Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Democracy: Referenda and Elections

There is much talk about a referendum on our membership of the European, as well as on reform of the House of Lords. There have been whole tomes written about both these issues, so I won't waffle on too much.

I don't want an elected House of Lords and I don't want a referendum on our relationshiup with the European Union. There it is. This is a blog, my personal ramblings on current events, so I don't have to go into page after page of justification complete with references to the works of Bagehot, Mill, ancient Greeks or anybody else. But I will try and justify my position a little.

I blogged last week (here) about the House of Lords and the Lib Dems' typical botched reform proposal.  Let's face it, if the Lib Dems want it it's probably a bad idea. But the libertarian movement seems to be generally of the view that a true democracy doesn't have unelected politicians lording over us, they should be elected. My slightly tongue in cheek response is: "So you want 650 more paragons of virtue and democracy like we have elected to the House of Commons?"

Does putting a tick in a box every five years, or fifteen years in elections to the House of Lords if the Lib Dems get their way, really define democracy? Is democracy really electing a bastard government, such as this coalition government, that then tears up most of the member parties' manifestos and does what it wants because it has cobbled together an unholy majority?

Personally I see nothing wrong with a fully functioning upper house, complete with unelected members, performing a scrutiny role to keep a check on the lower house. It is crucial that party politics plays as little a role in the upper house as possible, and that it is filled with people of wisdom, experience and specialist knowledge from a wide variety of backgrounds. In a word, unelected.

Of course Blair couldn't stand the thought of unbridled power and set about castrating the House of Lords. Clegg now appears to be the heir to Blair. Why doesn't Clegg tell us what he thinks of an unelected head of state? Because it may not be very popular I reckon.

Throughout the country we have hundreds, possibly thousands of unelected councillors on town and parish councils, unelected because the communities they claim to serve have so little enthusiasm for them that there are rarely enough interested people to hold contested elections. Surely they too should be abolished as not only undemocratic/unelected, but quite evidently rejected by the people?

Oh yes, don't forget, Hitler was elected.

I have also rambled on before about the question of a referendum on the European Union. As there isn't a credible political party campaigning against our continued membership of the European Union, a referendum is obviously quite appealing. But is it such a good idea, bearing in mind we live in a representative democracy? I don't think so.

We currently have one of our more Europhile governments, indeed a government that has already ensured that we were not given a referendum on the EU when the issue was debated in the House of Commons.

The Tories have done more than anybody else over the last fifty years to take us  ever deeper into the EU. When bolstered by the Lib Dems why would they threaten our future participation in the European project by offering a referendum? So campaigning for a referendum under the present circumstances is largely a waste of time and resources. Better use the time and resources campaigning on the serious issues around our membership of the undemocratic EU.

If we were given a straight in/out referendum would there be a majority voting for the out option? I very much doubt it, especially under the current economic circumstances. People are naturally conservative and the image painted by an effective pro-EU campaign would be that leaving the EU would be like setting out to cross the Atlantic in a rowing boat in the worst storms the world has ever seen. Would you want to risk that?

More likely the government would set the question to be put to us. Then they could have some real fun with the wording. It could be as absurd as: "Do you agree that the UK should turn its back on our largest trading partner in favour of isolation in the global trading markets"?  Well, that might be a little too blatant, but I think it makes the point.

Then if we did vote to get out, wouldn't they just have another referendum like they do whenever they lose a vote?

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