What is Democracy?

Discussion in 'Current Affairs' started by slim, Aug 21, 2009.

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  1. Can anyone answer this question?
    We in the UK are proud to stand up and state to the world and his dog that we live in a democratic country.
    But how democratic is the UK
    With our voting system a party polling far less than 50% of the votes can win an election with a huge majority.
    Once in power that party is free to break any of the promises it made in its manifesto.
    Once in power the party can change the head of government for anyone that the party wants to be head of state without reference to the electorate.
    Once in power the party can elevate failed members of parliament who are no longer elected to the house of lords and then make them a minister who has is more powerful than any elected member in the house.

    And we call this living in a democracy :evil:
  2. Don't get me going on that unelected second chamber it's a bloody anachronism.
  3. No, we live in a representative democracy.

    The least worst option for identifying someone to be in charge, allegedly.
  4. One correction of a typo if I may slim

    "is free to...." change to "will".
  5. A true democracy does not have a wife involved in the equation 8O
  6. (granny)

    (granny) War Hero Book Reviewer

    Whatever it is I'm sure we haven't got one. We have what seems to me to be more like a Corporatocracy than anything else.
  7. More like a Kleptocracy. :oops:

    SOCIALISM: You have 2 cows, and you give one to your neighbour.

    COMMUNISM : You have 2 cows. The State takes both and gives you some milk.

    FASCISM : You have 2 cows. The State takes both and sells you some milk.

    BUREAUCRATISM : You have 2 cows. The State takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and then throws the milk away…

    TRADITIONAL CAPITALISM: You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull. Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows. You sell them and retire on the income.

    SURREALISM : You have two giraffes. The government requires you to take harmonica lessons

    AN AMERICAN CORPORATION: You have two cows. You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows. Later, you hire a consultant to analyze why the cow has dropped dead.

    ENRON VENTURE CAPITALISM: You have two cows. You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows. The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company. The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more. Sell one cow to buy a new president of the United States, leaving you with nine cows. No balance sheet provided with the release. The public buys your bull.

    THE ANDERSEN MODEL: You have two cows. You shred them.

    A FRENCH CORPORATION: You have two cows. You go on strike, organize a riot, and block the roads, because you want three cows.

    A JAPANESE CORPORATION: You have two cows. You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk. You then create a clever cow cartoon image called ‘cowkimon’ and market it worldwide.

    A GERMAN CORPORATION: You have two cows. You re-engineer them so they live for 100 years, eat once a month, and milk themselves.

    AN ITALIAN CORPORATION: You have two cows, but you don’t know where they are. You decide to have lunch.

    A RUSSIAN CORPORATION: You have two cows. You count them and learn you have five cows. You count them again and learn you have 42 cows. You count them again and learn you have 2 cows. You stop counting cows and open another bottle of vodka.

    A SWISS CORPORATION: You have 5000 cows. None of them belong to you. You charge the owners for storing them.

    A CHINESE CORPORATION: You have two cows. You have 300 people milking them. You claim that you have full employment, and high bovine productivity, and arrest the reporter who reported the real situation.

    A BRITISH CORPORATION: You have two cows. Both are mad.

    IRAQI CORPORATION: Everyone thinks you have lots of cows. You tell them that you have none. No-one believes you, so they bomb the fcuk out of you and invade your country. You still have no cows, but at least now you are part of a Democracy….

    AUSTRALIAN CORPORATION: You have two cows. Business seems pretty good. You close the office and go for a few beers to celebrate.

    Happy Trails

  8. No, they can't.

    The head of state is the Queen. The head of government is the Prime Minister. And the reason they can change the Prime Minister without reference to the electorate is precisely because of the royal prerogative. Her government must be carried on and constitutionally speaking she isn't mandated to dissolve parliament (as the only person with power to do so) every time there is a change of Prime Minister.

    Funnily enough I don't remember there being quite so many complaints when exactly the same thing happened in 1990, or for that matter when Harold Wilson (who had the largest party in 1974 but no overall majority) was prevented from taking office because Ted Heath requested a stay of execution from the Queen pending coalition negotiations between the Tories and the Liberals under Jeremy Thorpe. It was only when these failed that Wilson was 'invited' by the Queen to form a government.

