Democracy, or rule by the consent of the governed, is quite honestly the perfect system of the modern nation state, in that it represents the interests of the people in a way where if those interests diverge from that of the rulers, they can be replaced. Totalitarianism, whereas is perhaps the worst expression of how the nation state can be subverted into an environment of repression, where freedom of expression does not exist.
So you may be wondering, why this article is entitled understanding the failure of democracy. For any system to truly fail there must be a natural point where that system was perfect for the decline to take place. Since there has been no natural point in history where democracy has been perceptibly perfect the contention that it has totally failed is somewhat erroneous. And yet we can say that democracy is failing the electorate.
Why? The evidence is obviously really, in most elections throughout the world, the voter turnout is quite often less than 100%, and in some recent elections and referenda, its been less than 50%. Now we can call it changing views and a changing societal outlook but put it simply: If the governed do not feel interested enough in selecting those who govern then why govern in the first place.
Governing becomes an action of necessity rather than a civic duty, we govern because we have always done so and so it continues. But eventually, the motivations for governance will fade and at that point the point of democracy will be lost. You only need look at the disenfranchisement taking place to see the start of this process. We as a society have a responsibility to arrest this and we can with a few changes.
The Generation Game
Generations are becoming disenfranchised with the political process, with viewing figures for reality TV shows far higher than those of your average parliamentary questions session. Voting figures in elections continue to slide, the names of ministers become less important than whichever vacuous Instagram influencer or Kardashian clan member has a new fashion line.
But to some extent, why would they? What does joe public have in common with your average politician? They are seldom seen, and are often seen as aloof, privately educated individuals who have no connection to the common man. They are not believed and seldom trusted by citizenry, sometimes with good reason and other times unnecessarily so. We never see a politician outside of a scripted carefully choreographed environment, surrounded by toadies and when approached by members of the public, they never deviate from the party line, despite the individualised nature of the questioning.
However, I want to qualify this statement by saying this perception of politicians could be endemic to those within the higher echelons of the respective parties. There may be many hundreds of politicians who work hard, connect with the communities they serve and are good and responsible public servants. But we never hear about them!
Kings of spin
In most forms of publicly scrutiny, politicians they are often seen to misdirect truth and employ rhetoric to avoid answering questions, aiding this distrust among citizenry. Citizens do not understand the work that politicians do, both in their respective communities and externally.
Worse than this, entire sections of society are collectively switching off from politics. Working class individuals are often apathetic about politicians, often using the adage “doesn’t matter who gets in it’ll never change” to justify staying absent from the political process. In the case of BAME individuals, they often feel their views are not represented because of the absence of BAME politicians, which is something of a misnomer due to the presence of pioneers like Bernie Grant, Diane Abbott, Oona King and so on.
The conduct of politicians over recent years has done nothing to aid this disconnect. In parliament, politicians bicker, behaving like children, shouting each other down and increasingly slinging mud when they should be acting in the interests of the public. Worse than this, it is seen by the electorate in newscasts, interviews and latterly on social media, adding to the negative perception of parliament.
The problem is not endemic to the UK, in the US, tweets by Donald Trump are regarded as the mating call of the lesser spotted idiot, in which he says whatever he feels regardless of who he offends and the political consequences. This is not the denigration of politicians as a result of freedom of speech, which every person has a right to do (we are in a democracy after all), this is the politicians effectively sabotaging themselves through their increasingly crazy actions.
In addition, the second part of this disconnect exists at a local level, where politicians, due to a flawed system fail to engage with the electorate that they serve. This leads to many people thinking quite rightly, why vote for you, what have you ever done for me? Without a demonstrable track record anything the politician says would most likely be considered as hot air.
Democracy is on the verge of eating itself, not because of some rival political system, but because of its own failure to address issues and move with the times. The disconnect between voters and elected officials is becoming a gulf and to be quite honest the only people who want to become politicians are often the people who are most ill-suited to do so. The world has become a breeding ground for corruption, where politicians work behind closed doors to maintain regimes at the expense of the people that keep them in power.
Tackling the problem
So how do we address this issue in a way which preserves the system which has flourished for centuries and could still do so? The fundamentals of democracy are worth preserving, the consent of the people, appointing representatives to serve communities, one person from these individuals leading the nation state to a collective future. These are the things that work and should be preserved.
But at the same time, we can lose these things due to inaction in addressing the things identified above which are failing. Drawing parallels from an individuals life, if you want to become a better person you must first acknowledge that you have problems and work to address them. This is something we as a society must do with democracy, we must acknowledge the failures and then work to overcome them.
Developing a totally new system requires time, patience and testing, something which our civilisation cannot really afford to do because it is so entrenched in our DNA. We must therefore work under the current system and introduce staggered targeted improvements into the process while there is still time to save democracy. But what are these improvements and how should they occur? This is a question I’ll attempt to answer over the next series of articles. This is Democracy 2.0.