Friday, 1 July 2016

The new threat to democracy?

Following the establishment Referendum meme of 'Help! The wrong people are using Democracy!" a number of alternatives to elections and referendums have bubbled up. The two that are getting the best purring sounds from the wounded establishment are Sortition and Demarchy. In their pure forms, each involves picking decision makers by lottery, something like a jury.

Already on the table, we have various forms of Direct Democracy including referenda of various sorts and scales. The Harrogate options. And of course, I make no bones about advocating a Localism under which decisions are taken at the lowest efficient level. 

Most proposed changes to the way we use democracy come from altruistic, well meaning people. But beware that amongst the versions offered are those geared at reducing democracy, at securing the power of the establishment. Sortition and Demarchy both involve the citizens' jury being briefed on the issues under vote by a team of  'experts'. The question of course is who picks the experts. 

Excuse my cynicism, but I spent 30 years dealing with public objections to various developments and one of my favourite methods was the charette - working design sessions in which small groups of the public work with engineers and designers to refine development proposals. You can guess what happens. I used to employ young female architects from choice - nothing is as guaranteed to silence a Bloke as his technical ignorance being shown-up. So she would say " ..It has to have this mass and orientation due to the solar gain in this location, of which you will be aware .." or "'ll appreciate the modal movement patterns that mean this road layout is essential" or similar, to which they would generally nod. They'd give way on colours, and tree varieties and such things. Things that could be changed.

Well, it may be an effective way of reducing public objections to a new development, but for matters of democracy it really won't do. The authors of the 1948 UDHR, their eyes fresh with the horrors of the death camps and the Jap inhumanities, worded Art.21 very, very carefully; 
Article 21
(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.
So by all means let's discuss changes. But at a time when I've frequently had to leap in to defend the absolute right of everyone to vote - every white van man, every ordinary, confused pensioner - to make their choice, please let's always remember the pain, the anguish and the struggle of our forebears to establish this right in the first place. 


Barnacle Bill said...

Going back further we should remember the refrain: "No Taxation Without Representation".

Of course we can all argue how this representation is to be achieved but as we all pay taxes in one form or another it should apply universally, as it does very much today. So I think on balance we have a fair version in this country of democracy, as the EU referendum illustrates. Perhaps a little tinkering around the edges?

I also agree very much with your sentiment in your final paragraph Radders. On today of all days we should all stop for a quiet moment to acknowledge the sacrifices made by those who went before us to give us the future we have now.

Anonymous said...

I have commented endlessly about my preference Raedwald...

I never tire of repeating...

Here goes:

We need Swiss style citizen led local binding direct democracy.

This system has led to the little nation of Switzerland to become one of the world's richest, without much in the way of natural resources...

The key, is that the demos is broken up into ever smaller parts, but their sum is the collected wisdom not of the mob but of competing interests. A small demos, gives voters and participants a sense of belonging and ownership.

In the exacting (there's racism for you) Germanic cantons, the communes have proposed, debated and voted positively on the practise of hanging washing on Sundays, whilst in the Italian areas similar debates have taken place regarding the freedom of citizens to imbibe whatever they want to.

Such issues would never become Swiss national issues, unlike subjects like immigration, cultural change or prospective entry into the EU.

Some votes only interest 20% of the voters, others attract 90% of voters.

Overall, the establishment, although being subjected to a general election less frequently than elsewhere in Europe, are always aware of just who pays its wages.


James Higham said...

every ordinary, confused pensioner

Thanks for including us [sniff], the forgotten people.

Raedwald said...

James - I've left out the fact that shortly before writing I had to, er, counsel a senior member of my professional body who was taking delight in an anecdote about the stupidity of a 'leave' pensioner. Without the background it looks a bit .. distant. But I really do despair at having to make the point time after time that there will be NO diminution of people's voting rights while I have breath left.