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    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    TGA has omitted democracy as a goal of the EU. Perhaps he feels that the EU is already democratic as a body and as individual democratic countries. If that is the case, then please permit me to differ in opinion. This isn't a stab at bureaucracy in the EU but more a frank assessment of the state of democracy across the region.

    Simon de Montford, back in the 13th Centry, introduced the concept of electoral responsibility, that is that those in power are responsible for undertaking the wishes of the electorate. Over the next few centuries, democracy rose across Europe, with some exceptions. The principle of electoral responsibility, however, was lost by the time democracy left the 19th century. What had happened was that politicians had started to look after their own interests by banding together and voting in a block, independent of the wishes of their individual electorates. The political party was born, and soon after, the whips office where by members of parliament are severely disciplined by their political party if they do not vote in the way the party instructs them. De Montford and the other founding fathers of democracy must be turning in their graves.

    Perhaps, with the EU, we now have a chance to produce a true democracy whereby the wish of the electorate is the action of parliament. Technological advances mean that it is now entirely feasible to hold a referendum on every bill before parliament, through electronic voting, and with minimal incremental cost. Doing so on a constituency level could bind your MP to vote in the way his constituents wish. If the constituents don't turn out to vote, then the MP makes could make up his own mind.

    Bills are already available online, and it would become one of the roles of the MP to describe the bill to his constituents and discuss concerns about it before the vote. He could then bring questions from his constituents to parliament, especially when those concerns have meant his constituents have directed him to vote against a particular bill.

    Wouldn't that be a true story of the EU making things better?
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    vince,

    "Technological advances mean that it is now entirely feasible to hold a referendum ", you also need the populace to have sufficient information on which to base a judgement. It is much easier to get 600 Parliamentarians (who are usually reasonably intelligent and well educated) to understand the issues involved in a particular bill than 600 million people with varying degrees of intelligence and education.

    What you describe could be termed "perfect democracy". Well like "perfect competition" which also requires "perfect knowledge" it is theorhetically appealing but impossible in practice.
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    If the population doesn't want to read the bill and figure out what it means, then they don't have to vote. Alternatively, they can follow the advice of their MP. I don't see the problem with that. Bills are already made public before votes take place. The only extra stage is letting the constituents vote on the bill, and binding the MP to vote as the constituents have indicated. Let's say a turnout under 25% gives the MP the freedom to make his own decision - that way the system reverts to existing processes for matters which the public don't really care about.

    Wouldn't it be a good EU story, if the EU was the first to establish a true democracy?

    To put it another way - introducing direct democracy to the EU would be a lot easier and a immensely less costly than the original introduction of our flawed form of democracy. At the time we cared enough to establish democracy here, surely we care enough to push it just that little bit more to have a true and representative democracy in the EU? One in which the electorate matters all the time, not only every few years when an election is held. One in which MPs are bound to act precisely as their constituents demand, in whatever parliament they serve.
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    vince,

    Do you know what the first vote would be? It would be the death penalty for murder and all those constituents would vote for it. How would you feel about that?
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    Gary, if that is what the population want, then so be it. The idea that only politicians know what should be done is a very arrogant position which has led to many of the most oppressive governments in history. Don't forget that were the ordinary citizen has a choice, ordinary groups gain a voice. If a certain bill seems to repress Islam, then Imans would be able to advise the faithful to vote against it. The same is true for bills where the Christian or any other group holds a moral position in support or opposition - a message from the pulpit could translate into real and rapid political change. Feminist groups could take the chance to make their views known where a bill is seen as important or as a threat.

    Democracy as we have it now is just a compromise based on the immense complexity and expense of direct democracy were it applied even just fifty years ago. Things have changed, both technologically and in terms of literacy and political awareness. The time has come for the EU to give the power back to the people, which was always the plan anyway.
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    vince,

    Suppose you were to have heart surgery. Would you like us to do a technically possible vote amongst the EU population about which instruments to use and where and how deep to cut? How would you feel doing a technically possible vote about the same things using a constituency of trained, professional heart sugeons? Democracy. like diversity, isn't always the right thing and it doesn't always have to include everyone.

    The two-phase democracy we have now acts as an idiocy/bigotry/ignorance/laziness/minorities filter. Single phase democracy will just mean that the views of the idiot/bigot/ignorant get supported and those of the lazy or minority are never heard.

    Things have changed in terms of political awareness in that people are generally less politically aware but are more easily lead to jump onto bandwagon politics. I was in London when 2 million people marched against the war in Iraq in which (depending who you believe) tens or hundreds of thousands of people have died (including insurgency deaths) over 5 years. Where are those people marching against malaria, a disease that kills millions of people every single year. They are nowhere because its not cool/trendy to march against malaria. That's what direct democracy will bring you. The marketing companies will have a field day. I can just see the Saatchi & Saatchi ads for the "Vote YES to repress Islam" campaign.

