Today is election day in the UK for many things large and small. London's mayor is up for grabs as are the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales. Plenty of local authorities are also being contested. Down here in Sussex we have, well, not so much actually. The Police and Crime Commissioner election. The 'Who?" and 'Why' election. PCC's as they are known, oversee the strategic direction and budget of local police forces and can hire and fire the chief constables.
The idea, in theory, is a sound one: let the public vote for someone who will implement the type of policing they like, you know, the old fashioned stuff - bobbies on the beat, catching burglars, sorting out unruly teenagers hanging around on street. As opposed to monitoring Twitter, policing 'hate crime' and not enforcing laws they don't like (step forward cannabis possession).
Well, forgive me for not noticing, but has anyone seen any difference in the last four years since these local sheriffs were introduced? Possibly you might have noticed some attention-seeking twat making grandiose statements and pursuing political and personal battles with the resources of their office. Dick-measuring arguments with chief constables in the local press, perhaps. But I still can't remember the last time I saw a policeman out in the open (other than doing crowd control at Clapham Junction Station when the railways fuck up and the paying public get pissed off).
So, I guess the question is, does democracy actually matter? I mean, isn't it the cornerstone of every civilised state? Don't we go to war because the lack of democracy and insist on its presence before admitting countries into civilised clubs like the EU?
It is important. Of course. The Churchill quote on democracy is a bit hackneyed now but it cuts to the nub of the issue: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” But on it's own democracy does not guarantee anything. You need other pillars of a state which, I'm increasingly persuaded, are as important.
For example - an election is held and Party A wins the election with 50.1% of the vote. It's main policy is to pass a law killing anyone in the 49.9% who voted for party B. That's democracy in action, no? Absurd though. What about the rule of law? What about the constitution? What about a head of state to veto said policy? Law courts? The separation of powers? Public consent? Society's norms?
What about the nature of the democracy itself? Which system? Who chooses the system? Who draws up the constituencies? Who makes the rules? Who supervises the elections? Does the state fund any parties? If so who and why? Who draws up these rules? Who gets to select the candidates? Do you get to vote for a candidate or a party? What is the strength of a mandate a party gets who may have a 1000 point manifesto but I get only one vote? Should we have a direct plebiscite on important issues? On all issues? On some issues? Who decides when we have a referendum? Should an elected government apply the result of a referendum?
This is why you hear oft derided commentators say that you can't impose democracy on country XYZ (newly liberated from an authoritarian dictator) because they have no history of democracy. Usually these objections are dismissed as reactionary - the commentator is basically saying that the people of country XYZ shouldn't have the same rights as our shiny democracy. But that is to make the grave assumption that an outcome (a peaceful democracy) is inevitable. It is not. There are things which underpin an outcome like democracy:-
- Rule of Law. Freedom from arbitrary arrest. Rights. Neutral courts. Neutral and accepted head of state. A non politicised police force or army.*
- Public Consent - through years (sometimes hundreds of years) a cultural backdrop that has gradually fallen into a system that is accepted.
- A tolerance of other views (religious, political - no windows into a person's soul**) and a willingness to accept a result that goes against your point of view. Similarly a willingness on those who win to be magnanimous and not use the state power against those opposed to them.
- A demos. A Greek concept this. There cannot be a democracy without a demos. I'm not arguing for cultural homogeneity. That ship has sailed. But some acceptance that in any given country there has been a certain path, a certain ethos, a certain system to be respected. If I lived in France I'm sure I would be exasperated and amazed in equal measure by their state apparatus. But I would abide by rules fashioned by their collective history, their republic, their "La garde meurt et ne se rend pas!" bloodymindedness. ***
The brighter amongst you will recognise that I've described Britain. Hell fucking yeah.
Vote out FFS.
* And it is a bloody Police FORCE not a police SERVICE. The police are the agents of the state on behalf of the people to enforce the people's laws. This is not a service. This is state power. A force. If everything is working correctly, it is the will of the people in a uniform.
** One of the completely fundamental foundations of the UK. Elizabeth I said she didn't want a window into men's soul. So tolerant. So British. So fucking NOW. Our country isn't the haven and peaceful democracy it is by accident you dumb-fucks! IT IS NO ACCIDENT. We had hundreds of years to get this right. Those who oppose 'The West' do not - now - have this point of view.
*** It's a blog I've been meaning to write for a long time. The 'cheese eating surrender monkeys' trope by ignorant assholes against the French pisses me off. This famous quote - "La garde meurt et ne se rend pas!" (The Guard dies and does does not surrender!) was reportedly uttered at Waterloo by Pierre Cambronne, Colonel of The Old Guard. Completely outnumbered by the combined British, Belgian, Dutch, Hannovian & Prussian troops at the end of the battle, the Old Guard covered the retreat of the defeated and demoralised French army. Like the British troops earlier in the day, the Guard formed defensive squares but went down to a man against overwhelming odds as they retreated agonising foot by foot. Offered an honourable surrender by the British, Cambronne shouted this defiant reply. We do not surrender. We die. The French, under Napoleon and earlier under Charlemagne, conquered most of Europe through their martial spirit. Fuck off ignorance! Vive La France! Rant over.