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Topic for May/June - Democracy in Action

    • 19 posts
    May 8, 2017 10:11 AM BST

    As we enter an election period, what are the deficiencies of our democratic processes and more importantly how could we improve them for life in the 21st century?

    Whatever we may have voted in the referendum, one thing was sure our vote really counted in the outcome. In elections in safe seats, even if we vote with the majority, we may feel our vote has no overall effect, so we may feel it counts for little. If we are in marginal seats we may feel very empowered and may also resort to tactical voting for one reason or another. When it comes to individual policies in manifestos our vote is a blunt instrument, as it is taken as a vote to endorse the manifesto as a whole. In this election where we have the overriding issue of Brexit alongside party manifestos, it is further complicated, so how will we make our decisions?

    In today’s world are there better ways of doing things?

    This post was edited by # Probably42 at May 8, 2017 10:12 AM BST
    • 18 posts
    May 11, 2017 3:10 PM BST

    As I see it, the only way that we could change things within a democracy is to have many more rferenda on individual issues, so that our vote does count.

    However, I'm not sure that referenda are the answer, either. There would be a danger of voter fatigue nd therefore very low turnouts. Low turnouits themselves provide a democratic deficit, so we wouldn't be any further forward.

    I think we just have to accept that democracy isn't perfect - it never has been and it never will be. As Churchill said: 'Democracy is the worst form of government ... except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.' I think we have to live with that and accept that, if we want to live in a democracy we have to accept its shortcomings.

    • 17 posts
    May 12, 2017 8:02 AM BST

    I agree that there's no easy answer to this one.

    I'm not a fan of referenda - along with the vast majority of the population I have neither the time, the inclination nor the access to fully understand all of the factors involved, which is why I look to the full-time politicians to make these decisions for me. Same reason I look to a full-time plumber to fix my plumbing problems.

    I would like to be able to vote for policies rather than parties but this brings with it the issue of who would then represent me in parliament. Perhaps some artificial intelligence could cast my vote for me (proportionally) on the basis of the policies I support. 

    Even the pressure to use today's technology in the voting arena is tempered by the knowledge of the hacker's skill.

    So best left alone?

    • 84 posts
    May 12, 2017 1:53 PM BST

    My first reactions are that there are a variety of defieciencies in our current democratic processes such as:

      • - having very limited choice in practice because there are only two parties that are really likely to be able to form a Government
      • - whether MPs represent the views of their constituents or their own
      • - the focus on the short term rather than the long term because of the nature of the election cycle
      • - our vote being a blunt instrument when it comes to the individual policies in the manifesto 
      • - a vote being far more valuable in a marginal constituency than a national one
      • - the confrontational aspect of party politics rather than reasoned debate

    and I'm sure given a bit of thought many more.

    I too would like to be able to vote for policies rather than just parties in some way. I think perhaps the two things need to be separated i.e. we vote for an MP to represent us and also have some mechanism for ranking policies so that popularity of policies can be easily differentiated, as input to the resulting Government. Or perhaps the whole policy ranking and commenting aspect should be a parallel and possibly on-going activity conducted through an online system, recognising that not all will want to participate at this level.

    Just a thought about Geoff's hacking warning. Clearly we have to address that, as we have to in every avenue of online life, but I think we have to assume that we should be able to make changes to eventually turn the technology round on such people. So I wouldn't consider leaving this 'Democracy in Action' topic alone for that reason.

    There are so many aspects to this topic that we could easily get bogged down in particular areas, so it may be worthwhile to first try and (a) identify what new or improved attributes we would like our 21st century democratic system to have i.e. paint a picture of what we would like to ideally see (b) identify what issues there are with the current system that we would like to overcome. Anyone like to have a first go at either of those?

    These are just a collection of first thoughts but in putting them together I decided to have a quick look at voting systems as I noticed in the recent Mayoral elections that a 'Supplementary Voting' system was being used. I discoverd that we have in the UK the following systems currently in use depending on the type of election and in which country in the UK it is being held:

      • - First past the post
      • - Proportional representation
      • - Single Transferable Vote
      • - Additional Member System (combination of first past the post and closed list proportional representation)
      • - Supplementary Vote system 

    which was news to me. If you want to take a look details I found are at:

    Don't think we want to get diverted to discussing the merits of different systems at this stage but thought it was interesting.

    So any thoughts on (a) and (b) above?

    This post was edited by Tony Clack at May 12, 2017 1:58 PM BST
    • 18 posts
    May 16, 2017 1:43 PM BST

    What Attributes we would like our 21st Century democratic System to Have


    It has become apparent that the main problem with our current system is that people feel that they have become disenfranchised and that no-one is listening to them or cares about their problems. Whilst there is a great deal of cynicism about politicians (much of which I share) I do believe that most politicians enter politics because they want to do good and to help people. Therefore, it must be the system itself that is letting people down.
    So how can we improve the democratic system so that people engage with it and support it? I don’t have any definitive solutions but there are two areas that I think could be looked at and examined:

    1. The voting system. Personally, I am reasonably happy with our current ‘first past the post’ system. However, I do understand that it very often provides a government that doesn’t really represent the will of the people and also that, in many constituencies, a lot of people feel that whichever way they vote it won’t make any difference because the party that always wins will win again. It’s only in a few marginal constituencies where people feel that their vote really counts. In turn, this leads to voter apathy, low turnouts and therefore a blight on the whole system.
    Therefore, some form of proportional representation system of voting is probably needed to rectify the current deficiencies in the system. There are several types that are in use around the world and I am not really in a position to put forward one that I think is the best. I do feel, however, that more research should be done by people outside of the political world who should then put forward recommendations as to the system to be used.

    2. The Whip System. The whip system, under which many important votes are carried out in Parliament, means that MOPs have to obey the party line and vote according to the dictates of the party leaders. This means that, although people may vote for a party because, overall, it is the one that they feel best reflects their views, many votes will be cast by local MPs that don’t reflect their constituents’ views on particular issues. A good example is the issue of bringing back hanging for certain offences.

    To overcome this, more use could be made of referenda but these are unwieldy, expensive to run and, in any event, we pay MPs to represent our views, so why should we have to go to the polling booth and do their job for them? The problem is, though, that they very often don’t represent our views, as explained above. Therefore, the answer could be that, for important votes (to be determined in some way that needs to be researched) MPs should be forced to consult their constituents, so that those who wish to express a view are able to. This could quite easily be done online or in person at the constituency office. The MP should then vote according to the constituents’ views rather than those of the party leadership. Therefore, the whip system would be abolished and people would feel that they have more input into the democratic process.


    As Churchill said, ‘Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others that have been tried’. So even he realized that it could be improved. With more thought, research and implementation of the above policies (and, I have no doubt, others, too) we can improve our democratic processes.

    • 17 posts
    May 17, 2017 3:57 PM BST

    This article from The Economist is as good a start position as any for Tony's (a) and (b) - http://www.economist.com/news/essays/21596796-democracy-was-most-successful-political-idea-20th-century-why-has-it-run-trouble-and-what-can-be-do .