Come Thursday we are all invited to vote in the Borough Council elections; all of us on the electoral register that is. If you are not on the register, get on it. Too late for this election but ready for the next which could occur at any time as we are in a state of political instability. Who to vote for? Party or person? The political parties have sent round leaflets, so you probably know the names of the candidates. Parties want you to vote for their candidate but, are their candidates any good?
What is Democracy?
We are proud to live in a democracy, some of us think we invented it. The Greeks were first but we have groped towards a better democracy since the 13th century and our first Great British parliament of 1707. Democracy depends on much more than counting votes. It depends on a fair enfranchisement, that is those entitled to vote. Those participants must be informed about the issues of the day and take part in formulating policies. They need to know something of the people standing for election, are they honest, conscientious, can they do the job? There needs to be agreement that the rights of all the people will be protected, that is to say, that the winners will not penalise the losers. There must be a stable legal system underlying the process which is separate from the government.
Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried. – W. S. Churchill.
Everyone knows of this famous quotation, but we interpret it with smugness because we have a democracy. Churchill said it was the worst form of government meaning that there is room for improvement.
Threats to Democracy
Democracy worldwide is in retreat at present, so it is important to keep ours strong. Our democratic system faces several threats. It has not learned how to cope with globalisation and the digital revolution. It is having to learn afresh how to interact with other countries.
Our politicians are given to short-termism. Because they must be re-elected every 5 years, they tend to make promises that they cannot fulfil and ignore decisions on long-term matters. There are no votes in mending pot-holes in the road but announcing a grand new gesture of some sort e.g. a railway line, helps even if there is not the money to pay for it. It is too easy to defer decisions, to kick the can down the road for the next government.
Lobbying is a problem. Corporations, organisations and individuals with money can buy influence and sway legislation in their favour
Politicians themselves can use their time in power to feather their own nests at the expense of the good of the country. The expenses debacle of a few years ago shows that they are not all right honourable persons.
How to improve things
What should we do to make things better? The most powerful weapon is your vote. Use it to get the best people as your representatives. Next, we must hold them to account; the press and media are the main players here. Keep yourself informed and join in the debates.
With newspapers on the internet, we can join in the debate through the comments. There are trolls, of course, those who denigrate the person rather than debate the political idea. They are best ignored. There are current affairs programs on the TV and radio; listen, look. Assess the tone of voice, the body language and posture as well as the words spoken. Did he or she answer the question? Could this be fake news? Is the interviewee being ‘economical with the truth’? Whoever thought that social media, especially Twitter, would become the main medium of political communication in the USA.
Democratic countries are, on average, richer, freer, less corrupt, less likely to go to war, fairer and have better human rights than others. Being a poor country does not prevent democracy, there are several in Africa. Not all rich countries are democracies, Singapore and China.
Many countries became democracies quite recently, Greece, Spain, Argentina, Brazil. Others started out as democracies but their presidents morphed into autocratic dictators, Zimbabwe for example. In the whole of the middle east, only Israel is a democracy. In Turkey, democracy is failing day by day.
To serve our democracy it is important to vote. It is important to know what we are voting for so keep yourself informed. Your vote is not only for the candidate of your choice but for the process of democracy itself. If we become too cynical about our politicians and do not vote, they, in turn, assume that they can do anything they like, pass any laws, look after those people who do them favours. We must hold them accountable through our votes.
“If voting made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it.” – Mark Twain
“Democracy comes into grave danger when truth is no longer spoken to power.” – Paul Bamikole
“Living in a democratic society means that I can express my opinion, Having a democratic government means that they don’t have to listen.” – Anthony Hincks
“System fails when people with ability don’t have authority and people with authority don’t have ability.” – Amit Kalantri, Wealth of Words
“In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, a word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.” – Czelaw Milosz
“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.” ― H.L. Mencken, A Little Book in C Major
“I’m too old to know everything.” – Oscar Wilde
“We may still contrive to raise three cheers for democracy, although at present she only deserves two.” – E.M. Forster.