just how difficult it is going to be to change the mindset of the masses. If even those (political activists of the Left) who ought to know better. who ought to have a somewhat more elevated understanding of Democracy and who ought to be in the vanguard of the progress towards real Democracy; if all these people still cleave to the elected dictatorship model, then what hope is there that we can persuade the less motivated "average voter" to wake up and smell the Democroffee?