A Democracy … Without Its Citizens

Modern democracy is an odd thing. This is how it works in Britain.

The political parties nominate their candidates for the 650 constituencies, tending to give the folk who they like those contests which are easier to win (known as ‘safe seats’). As a first step, we as citizens don’t choose who stands for election. Political parties do that.

The candidates then campaign, making more promises and commitments than they can keep track of. Many of these are sensible, many are not. Some are honest commitments, some are plain lies. My point? We are hit with an enormous firehose of information, both real and fake, scattered in hundreds of places … upon which we rely when voting.

Now, suppose our candidate wins the election. First, they cannot be removed from their job for at least four years. We cannot fire them if they don’t show up for work for a year. Further, the MP has practically no resources to deliver their promises or commitments, however caveated they were. MPs can shine a light on issues, dig into the public sector and expedite stuff. They have however almost no cash resources and don’t determine policy.

Their biggest influence is in selecting the Prime Minister, who in turn chooses the executive, the its priorities, policies, allocation of resources, top appointments … in effect, the MPs chose the person in charge. The MPs that got him in, now tow his line, partly to be rewarded with a favour or a fancy job in government.

It’s possible that the lucky MP’s role in the executive allows the opportunity to fulfill earlier promises … which in any case are forgotten before the next election and are not legally binding. An MP can promise tax cuts, be lucky to become the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and then raise taxes. Remember, the PM decides policy, priorities and resource allocation.

MPs from other parties, those that are not the PM’s, are not only essentially penniless but have no prospect of being in the executive, and thus are denied even the sliver of a possibility to fulfill their promises and commitments.

Democracy’s essence is power to the citizen body. It’s beyond a stretch to suggest that the British political system gives power to the people. If we’re holding a modicum of truth, we should recognise that the British people don’t drive their government. We don’t even own the government’s key objectives or priorities.

To this mess, let’s add some contemporary spice. Boris Johnson was elected by 23,716 of the citizen body. In other words, 0.03% of Britons voted him in. According to YouGov, 33% of Britons like him … which means 67% don’t, no doubt because he lied a lot during the Brexit campaign. And he’s now leading the government during one of its most constitutionally sensitive and impactful moments in centuries.

If this is modern democracy, we need to do some hard thinking.