Sunday, 23 September 2012

Democracy, Trust & Voting

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg's recent 'apology', set to music:-


"If we've lost your trust, that's how I hope we can start to win it back"

What, by giving an insincere-sounding 'apology', three years late? Hardly! He could start by resigning as party leader, and the Liberal-Democrat party could then deselect every MP who broke their pledge. That might be a start. This nonsense was just a belated realisation that people actually care about broken promises and that, come the next election, he and his fellow Lib-Dem MPs are likely to lose their jobs.

For those who don't follow British politics, or who have short memories, a quick summary. Back before the last election here, all of the candidates for the Liberal Democrat party (the smaller 'third party' in British politics) signed a clear and unambiguous pledge saying that, if elected, they would vote against any rise in university tuition fees (for more detail see an earlier post). After the election neither main party had enough MPs to form a stable government, so the Conservatives and Lib-Dems formed a coalition. That coalition then came up with proposals to triple university tuition fees. In spite of their pledge, the majority of Lib-Dem MPs failed to vote against this; some voted for, others abstained.

Why does this matter? All sorts of reasons, really. But the most important, I think, is that it reduces trust in our parliamentary system, and in democracy. The Lib-Dems did very well in the last election, particularly among young, first-time voters, and in areas with a big student population. At the time they had an image of being a bit different to the other parties: less cynical, less in it for themselves, more trustworthy. Then, after the election, they particularly betrayed these young voters, and they showed that even a party which appears more trustworthy will sell out its voters as soon as the election is over, given an opportunity of power.

How can we expect those youngsters to have any future trust in a political system which is that cynical? "They're all the same, what's the point of voting," seems like a reasonable response. Except that actually they're not all the same. There are a whole pile of extremist groups waiting in the wings: politically extreme, left and right, and extreme religious parties too. The fewer mainstream voters who bother to go out and vote, the greater the influence of these extremists. That's the way the UK parliamentary system works. And a hypocritical party leader, and his train of power-hungry MPs, in selling out those young voters who believed in him, was hammering another nail into our already damaged democracy. That matters, in my view.

I have my own views about the different mainstream UK political parties, but in one way I would agree that they are 'all the same': they all reflect, more or less imperfectly, the views and ideals of the mainstream of British society. And they are all far, far better for this country than the extremists, with their reflections of the worst of humanity. A democracy which involves most of the population may be horribly flawed but it remains, as Churchill pointed out:
"... the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

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