Democracy – British and continental

‘DEMOCRACY’ has been defined as ‘Government of the people, for the people, and by the people’, which at first glance seems a pretty good plan. Unfortunately, it is also open to many interpretations, with Governments the world over taking advantage of that which suits them best. Even the ancient Greeks, who invented the concept, couldn’t get it quite right; and now, in these modern times there are many countries which, although claiming to be ‘democratic’, are in reality owned by despotic families or military dictatorships.

Spain is justly proud of its peaceful transition from Franco’s totalitarian rule to the Continental version of democracy with its ‘pluralism’ which gives many small Parties parliamentary representation, thus achieving the greatest possible spread of power.


However, this has the quite serious side-effect of forcing the two main Parties to indulge in ‘horse-trading’ after almost every General Election, seeking the support of minor groups. A good thing? Well, perhaps.

But this, in its turn, gives these small Parties far more power than their actual support warrants, and tends to inflict weak, vacillating government upon the nation.

In Britain of course, we go about things differently, using the so-called ‘First Past The Post’ procedure, a system developed over the years when the ‘Whigs’ (Liberals) and the Tories (Conservatives) were the only two Parties.

It has been suggested that in these more enlightened times something on the lines of an alternative vote might be more ‘democratic’, or that perhaps it is time for Britain to embrace the Continental ‘List’ method.

Of course, the LibDems, chafing under years of gaining millions of votes, but achieving far less parliamentary representation than would seem their due, are in favour of change, and indeed, forced a referendum only a month or two ago, which resulted in an overwhelming rejection at the polls.

At the moment, Britain is suffering an example of what, if changes in the electoral system were to be made, might become the norm – a divided Government lurching from crisis to crisis.

Surely it’s much better to have a Government of one Party, ideally enjoying a quite small overall majority, with the built-in checks and balances provided by our Constituency structure.

Although at General Election time most of us vote for our preferred Party, we place our cross against a person.

If a candidate gains more votes than any other, he (covering both genders) becomes the Member of Parliament, representing that small section of the country, and dependent upon the goodwill of his constituents for his continued preferment.

We also have by-elections, invaluable as a means of castigating a Government by rejecting its preferred candidate and voting in another. This can effectively reduce the Government’s majority by two, with the seat lost becoming a gain for the Opposition.

Governments, even those with enormous majorities, cannot afford to ignore the results of by-elections, and nor can the MPs themselves.

British politicians effectively work for their constituents, and they know that, unlike their Continental counterparts who never have to confront the voters in person, they are bound by law to answer letters sent to them by their constituents, and to make themselves available for face-to-face meetings at regular ‘surgeries’.

Is it any wonder that many would prefer the less-democratic European system?

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