    BTW, I didn't go on the march. I, like 4 million others, watched Man. Utd. playing FA Cup football against Arsenal on TV. So in democratic terms does that mean that the FA Cup is more important than Iraq? The people have spoken.
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    Gary, you seem to be implying that stating your opinion in the democratic process must require substantial effort, such as going on a protest. I didn't protest about the war in Iraq, nor any other issue. I don't believe that protest is anything but a perversion of democracy. But I do believe that as we no longer need MPs to make our decisions for us, we should take that power away from them.

    If the people get the country in a pickle then so be it. We'll have nobody to blame but ourselves, and it will be our pickle, not one produced by some arrogant politicians who do dodgy secret deals and think they know what's best.
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    vince,

    "you seem to be implying that stating your opinion in the democratic process must require substantial effort, such as going on a protest." no I'm not implying that. I'm implying that the general population is LESS trustworthy than arrogant politicians when it comes to decision making.

    "If the people get the country in a pickle then so be it", this is not a sustainable position.

    "think they know what's best", all you are doing is saying that the general population knows best, or that direct democracy results in a better answer than two-phase democracy.
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    Take a look at Switzerland. Lots of reasons for criticising that country, as people do, though often out of envy. But...the Swiss have for years had a system like the one you are debating. As a Swiss citizen you could seek to have a referendum on a return to hanging or perhaps even on Mr V V Vince's open heart surgery. But you'd need to get 100,000 signatures first of registered Swiss voters (as I remember). It's a good brake. And if you are worried about silly outcomes, just look at the results of referenda over the years - they're not outrageous. And indeed Switzerland is hardly an unsuccessful country. There are also big gains in terms of popular buy-in to decisions the outcome of which individuals have had an opportunity to influece.

    And there is a lesson for the EU here, to bring the conversation back for a second to the debate's central theme. Switzerland's voting system works in part because it manages to balance individual, cantonal and federal input and demands. The EU could defintely learn from this. But that chapter won't be read for many years yet.
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    Charlie,

    I gave my view of Switzerland early on in this forum, it goes like this: Switzerland is the country that sat idly by while fascism swept across Europe and then sat back to count its Nazi gold. I am certainly not envious of that.

    Swiss success is based on the lack of involvement in facing up to fascism, it had no rebuilding costs, no debts to pay back to the US etc

    As Harry Lime ("The Third Man" - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0041959/) says:
    "Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

    (And yes I know the cuckoo clock is German really.)

    For me referenda are the result of weakness on behalf of elected representatives. They indicate that the elected representatives want to pass the buck to the electorate rather than actually govern.
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    I agree. Politicians are made so there wont be any referenda. They are paid to make the decisions for us.
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    The EU has to overcome its democratic deficit before it can start lecturing anyone on democracy.

    I agree that referenda should only be used sparingly. They could be useful at the European level in some circumstances. For example, I would consider it as much more meaningful to vote on the EU Constitution in a Europe-wide referendum as opposed to 27 national referenda (that is, to the extent that the EU Constitution and a referendum on it is at all necessary, which I don't think is the case at present).
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    Why do members of this forum feel that referenda should be avoided? To me, the more I can have a direct say in the law, the better. That's been the direction of society for hundreds of years, starting from absolute rule, through advisory courts, via advisory parliaments and eventually to parliaments which hold de facto power of the realm.

    This is an age of rapid technological progress. It is very affordable and technically elementary to implement direct democracy across the EU, both for EU decisions and for decisions made in individual countries. I can't see how that can be a bad thing. Arguing that people shouldn't be able to make their vote count on each and every issue is the kind of arrogance which the progression of democracy has faced since Kings believed they and they alone were appointed by God to rule their countries.
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    vince,

    A reasonable proportion of the British population leave the education system unable to read. How can you expect them to make sensible decisions about detailed economics or social policy? If you say, but they are only a small proportion it doesn't matter that they are not mentally capable of understanding the issues then you are introducing a system which in effect excludes some voters, which would be worse (i.e. less democratic) than the current system.

    If you don't like the suggestion that some people are not mentally capable and others are then I'm sorry but that's the way it is. People have different levels of intelligence, some have the intelligence to become doctors (and operate on other people) some people do not. If we accept that some people are not mentally capable of being doctors (thereby having a direct influence on an individual) then why would we allow them to have a direct impact on economic policy (thereby affecting a whole society)?

    It isn't arrogance for one person with a degree in Maths to say that they are better at Maths than someone who failed the Maths exams they took at 16. It is the truth. The truth can never be arrogant.

    If you don't think that the intelligence of the population is relevent then why stop at people who are not mentally capable, let's have "Votes for Chimpanzees". I'm sure that the technology exists to give Chimps the vote.
    • CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeOct 22nd 2008
     
    vince,

    If you think that the general population are capable of making decision on economics and social policy via referenda then do you also believe that they are capable of making decision on legal matters? Should we get rid of lawyers/barristers/judges/juries and just give everyone the right to vote on the guilt or otherwise of the accused?

    Presunably the reason why juries have 12 people on them is an archaic practicality. Technology has removed the need for that practicality. We could broadcast the case on live TV and then have people vote through their TVs. It would be just like Big Brother. Cool.