Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Going unheard

It's a tired old cliché that not only was Britain the cradle of democracy but it's still a highly democratic country where everyone has a chance to influence the government and their policies. The people running the country, we're told, fall over themselves to heed popular opinion and act accordingly.

As the latest election campaigns get under way, with all the usual grinning politicians vying for our precious votes, it's worth asking if the old cliché is actually true.

Well, it isn't, is it? It's a load of 24-carat bollocks. It's the biggest urban myth ever. If you believe we live in a democracy, you've been sadly duped.

The chances of an individual like myself having any real influence on what the government* are doing are frankly, zilch. Despite the well-trodden claims, unless you have some serious clout - you're a generous party donor, a millionaire, a big employer, a celebrity, a high-profile campaigner - the government will ignore you completely.

I can go through all the familiar democratic motions. I can cast my vote, visit my MP, sign a petition, attend a rally. But the truth is I'm highly unlikely to budge the government from their chosen path.

Can I stop the government from cutting welfare benefits, making life harder for the disabled, privatising the NHS, bashing the unions, charging for education or stigmatising the unemployed? Not a hope. They go their own sweet way and tell their critics to get stuffed. They're convinced they know best and that any dissenting views are the ramblings of idiots.

I've more chance of persuading the local supermarket to stock Vegemite than I have of influencing the government.

I will of course cast my vote. Given all those people eager to flock to the polling station and vote happily for extremists, lunatics and religious nuts of assorted hues, it's my public duty to cast at least one vote for someone sensible.

But do I really imagine I'll be furthering the great democratic tradition? Don't make me laugh.

* Local councils are a little easier to influence, but they can still be pretty blind to public opinion when they choose to be.


  1. Hello Nick:

    We could not agree more!! But if you think Britain is not a democracy, then try Hungary! Here the latest General Election held in April was arranged in such a way that the ruling party, assisted by the extreme right, could not lose. And did not!!

  2. Jane and Lance: Indeed, what passes for democracy in a lot of other countries is not even as pseudo-democratic as Britain. In many many cases it's an unashamed dictatorship where citizens are treated with utter contempt. Like Zimbabwe. Like North Korea. The list goes on.

  3. I do agree with you on all points. My main complaint here is that people just vote party lines, based on whatever is the social issue being promoted during that election. If the media would stop focusing on side issues and the party system ended, the majority of voters would be bewildered and have to actually read up on the candidates.

  4. Bijoux: People tend to vote on party lines here too. Especially for the parties that are overtly sectarian (pro-British or pro-Irish). I think the more broadly-based parties like the Alliance and the Greens are gaining support, but far too slowly.

  5. Now we have a new party jumping into the fire to change the country at council level and in Europe. 'NI21'.

    The carry -on of the past week has done little to calm the way ahead, either.

    Do you have visits from candidates to your door? I have had only one in the past four or five elections.

  6. Vegemite! I used to get Veggie Rolls from the Canteen in Oz! Yum. ;-)

  7. Grannymar: It'll be interesting to see how NI21 do in the elections.

    I think the Gerry Adams arrest was absurdly hyped by the media. Talk about kicking someone when they're down.

    The Alliance came round when we were both out, and I haven't see any other canvassers yet.

  8. Susie: Veggie rolls, huh? Wouldn't the taste of Vegemite be lost in the chunkiness of the rolls?

  9. Helen Devries6 May 2014 at 20:41

    We've had a sort of Costa Rican spring....
    The ruling party thought their candidate was sure to get in - they only had to run a Reds under the Beds scare campaign to get rid of the old fashioned Lefty candidate.
    They managed that all right - you couldn't turn on the computer without some scare advert popping up - but people voted overwhelmingly for an outsider candidate who promised honesty in government.

    Needless to say the financial establishment, foreign investment firms and the rating agencies have all turned on him and no doubt the currency will be attacked....and he won't have an easy ride tacking together support in the National Assembly, but at least, for once, a vote counted.

  10. Helen: Here's hoping the "honesty in government" candidate survives and prospers despite the usual suspects (like big business) ganging up on him. Glad the right-wingers so badly miscalculated!

