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Thursday, June 20, 2024
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HomeDemocracy in DecayDemocracy in Decay: This is the way forward

Democracy in Decay: This is the way forward

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THE British state is failing. The scandal of wrongly convicted postmasters has yet again shown us that we are ruled by a callous, unresponsive state that ignores or, worse still, demonises those lives or views that are deemed unfashionable. Outrage follows outrage at such frequency that we are in danger of becoming desensitised to it all: last week we saw the release of yet another report into the rape and abuse of white working-class girls by predominantly Muslim gangs, this time in Rochdale. For years the authorities chose to look the other way lest they upset fashionable minority interests, to the detriment of some of the most vulnerable in our society.

I know something of this myself, of course, through my battles for justice for the victims of covid vaccinations. Whatever your personal views about the stance I have taken, the treatment meted out to me shows how the state will not tolerate dissent, routinely dismissing those who do so as cranks or extremists. This does not just include relatively high-profile people such as MPs, but could be extended to the wants and desires of the British people themselves: for instance, opinions such as those on immigration that are perfectly rational and mainstream amongst the public are routinely condemned as ‘far right’ by the political class. Even in a so-called right of centre party like my previous party, the Conservatives, many MPs are far more comfortable taking on modish left-wing opinions that will preserve their place in the fashionable dinner party set than they are doing the arduous job of delivering for the British people. 

The truth is that we no longer live in a country that could remotely be called ‘democratic’. There has been much discussion on why we are where we are by academics such as Professor Matt Goodwin but, for reasons too numerous to go into here, we are dominated by an arrogant and ignorant graduate metropolitan class who do not understand how narrow and unrepresentative their life experience has been. Nor does a change in government under our first-past-the-post system seem to offer any hope of change for the foreseeable future. 

I believe that there is a better way to govern ourselves, one in which the people participate more meaningfully in fashioning the laws they must live with, and this can be achieved by checking the oligarchic tendencies of parliamentary democracy with significant elements of direct democracy. The original concept of democracy, associated with the ancient Greek city states, was direct, meaning that the people should rule by formulating and approving the laws governing their community in popular assemblies. 

Obviously, a national democracy cannot function exclusively as a direct democracy. Nonetheless, if we integrate major elements of direct democracy into our current parliamentary system, the people could have a direct say on mass immigration, mass vaccination and mass lockdowns in 15-minute cities. Yes, in a democracy people should have a say on important matters, and the tools of direct democracy offer that to us. 

In a complex and large-scale political system, there is a need for a select group to focus on the complicated task of thrashing out laws acceptable to us all, but they need controlling. And this is where the tools of direct democracy can help keep our political representatives on the straight and narrow, since they know their initiatives may potentially be struck down by popular initiative. Those who view direct democracy as unrealistic should look to the Swiss, who for more than 175 years have sensibly opted to hold their political representatives accountable by giving ordinary voters the power to propose, pass and veto laws, both locally and nationally.

In 1848 the Swiss began to combine representative democracy with direct democracy, and found that the strengths of one system helped shore up the weaknesses of the other. Most importantly, I believe, direct democracy provides the means to see that the people really do rule, and the prime way of doing so is through the referendum. Our recent experience with Brexit is not a good example of how they should be conducted or dealt with after the people have spoken. But this can be improved on, as the Swiss demonstrate: they manage to vote around four times a year on all kinds of issues, at local and national level – and they like their system more than any other people around the world like theirs. They have given their hybrid democracy a 75 per cent approval rating whilst we can muster only 42 per cent, which is the global average. 

As well as reducing the number of MPs by half, I believe that adopting direct democracy as an integral element of our political system is essential to the future of this country. The most recognised constitutional expert in our history, the Victorian-era lawyer A V Dicey, backed the use of referendums. He felt that important national decisions could not be left to party politicians as their affiliations would take precedence over the interests of the nation. How right he was. He understood that only a national vote by the electorate would legitimise the most important decisions facing the people, and stated: ‘I am quite certain that once established the Referendum would never be got rid of by anything short of a revolution.’ 

To conclude, I believe that power does corrupt, and that the people must have the final say on all matters that they deem important enough to require the nation’s sign-off. This can be achieved only through direct democracy, and the Swiss hybrid system – where the average salaries are twice ours, and the debt burden is less than half the rate of ours – has proved that it works. These are dark times, but if we had only half the MPs we do now, and the people in control, the parties would be put in their place. Our nation can not only rise again, it can shine a light to others around the world to show the way forward: a judicious blend of representative and direct democracy.

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Andrew Bridgen
Andrew Bridgen
Andrew Bridgen, Member of Parliament for North West Leicestershire

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