Is Britain A Democracy?

The accepted wisdom seems to tell us that it is, but is it?  The British system when examined closely is a strange one; firstly, we have a monarch and we are reminded of this constantly along with the counterpoint, ‘but she doesn’t have any power really’.  This isn’t actually true.

The British system is unusual because it is steeped in vested interests of medieval origin.   In many ways this is the result of not being invaded since 1066.  Since that time, the rest of Europe was often in turmoil, needing standing armies to police their borders, whereas Britain concentrated on becoming a naval power.  As the great historian A.J.P. Taylor said, “The great armies, accumulated to provide security and preserve the peace, carried the nations to war by their own weight.”  Times of upheaval lead to sweeping changes in the way countries are governed, and there was never a comparable crisis in Britain, hence little political change.  Frighteningly little, in fact.  The upside of this is that we have didn’t fall prey to the extreme politics of the first half of the 20th century, but the flipside has been inertia and stultifying inequality.

Here’s what the Oxford English Dictionary says about democracy:

  • a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives: a system of parliamentary democracy
  • [count noun] a state governed under a system of democracy: a multiparty democracy
  • control of an organization or group by the majority of its members: the intended extension of industrial democracy
  • the practice or principles of social equality: demands for greater democracy

So, let us examine this definition.  At first glance Britain seems to be a democracy, because all of us who over-18 have the right to vote (my personal view is that the age should be lowered to 16, by the way).  However, if that is the case why do so few bother to exercise it (only 65.1% in 2010).  Ask people why they don’t vote and the answer is usually “They’re all the same…”  It’s all too easy to dismiss such a comment as apathy or political illiteracy, but the issue is more complicated and in many ways it is elitist to disregard such an opinion – it is better to learn from it.   Are the people in Parliament truly representative of the populace?  Only 7% of children in the UK are privately educated, whereas 35% of British MPs are from private education (20% of whom are ex-Etonians).  Does this qualify them to be our ‘representatives’.  If they aren’t, how easy would it be to find more suitable candidates?  The answer is that it should be more easy than it currently is.

I have a real problem with privately funded education and don’t believe any good can come from it.  It creates inequality and ensures that our society remains divided by class; no child is deserving of a better education than another’s child.  This is an example of the class-system at its lowest common dominator and I will listen to no attempt to defend it.

I have always voted, but can understand the concerns of those who don’t.  They echo some of my own concerns.  What I see in parliament are a political class with even fewer exceptions than ever before.  This is demonstrated by the increasing tendency for politicians to overlook the simple fact that the vast majority of people simply want to earn a decent standard of living and bring their children up in a safe and secure environment.  This may not be an ambitious aim by a politicians standards but it is certainly a valid one, and the fact that MPs seem to hold it in such little regard demonstrates how out of touch they are.

How many of you are tired of hearing politicians talking about the electorate in such a disparaging way; the undeserving poor, the underclass, scroungers, under-skilled, uneducated, etc?  It is disgraceful and indicative of the way our democracy is utterly backwards.  If YOU can’t find employment than THEY are to blame, NOT YOU, and THEY should be held to account.  If Britain is supposed to be a democracy, that’s the way it should work.

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2 thoughts on “Is Britain A Democracy?

  1. Aye, aye to all you have typed!

  2. I think its pretty fair to say that over here in Britain we have it pretty easy compared to most other places but, rightfully so, this does not mean that we can’t think about what IS wrong. I agree with everything you say but I think you also miss a deeper underlying general problem within our system of government. As we have recently witnessed the media has a certain amount of influence in our society. On top of this we also have the banks, the E.U (which I happen to be for), the lobbyists AND a distinct three party (possibly two very soon) voting system. My point is that it seems like nothing is moving because everything is pulling in a different direction and no one group can persuade the rest their direction is best. The voting apathy is a product of this stagnancy, just as the failure to address REAL issues (rather than poll boosting faux policies) like employment is too. All in all, and I’m sure every generation says the same, something needs to change. This is the time for the stagnancy to end, a group which can pull all in one direction.

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