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Does democracy work

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Oneeyedvic | 17:15 Thu 16th Sep 2004 | News
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Can democracy actually work. WE vote for a local MP. They can either be part of the major political parties or they can be independent. If they are independent there is not really a lot they can do in the commons in terms of getting any new legislation through. If they are part of a political party, are they doing what they think their constituents want or are they doing what there party dictates is best for their constituents. Okay, I appreciate that there are sometimes free votes, but when it comes to some major subjects the party "whips" their members into line. Therfore that must surely mean that you are not voting for your local MP but for the leader of your party. Following on, that must mean that we live in a dictatorship. Okay, maybe I exagerate, but surely that is the point. Also, if a MP firmly doesn't beleive in abortion but his constituents do, where does he / should he vote? So if you support the Lib Dems for example, can you still be a Euro Skeptic? I don't really have any bones to pick about any of the major parties, and this is not meant to be a labour is better than lib dem etc debate, but truly, can democracy work?


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Excellent summary ansteyg. I do often wonder though whether more power should be given to local government (where party politics has no place, I reckon).
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When we vote in a General Election, we do a combination of things:
(a) vote for the most suitable candidate as a person
(b) vote for a candidate as a representative of their party
(c) vote against other candidate(s) in order to prevent them from winning or to remove them from office
(d) vote against other party(ies) in order to prevent them from winning or to remove them from office
(e) vote in the hope or expectation that the chosen party will form a government, or be part of a government
(f) vote in the hope or expectation that the candidate will be an effective representative
(g) vote in the hope that the party will form a useful block or pressure group on certain issues
(h) judge the tactical considerations of which parties or candidates are likely to have a realistic chance of winning the seat or a majority of seats

When we choose a candidate, we consider
(a) the suitability of the candidate as a local representative
(b) the balance of loyalties of the candidate to the party or to the local constituency
(c) the likelihood of the candidate to rebel against the party line, on which issues, and for which reasons

When we choose a party, we consider
(a) the policies of the party
(b) the issues which we are concerned about
(c) the policies of the party on those issues
(d) the extent to which we have trust or faith in the party to be able to deliver those policies
(e) the qualities of the leader of the party

The purposes of political parties existing (i.e. not just having hundreds of un-co-ordinated independent MPs) are:
(a) to aggregate people with similar attitudes to the main issues
(b) to systematise the process of the recruitment, organisation and promotion of suitably able people for the purposes of political leadership
(c) to provide voters with simplified short-hand information about the likely attitudes and opinions of the members of the party, particularly in opposition to other parties
(d) to provide the discipline necessary for the pursuit of policies in the long term when they may be unpopular in the short term, and to avoid the tendency for short-term drift and swaying with every opinion poll

Each voter has to judge for him/herself what balance of qualities he/she wants in terms of the candidate or the party; the local situation or the national situation, and the need for party loyalty or local diversity. If a voter votes for a candidate to be an MP as the representative of the party, or because of the qualities of the leader of the party, it does not follow that �we live in a dictatorship�, because a dictatorship would require
(a) inability to scrutinise government actions in between elections
(b) inability to scrutinise or revise laws as they are made
(c) suppression of alternative sources of information
(d) suppression of the expression of alternative viewpoints
(e) restrictions on freedom of speech and/or assembly

If there is a conflict between the opinion of the MP and that of the majority of his/her constituents on a particular issue (such as abortion) then he/she should vote according to his/her conscience and/or party policy; if he were to sacrifice his own opinion to theirs then he would thus be engaging in a betrayal. This is because he is has been sent to Parliament as a representative, and not as a delegate. In other words, it is not the job of the voters to elect someone and then tell him how to vote in Parliament; it is the job of the candidate to put forward his own views (and/or those of his party) and then for the voters to vote for or against him on the basis of those views.

It would be possible for a Liberal Democrat to be a Euro-sceptic (or, more to the point, for a Euro-sceptic to be a Liberal Democrat) only if he/she supports the other policies and philosophy of the Liberal Democrats on a broad range of other issues (and opposes those of other parties) to such an extent that the position on European issues is less important than those.

Democracy can �work� in the sense that it is possible to have a political system in which there is
(a) constant input of opinion by the people (directly and via their representative MPs)
(b) responsive feedback by the government (via Parliament and other media)
(c) a viable range of choice of candidates and parties at regular elections
(d) realistic possibility of removing unwanted governments and representatives by elections
(e) absence of the features of dictatorship or the suppression of alternative opinions

Democracy does not mean that the government should do exactly what the majority of the people want it to do on every issue in every instance on the basis of short-term opinion polls or referendums. Nor does it mean that we should have a referendum on everything.

The most democratic society in the world today is probably Switzerland, where there is local devolution to canton or town level on a wide range of issues, and regular referenda on issues of concern, as well as direct particiaption in local affairs at village meetings etc.

The most oppressive and dictatorial negation of democracy in the world today is the Answerbank rule which allows a maximum of only 2000 characters per answer, thus requiring multiple postings to be used for long answers.
Question Author
Thanks Bernardo for a wonderful, well though out answer I would really love to think that the majority of people would vote like you suggest and take all the aforementioned into consideration.(and to ansteyg). However, I am far to cynical for my own good. One of my points - not really made is that if you are actually idealistic or if you are not in a political party, you cannot actually change anything. To take your quote though..."democracy does not mean that the government..." democracy is defined in the Oxford Minidictionary (the only dictionary I can lay my hands on at the moment) as: "government by all the people usually through eleceted representatives". Surely if the elected people are not getting their way, this cannot be democracy. Surely the technology is available that people could vote online or via their phone etc and we could have a referenedum on most things. Or can we not because people are not intelligent enough to make decisions like this. A classic example would be the Euro debate. How many people actually understand whether the Euro would be a good move for Britain. Do people really understand the economic issues? If not, they are swung by the papers/media. Does this then mean that the editors/owners control the "mass" and therefore, again, democracy is not about the people but about people being manipulated by "those in power". Again, CAN democracy actually work?
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Question Author
Does that mean I suspected rightly and real democracy (the ideal) cannot work? And this is because "the people" are not intelligent enough? Hmmm...
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Question Author
The new question then is should only poeple with an IQ of over 100 be able to vote (hehe)
Just thought I'd add that when the whole Euro debate first reared its head years ago, I asked a colleague (IT graduate, good job, intelligent etc) what he though of losing the pound in favour of the Euro. He, in all seriousness, said "well, it would make it easier to go on holiday as you wouldn't need to change your currency". And that was it - the only thing he had to say about it. Blimey.
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