    Also where does the 50% come from? Few Western, pluralist democracies see voting for a governing party in those sort of numbers. That's precisely because it's a functioning democracy. People can vote for whoever they like. The only way you'd get that sort of support would be if people couldn't vote for the Liberal Democrats and the smaller parties. That would be anti-democratic. I agree with you about the amount of power ceded to the governing party, but that's because traditionally the British electorate has wanted strong government - one way or the other - and hated the idea of PR (seeing it as a European, coalition-based menace to society, rightly or wrongly). And PR hasn't gained much support recently given a limited version of it put two BNP MEPs in Europe.

    The only coherent answer given where you're coming from would be to end the constitutional role of the monarchy (and possibly end the monarchy itself) and either a) introduce a thoroughgoing form of PR which would scale back the level of power granted to the executive, but bugger up your 50% target, or b) have an FPTP system limited to two parties, which isn't democracy. I don't think getting rid of the Queen, bringing in PR or limiting the number of parties would be wildly popular.

    And as for breaking manifesto promises that's as old as the hills. What if a government comes into office - as the Tories will shortly do (and as Labour did in 1964) and finds that the true state of the public finances - concealed from them in opposition - is so appalling they have to axe many of their manifesto pledges? Are they to be legally mandated to spend money they don't have? I know you're talking about specific commitments (as an example, perhaps top-up fees for university education), but whilst I'd agree with you that the government was - to put it mildly - out of order in breaking pledges like these a government of the day must have latitude to respond to changes in circumstances. Equally the electorate has the right to vote the government out at the ballot box if the party acts in bad faith, which they will no doubt exercise early next year.

    Having said all of that, I completely agree with you that it's hypocritical in the extreme to wander round the globe imposing democracy on countries which don't necessarily want it (hardly democratic in itself). And political parties themselves are oligarchic by nature; the whipping system essentially closes down free expression within the parties. I agree the system sucks, and like you I'm not sure it's the best there is, but equally I'm not sure there's any obvious solution to the problems it faces, and certainly not one that would find favour with the electorate as a whole.
  9. Blimey.

    What he said.
  10. Whilst I don't really have that much of a problem with your description of the way we live I do have a few points.

    Firstly the comments on the Queen are not that valid, how ever we structure things we will need some one or some committee to carry out that function, the fact we choose to get a hereditory monarch to do it is really a minor consideration.

    Next having one party with 50% to form a government is not that necesary, we have shown in Scotland that minority government can work. In reality it is not the electorate that demand 'strong government' rather it is the larger parties who demand it because they lust after absolute power as we have seen from both Maggie and Tony. A government that is actually controlled by the will of the electorate through fear of losing their place at the trough will always actually do better for the people than one that actually wields absolute power. The septics manage with two parties simply because their representatives fear the voter more than the party, where as here the electorate is fobbed of with what the party gives them.

    Finally I do not think any society really wants absolute non representative government though they may not and I might suggest with some justification wish to slavishly follow our specific model.
  11. Democracy is a great idea, we really must try it sometime.
  12. Ironically, it's that chamber that injects sense into the knee jerk reaction inspired offerings of the first chamber. Fortunately, they can apply their wisdom and speak their minds without fear of being deposed.
  13. The comments on the Queen are critical, actually. You can't have 'some committee' to decide when Parliament gets dissolved (i.e. when there is a General Election), or to pick who the Prime Minister is. You seem to have missed the point that those are amongst her most critical functions in a constitutional monarchy. There's no committee you could get to fulfill 'that function' (except in a junta). She has huge latent power under the prerogative; for anyone who doubts this have a gander at chapter 3 of Peter Hennessy's The Prime Minister, which gives a good account of the Feb 1974 constitutional crisis, which boiled down to her people and Downing Street's people wandering around St James Park and trying to work out who should be Prime Minister.

