Is Modern Democracy all it’s cracked up to be?

21 Feb 2017

 Immediately after the EU Referendum there was a massive polarisation between those who were happy with the result and wanted to get the process started, and those who were disgusted with the result. Within hours, a petition had gone live demanding that the EU Referendum be held once more. There was even another petition that demanded London hold a referendum over whether to leave the UK and the SNP used the result to push for independence.

 

This suggests that all is not well with UK modern democracy. Democracy is purported to be the best political system because it allows the will of the people to be heard. It is usual in the aftermath of elections, where one party receives most votes, for a government to be formed and life to go on. People might grumble a little, but nothing else. This was not the case in the aftermath of the vote to leave the European Union. There were petitions, protests, and heated debates throughout the country over the result and what it meant. Central to this was the view that both sides of the referendum-leave and remain- had lied or not given proper facts to back up their claims, the most infamous being the £350 million that would go from Brussels to the NHS. This was a figure that was later thoroughly debunked. Cameron resigned and his replacement Theresa May walked in, having been chosen by her party, not by the people she wished to govern.

 

The unhappiness with the referendum result in some quarters, mixed with the relative inaction or inability of government to properly decide what they wished to do about the process, as well as the lies coming from both sides of the referendum, suggest an issue with modern democracy. Allowing everyone to vote, is not a bad thing, indeed, it would seem fair that the people affected by the law, should get a say in the legislative process. That was the thinking behind the various electoral reform acts of the 19th and 20th centuries. However, when reports come through stating that campaigners and politicians have lied to the public, and thus in some ways misinformed them, or that the public voted for something as a protest, one must stop and think, is this what it means to be a democracy?

 

The problem with modern democracy is that in some countries, a government can be formed out of a pittance of votes. The use of First Past the Post in the United Kingdom and the United States, often leads to the creation of safe seats, where it is highly unlikely that a voter’s actual choice for candidate could get elected. This then leads to them using their vote as a protest vote and voting for the lesser of what they see as two evils. This is not democratic; this is simply a vote being used as a business currency. This was something that became quite apparent in the recent US presidential election. Hilary Clinton received 48 per cent of the popular vote, whereas Donald Trump received 45 per cent. However, because Trump carried the necessary 270 electoral college votes, he was voted in as president. The will of the people as designed by the popular vote was ignored.

The protests that Trump’s election have garnered seems to have further divided an already divided nation. There are those who protest Trump’s rhetoric as non-presidential, and denounce him as a man with no popular support. Then there are those who support him and agree with him, and claim he is their president because of a system that benefits them, whereas before they had wanted said system removed.

 

 On the flip side, countries that use proportional representation often end up with coalition governments which are more representational, but not necessarily more effective in getting work done. That the two best choices for voters stands between majority government and no actual representation, or proportional representation and a divided government, is a worrying sign of the state of modern democracy.

 

The question about what needs to be solved with modern democracy cannot be solved overnight. However, by identifying the problem we can at least start to recognise that something needs to be done and then ensure that democracy includes everyone, and not just those who feel they can be bothered to turn out on the day.

 

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