As the AV referendum campaign grinds on producing "debates" that scale new heights of tedium, I reckon we are going to hear even more talk of democracy. The opposing campaigns will tell you that their preferred voting system is better for democracy and that what they propose is more democratic. Of course, such comments miss the salient question of whether democracy is an end in itself or simply a means to other ends, but that's a question for another day. What I'd like to ask now is what democracy are they talking about?
Because we have precious little democracy in this country right now. In fact, what we have is a self-perpetuating oligarchy that has ceded much of its power to the EU that happens to face evermore disinterested and diminishing groups of voters in banal elections every few years. To get elected to government, you have to be a loyal, active member of one of the three main parties. And they decide which candidates can contest election.The parties handpick those who they want to join their elite. Any impact of the electorate on those decisions is purely second hand and remote.
Furthermore, there is nothing particularly democratic in the way in which political discourse is conducted in this country. Vast swathes of what could – and should – be legitimately debated is ignored, and when someone dares to raise controversial issues, they are quickly hushed up, or painted to be some sort of delusional demagogue. So you can't really criticise the bloated bureaucracy of the NHS, and good God help you if you dare to suggest it should be dismantled and replaced with something more modern, less monolithic and actually fit for purpose. You shouldn't talk about immigration, even if your point is to say "immigration is good, can we have some more please?" And to suggest you have reservations about the extent, nature and causes of climate change means you are painted as a dullard Luddite, and you end up being lumped together with Holocaust deniers.
So yeah, democracy. How we doing on that? Pretty poorly, I'd say. In fact, some days I think the only reason we actually remain a democracy is because we happen to self-identity as a democracy. Hardly the more ringing endorsement of democratic values now, is it?
A week on Thursday, you get to vote on whether you want AV or not. Regardless of how you vote, please don't for one second believe that you are voting for or against real democratic change. Democracy is dying in this country – it is being strangled by a risk averse, increasingly powerless elite who will only allow for the debate of the least controversial – and therefore, more often than not, the least important – issues.