Saturday, March 7, 2009

Police State

Now here is an interesting one, regarding the sliming of the slithery one...

In broad daylight, right in the centre of the heavily surveilled capital city, outside a major official meeting, an audacious campaigner flings an unknown substance at the widely loathed second most powerful figure in the regime, a man notorious for his links with some of the most powerful oligarchs on the planet ... and then gives a series of media interviews while police stand around and do nothing and the government strongman dismisses the protest as unimportant.

If, as some too readily claim, we were all now living in a British police state, then the official response to Leila Deen's green custard assault on Lord Mandelson in London this morning would not have passed off so easily

Well, I want to know why the police didn't do anything. Now, don't get me wrong, I found the whole incident highly amusing and revelled in Mandelson's humiliation, but this was verging on physical assault on another individual.

Now I also generally dislike Plane Stupid, and in particular I despise left-wing feminist socialists who have a self inflated view of themselves, and in particular their moral superiority. However, democracy is democracy. It is rule by the mob, and only liberties which restrict government action can help prevent injustices, but there will always be a need to decide some things as a society.

By all means let's look at restricting Government. Let's look at improving the accountability of our Government. At, of course, let us allow peaceful protests which do not infringe on the liberty of the object of the protest. But to turn up and 'slime' a public figure, I think, is crossing the line. If I walked up to a person in the street and did that, would it not be assault? If so then why should public figures have to put up with it?

Indeed, it may not be classed as assault under the law, and there may be good reason for not doing so. The libertarian in me screams - If no physical harm is caused then what is the fuss? But then my gut retorts - people should express their views through the ballot box, and like them or not government ministers are carrying out a job and should be able to get on with it. By all means protest, or scream at him, or whatever, but don't cross the line.

Incidentally, I would like to see more use of referendums on 'hot potato' issues like Heathrow if only because it would legitimise the result, whichever it was, and allow us to move on to the next issue. That Democracy is purely representative is an historical anachronism, borne out of the necessity or a largely uneducated populace and at a time when access to information was hard. Today with the Internet, in particular, information is easily accessible and campaigns relatively easy to mount, and so consulting the people (the purpose of democracy anyway) on specific issues becomes much more viable today. I would also support general elections every 3 years, and even go as far as to support a directly elected executive separate to Parliament to greater improve accountability.

7 comments:

Paul Lockett March 7, 2009 at 6:36 PM  

I'm warming to the idea of a directly elected executive, but I'm still fundamentally opposed to widespread referenda.

Even if information is widely available, there is still a serious risk with direct democracy that people will take little notice of it and cast an ill-considered vote. The two biggest reasons for that are time shortages (the average person can't dedicate as much time to researching the issues as a full-time representative) and rational ignorance (if your vote is one of many millions, it is logically a waste of time to extensively research an issue when your vote is exceedingly unlikely to make a difference).

If there's a reason to take a particular decision away from elected representatives, I'd much rather see it given to a jury than put to a referendum.

Vindico March 7, 2009 at 6:49 PM  

I agree that most people are not going to research the intricacies of a particular issue, and that there is little point if their vote is unlikely to make a difference, but surely that is also the case for General elections? Even more so in fact?!

In reality those people who are interested would do the research and launch campaigns to persuade voters. It doesn't matter if those who don't care don't vote since they will accept the result - referendums give those who do care a chance to have their say.

As for juries, is that not basically Parliament, or your local council? I.e. representatives who make a decision?

Paul Lockett March 8, 2009 at 12:11 PM  

I agree that most people are not going to research the intricacies of a particular issue, and that there is little point if their vote is unlikely to make a difference, but surely that is also the case for General elections? Even more so in fact?!

Absolutely, but at least the system ensures that the people we put into parliament, however poor a choice they may be, have the time and sufficient incentive to come up with decisions which won't lead to total disaster. I don't like the fact that so much of my life is controlled by majority decision making, but at least the system gives me some protection against total mob rule.

In reality those people who are interested would do the research and launch campaigns to persuade voters. It doesn't matter if those who don't care don't vote since they will accept the result

Unfortunately, those who don't really care will often vote anyway and perhaps even more dangerously, people who have strong opinions which aren't based on any kind of research or understanding will vote too.

referendums give those who do care a chance to have their say.

If we decided everything by referendum, it would do, but I don't see that being practical. If you have referenda on a select few issues, then you can end up disenfranchising some. When we vote for a party, it invariably has some policies we agree with and others we don't. If the party I vote for gets into power and then puts one of the policies I liked to a referendum, then I've effectively been robbed of my vote. Of course, a party could put a referendum as a manifesto commitment, but that just seems like a cop out. If I'm paying somebody to make decisions, I don't want them throwing the responsibility back to me when the decisions get tough.

As for juries, is that not basically Parliament, or your local council? I.e. representatives who make a decision?

Except for the method of selection. If I was in court, I'd have more faith in a randomly chosen jury to reach the right decision than I would in an elected jury.

Vindico March 8, 2009 at 1:08 PM  

Paul, You make a very interesting point.

So in your view is the solution simply to make the executive and parliament more accountable, and to limit the power of the state, but still sticking to the system of representative democracy?

I am not sure I agree entirely, and would look to the experience of Switzerland where direct democracy seems to work broadly quite well.

Paul Lockett March 8, 2009 at 6:08 PM  

"So in your view is the solution simply to make the executive and parliament more accountable, and to limit the power of the state, but still sticking to the system of representative democracy?"

In essence, yes. The five key steps I think would bring the most improvement are:

1. Establish a written constitution limiting state power.

2. Have the lower house elected by STV, to give more proportionality without ingraining the role of parties into the system.

3. Directly elect the executive. It isn't something I'd considered previously, but I think the case you've put forward is strong.

4. Have the members of the upper house either randomly selected or elected for a single term, after which the members are barred from standing in any public election. That would ensure the house would be able to provide an effective check on the lower house without being swayed by electoral pressures.

5. Use some kind of jury system to decide on issues where the full-time representatives would have a conflict of interest, such as MPs salaries.

"I am not sure I agree entirely, and would look to the experience of Switzerland where direct democracy seems to work broadly quite well."

It does seem to, although the constitutional requirement (as I understand it) for referenda to be called only on receipt of a petition signed by a large number of the electorate does at least prevent them being used for politically expedient reasons by the government. I think that highlights one of the major problems with referenda - they are only practical if used infrequently, which in some ways can make them undemocratic, by taking some people's pet issues out of the normal political process.

Vindico March 8, 2009 at 6:16 PM  

I could quite happily go along with that manifesto. Looks very good indeed.

Re the upper house, a thought I did have a while back was having local councils elect a leader to sit in the upper house. The indirect elections provides some degree of separation.

Paul Lockett March 8, 2009 at 11:09 PM  

I could see that approach working too.

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