Tuesday, November 07, 2006

So, hands up who likes democracy

The Germans, they say, don’t like it being up to them. At least, in a survey in the papers this weekend, it was announced that a majority of Germans have given up on democracy.

Actually, what the 51% surveyed said was that they were disillusioned with German democracy as it stood – which could mean a whole range of things. But let’s not spoil a good headline with facts; that’s not part of the game.

And, anyway, don’t they have a point? Germany has a more representative electoral system than Britain enjoys most of the time, but ended up with a grand coalition after last year’s elections. That hardly smacks of the strong leadership many crave for, apparently.

In Britain, we like democracy. We wouldn’t do without it. Just along as others make the decisions and we can blame them for it. In other words, we have the name without the substance. We have an electoral procedure, without the fundamental principle behind it – citizenship.

As liberals, we fight for people’s right to choose, but we also know that if they choose not to involve themselves in their community, their society and themselves will be the poorer.

In the past, when I met a socialist (hard nowadays, outside our party, that is), I have found this is a basic distinction: for them, the economic structure is fundamental, for us, the constitutional set-up. We now may be only party which even admits to the limitations of the free market, but that sense of the political, in its widest sense, remains crucial to our outlook. It’s a stance which is not shy to declare that Britain has yet to achieve a true democracy.

But for those who are proud that we’re not like Germany, there’s this thought left: will they be the only western European nation with a grand coalition, come our next general election? After all, if our antiquated system produced a hung parliament in 2008 or 2009, whenever Gordon the Gorgon chooses, who would make natural allies? A wise man’s bet would be on the two right-wing parties: that way, Gorg would stay in power, with Mr Cameron his home secretary. What fun that would be, if only you could watch from afar and not be a citizen of that poor, lost nation. Viva la democracia!


Jock Coats said...

I love democracy. I just don't have a say anymore..:)

Jo said...

they were disillusioned with German democracy as it stood

I think everyone I know would say the same about British democracy!

Anonymous said...

I would have thought that a more natural coalition might be a Tory-Lib Dem one on a liberal small-government ticket.

Most Tories would happily sign up to most of Ming's list of Labour laws to repeal. You'd have to have some compromising on fiscal policy, but you could probably find somewhere that most of both parties could at least live with. The Lib Dem insistence on PR as a precondition of a coalition might be a bigger sticking point, though.

Jock Coats said...

Yeah - compromise - we're willing to tell people their tax could be lower...:)

But seriously, there is an over-riding argument for a deal with the Tories and that is that we are democrats. If Labour is the party on the wane in public support, why would a democrat want to prolong Labour's rule. Even if the people do not speak decisively, if the Tories are in the ascendancy, it is only right that a third party goes with the mood of the nation.

However, for me, PR aside which is a given and would be difficult to do any deal without, the big worry I have with the Tories is what is loosely called "human rights". Given that Cameron has said they would rewrite the HRA (and I admit that it's perhaps not the best implementation of the European Convention) I stand by that convention root and branch.

Section 28 was an example of where the Tories thought, albeit perhaps in a previous era, that human rights were not inalienable and it irks me - some of us were de facto and de jure less equal than others. And it seems to me that whilst the argument may have moved on, largely from sexuality, they are still keen to respond to populist panic about, say, immigration, by tinkering with rights.

If we could agree a bill of rights thath would then need some massive majority ever to change, rather than some law that it appears people are happy to tinker with to achieve populist aims at the expense of one group or another, then I would vote for a deal. And I would assume, as in Scotland, that we would all have to agree to a deal down to the last member, not just the parliamentary party.

Anonymous said...

I think I'd agree that the problems with the European Convention in general are due to overly broad interpretation rather than a fundamental problem with any of the rights that are enumerated.

I recall attempts on the continent (although I can't remember the result) to parley the right to family life into the right for a convicted criminal to receive conjugal visits in prison for the purposes of conceiving a child and to use that same right to create an obligation for the state to pay for fertility treatment.

The idea that incarcerated prisoners should be allowed conjugal visits is absurd, and whilst it is certainly reasonable for the state to offer free fertility treatment, I can't see that it should be obligatory.

Section 28 is interesting. Whilst there was certainly a rather strong whiff of "we no like gay" about the whole thing, it only actually prohibited local government bodies from promoting certain ideas. I don't see it as being in conflict with the European Convention - I'm not even sure that protocol 12 would give it problems unless it was read rather broadly. This doesn't alter the fact that it was an unpleasant little law, though.

It's also hard for me to see how the convention has much bearing on immigration. There is, in general, no right to immigrate, so one can, for example, create an array of prison-like immigrant processing centres quite happily, as long as prospective immigrants were free at any point to return to the country they came from. Presence in such an entirely voluntary prison as a condition of immigration wouldn't seem to contravene any rights.

The only thing that really springs to mind is that one might be able to run the right to family life agaist a forced deportation in some circumstances, and of course there's the issue with the deportation of terrorists to countries that practice torture.

An explicit enumeration of rights would be a fine thing to have, with the provisos that:

1. The list was explicitly not exhaustive
2. The interpretation was clear - none of this "the constitution is a living document" nonsense.
3. More or less everybody agreed with it. Claiming a right as fundamental on the basis of a 55-45 vote is a bit suspect.

But then, I'd vote for almost anything that would rein in the kind of evil scum that thinks "We just lost to the BNP in court. Let's make some new laws so that we win next time."