By definition, democracy is rule by the people.
In practice the UK has representative democracy. We elect representatives to Parliament to essentially make the decisions for us, and if we don’t like the decisions they make, we can vote them out.
And plenty of MPs – my own included – vote against the wishes of the majority of their constituents.
So this is the thing. Does representative democracy mean that the representative is required to represent and speak for the opinions of their constituents?
I’m going to argue, that no they are not.
The job of those in Parliament is to govern, which is entirely different.
Governing comes with a whole pile of other responsibilities, chief among which is to do what is right for the country and its people – regardless of whether it is popular.
Popular things include hanging, which by international law – a particular treaty essentially written by the United Kingdom on its own terms – the UK Government is not competent to reintroduce.
Popular things include tax cuts, which are very popular with voters. Popular things also include spending more money on the NHS, which is contradictory to cutting taxes.
Popular things include refusing ISIS fighters the right to return to Britain, which again under international law the UK is not competent to prevent unless the combatant happens to have another nationality and can therefore go to that country. It’s still the most popular petition on petition.parliament.uk after the Revoke Article 50 petition and considerably ahead of the “leave regardless on March 29” petition.
What I will not argue is for One Nation Conservatism or other paternalistic models, but they do have a point.
What is popular is not necessarily what is right.
Is it right that no deal Brexit is even an option, given the harm that all economic models so far cited – including the only overall “positive” outcome of the IEA’s model – would do to ordinary people?
Essentially, is it right that a view expressed by the British public in 2016 is a licence to impoverish the same people in 2019 due to dogmatically following that view to the extreme? Do the British people deserve better?
And as an aside, if a democratic statement is true in 2016, but evidence says the British public has changed their mind, then is it even democratic to implement a decision no longer supported?
I came up with an alternative Mrs May speech earlier today:
“It has become increasingly clear that Brexit is not deliverable in any form that this Government can support without causing immense harm to the working people of this country. We have therefore revoked our notification of Article 50.
“On Monday, Parliament will therefore be asked to pass a Bill to repeal the EU(Withdrawal) Act 2018 under fast track arrangements.
“As soon as that Bill has passed both Houses, the House of Commons will be asked to vote on a motion that there be an early general election.
“The Conservative Party will campaign on the basis of getting on with Governing Britain. We have wasted years on trying to leave the European Union – doubtless other parties will be available who wish to leave the EU, but we have chosen what we believe is best for Britain, and we will put ourselves forward for re-election on that basis.”
And if she were really brave:
“All Conservative Party candidates will be required to undertake to support continuing membership of the EU on the basis that leaving is not in the interests of the country or its people. If they cannot make that undertaking, they will not be permitted to stand for election in the name of our party.”
That sort of speech is what I’m getting at. We know you’ve asked us to do something, well if we did it, we would be responsible for harming you. Here’s your chance to sack us and vote for someone who says they will do as you direct.
This is not new, incidentally. At each General Election, MPs are called to account for broken promises, but in general for the first three-four years of each Parliament, a Government with a good majority is at liberty to do as it pleases because it controls the House of Commons, and may displease the voters as much as they wish until an election approaches and they must be sweetened again (thus the traditional giveaways in final budgets before elections.)
Perhaps it’s not so much about governing as power. Doing what people want will keep you in power for sure. Accountability means that doing what is right instead risks losing your power at the next election – but as Uncle Ben, Churchill and many others have said, with great power comes great responsibility.
Including Jesus: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” And yes, that thread does go further through the Bible, which has a great deal to say about doing what is right and care for the poor.
It’s a massive responsibility, but not causing harm has to take precedence over doing what people want. It requires a lot of communication – handle your communication correctly, and you’ll be forgiven before you even knock your first door on the election trail – but this is the responsibility to do, ultimately, what is right for your country and its people and take the consequences.
Andy has a very wide range of interests including Christianity, Lego, transport, music, and computers. Anything can appear in a post.
Andy tweets at @andyboal