    The point I was making is the reason we don't have an election every time a party changes its leader is precisely because of the principle that the Queen's government must be carried on - and that she isn't even obliged to pick the leader of the largest party to be Prime Minister in any event (and wouldn't have done in 1974 if Ted Heath had got the Liberals on board).


    As for the 'In reality it is not the electorate that demand 'strong government' rather it is the larger parties who demand it because they lust after absolute power as we have seen from both Maggie and Tony' - if that were true, people wouldn't run away from the minor parties every time a hung parliament looks like a possibility. As the study below shows, hung parliaments are common in other democracies, but have been viewed by the British public as an 'aberration' to be avoided.


    The obvious solution to unrepresentative government - PR - simply doesn't work because of the British antipathy to weak government, and this is a historic problem, not just one from the last thirty years. There's plenty of polling data collected by constitutional reform organisations which bears out the fact that British voters think PR=coalition=weak government=Italy (to put it in a nutshell).

    As for the Yanks there are basic cultural differences based on revolutionary tradition etc., but also the fairly huge one that you're comparing a Presidential system with separation of powers to a Parliamentary system which lacks that entirely. It's not simply that representatives fear the voter more than the party - it's that in the US' variety of Presidential system, parties are de facto weaker. Parties are critical in the UK because they are the only way of forming a government in an election where the number of seats won decides (save - almost - in 1974) who makes up the executive. Thus whipping has to be stronger to ensure a national 'platform' which can approximate to the Presidential election in the US, where the only 'national' vote is for the Presidency.

    And to be fair, I wasn't advocating 50% support as 'necessary'; I absolutely agree with you that it isn't, shouldn't be and is actually not a good sign of the health of society. However I don't think the Scottish example works on a UK level because even now the functions of the Scottish Executive are circumscribed and still dependent on UK revenue. You can run a minority government if you're not passing the kind of legislation that Westminster has to pass.

    Sorry for boring the arse off people. All I'm trying to say is I agree with both Slim and yourself to an extent, but I think the issue of a lack of representation in the real sense is hard-wired into our constitutional settlement, the legacy of having an unwritten 'organic' constitution that evolved largely without a fight from the pre-modern era. The stuff about the monarchy matters because it plays a role - wholly dissimilar to many other countries - which is still critical to how the whole thing works. It's going to be an absolute bastard to sort out.
  14. Agreed. It's one of those anachronisms that - while the Commons is as buggered as it is - remains absolutely vital.
  15. What an interesting dissertation gentlemen.
  16. The whole point about the funtions the Queen carries out in our governance is that whether you have a Queen or not they have to be carried out through some process and involving some people. In many ways 'presidential' systems where the functions of head of state and head of government are combined such as in France and the USA you actually have and elected monarch in effect wityh the president having similar powers to those of a n 18th C monarch. Others in reality model their republics on our system where the head of state and the head of government are separated. Interestingly in general they also tend not to have an election because the head of the ruling party retires and instead see if some one else can form an effective government. Interestingly in the US model if you are careless enough to lose a president, you do not have an election you simply get the unelected VP. The 74 problem is not a function of having a monarchy, it is a function of separating the head of state from the head of government and has the potential to happen in many countries with some such as Italy and Israel doing it more ofteen than others.

    As for the strong governance problem we are led to believe that de facto strong government is good government where as recent experience tends to suggest the opposite. I would suggest that good government is in fact government that draws the population together rather than dividing and polarising. Certainly recent Tory and Labour governments have been very good at the dividing and polarising bit and in general piss poor at unifying us. At the end of the day we see very clearly that so called strong government ie that with unassailable majorities, gives PMs almolst dictatorial powers. This is clearly supported by the leaders of those parties bedcause they always hope to get their chance to be top dog.

    At the end of the day the Tories and Labour favour our present systembecause it gives the parties very significant control over who gets selected as a candidate, and thus elected, and this again tends to enhance the power of the PM with his massive majority backed by his/her MPs who owe their positions at the end of the day to party central office support.

    Thus the Labour and Tory parties will always shy away from giving the electorate greater democratic power as that would by definition diminisher the power of the parties and especially the PM

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