  11. Nick
    It's all a farce. And the blinders are certainly off here in Canada, there's even rumours that Harper may just pull a halt to voting altogether.

    Oligarchies. All of them.


  12. Whoever you vote for, the Government ALWAYS get in. I always put a cross in every box. That way I know that I have voted for the right person.

    Nurse! Bring me my medication, I'm having a sarcasm attack!

  13. Having not much say in our federal government doesn't surprise me. It does surprise us that our local county council often completely disregards what the citizens want. They will have meetings asking our opinions, and it will sound as if they heard. Then they will disregard what was agreed upon and do what they jolly well please. Surprising. We've stopped wasting our time expressing our opinions. At our age we're short timers anyway.

  14. www: Even if the rumour's true, he'd never get away with banning voting altogether. Anyway, it's much easier to let people vote, then ignore them.

    Keith: A cross in every box, a spiffing idea. And yes, the government always gets in. I'm still waiting for the "None of the above" option.

  15. Jean: The non-consultation exercise is familiar over here too. A big show of consulting the people, listening carefully to their opinions etc, then the body consulting simply does what they were planning to do all along. Differing ideas turn out to be "impractical", "too expensive" or whatever.

  16. All 'democracy' means is that you tick your preferred choice. Then, naturally, parties will go into coalition and the whole thing gets watered down.

    Until someone (maybe a dictator) can up with anything better than 'democracy' let's keep voting.

    Says she who since her arrival in England is not allowed to vote, either here or in the motherland. Why? I didn't give up my passport. I can't apply for a British passport because the motherland doesn't allow my generation dual nationality - neither am I prepared to give up my original passport. Stalemate. And I can't vote in the motherland because I don't live there.

    Brilliant. A cat chasing her tail couldn't be more frustrated. Doesn't matter. Meanwhile I still pay my council tax for services leaving a lot to be desired, pot holes to trip up in, and general rubbish not removed. You know, Nick, if I weren't such a laid back person who basically doesn't give a shit about that which we can't change I'd despair. As it is I save my energy for writing comments like this one.

    The Angel, who does have dual nationality (the motherland's birth rate down), and is allowed to vote, showed me some leaflet the other day. UKIP. Delivered to our doorstep. Brilliant. Blame the Polish for all ills in Britain.

    Please pass me a handkerchief lest my mascara runs on your shoulder.


  17. Our six week long tamasha is just about to end with the results being announced in ten days time. I cast my vote for the parliament just as I have been casting votes for the state and local bodies ever since I became eligible to vote. We now have a NOTA option (None of the above) so that people express their aversion to the whole lot of candidates if they so choose.

  18. Ursula: That's crazy that you're not allowed dual nationality. Jenny, who's of your generation I guess, has dual British and Irish nationality. The fact that you have no vote, even though you've lived in the UK for a while, is yet another example of non-democracy.

    Ramana: Excellent that you have a None of the Above option. About time we had one here.

  19. "Ramana: Excellent that you have a None of the Above option. About time we had one here."

    We have - all you have to do is turn up to vote, write "bollocks" across your paper (or something similar) and it gets recorded as a "spoiled vote" - which I believe the recorder is legally obliged to announce at the end of his declaration...

    I've always dreamed that if enough of us did it, it could become a powerful movement...

    All the best


  20. Cogidubnus: The only problem there is that a spoiled vote doesn't suggest any particular attitude such as None of the Above. All it usually suggests is that it was filled in wrongly.

  21. I'm starting to think that no voting system is perfect though. I am just grateful that the idea of democracy is one which we mostly admire. Mind you when you see what Gove is doing with education, you can see he doesn't want local democracy as far as schools are concerned. Grr!

  22. Jenny: Agreed, all voting systems have their flaws, be they first-past-the-post, PR or whatever. But I suppose if nothing else they force the politicians to pay serious attention to the voters every four years or so.

    I see Gove is now desperately trying to hide the fact that his "free schools" experiment has turned into a disastrous mess.

  23. But you're voting - and that is important if only because, as you say, all the extremists definitely will.

  24. Liz: Absolutely. I always vote in elections, and that's the main reason. Along with supporting a particular candidate I think does an excellent job.