Is anybody you know democratic?

I don’t think I’ve ever met a democratic person. The democracies we live in are representative, but I think even people who couldn’t be happier with the system would agree: they’re restricted democracies.

Nobody is everybody

Democracy at root says the many are right. The background hum of our culture accords with this (X-Factor), we pick this up at school when our democracies are justified.

So why have I never met a democrat? Because what the many believe likely isn’t what you’d like to see, or believe is right. This goes the same for politics, music, or art (Vettriano, who I like).

My left-wing friends fear real democracy would mean hanging, deportations and the end of immigration. Right-wing people fear redistribution, or anarchy. The soviet—style British Arts Council annoys me, and yet when I tell people I’d love to see a fully-democratic, perhaps X-Factor style BAC, they recoil “but people don’t know what they should like: look at music”.

I don’t think I’m democratic at root - my preferred society probably doesn’t accord with what’d be picked by majority selection. Actually I bet yours doesn’t either. If you could allocate music funding, would you prefer it to be democratic, or to promote the interesting and ‘truly artistic’ bands everyone ‘really’ likes (if they have any ‘taste’)?

This, I think, is why a lot of people are angry with our democracies at present. They feel unrepresented, and the bigger the problems we face (the deficit, corporate tax evasion, climate change), the angrier they get. They say they want democracy: they really just want things their way.

Restricted democracy works, and doesn't

Right now this system works for the everyday stuff. It works precisely because most people aren’t represented. The sharp edges of each person’s opinions are blunted. In Europe we’ve a good compromise where nobody starves (a councillor friend told me the homeless in London, if able and willing, can ask to be in a hotel by nightfall), no rich people are in gulags, and nobody is persecuted for doing things that don’t hurt others. Left wing or right wing loonies lose out: great.

But still things occur that upset the majority: ‘business friendly’ government, that would rather overlook billions stolen via tax evasion, than millions nicked by the faux-unemployed (Does it just seem sexier to the very un-sexy politician to steal billions by accountant, than tens by dole? It’s a taste thing - they hate ‘grubby little’ criminals, are infatuated by the big time ones). We send the people’s army to war when the people would really rather they didn’t go - and show it indisputably (millions on the street…).

A little more democracy

We can fix this by having a little more democracy on big issues - HS2, the Iraq War, the Olympics - so the people answer these big questions a government cannot have a mandate for. Governments are elected for too wide a range of reasons for it to be anything than a statement that ‘this lot best fit our values’. That isn’t a mandate for radical changes (NHS privatisation, when it's been going strong for 50 years), or big single issues (HS2, Iraq), that split people cross-party. The root problem with our system is its lack of granularity: referendums solve it.

That’s reactive - we also need to be able to trigger change when people get angry. Switzerland’s system of triggering referendum via petition is a great model: professional politics for the boring stuff (fisheries policy), and referendums to force change when the people feel something needs to be done.

So that’s my solution to the ills of representative democracy (the awaiting crowds are awed… I have no idea why I’m writing this): pro politicians keep doing the daily stuff that we’re reasonably happy with. We, the people, make the big decisions; we, the people, can force or veto change.


Any comments? Please tweet @timruffles