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Sunday, 23 October 2011

Democracy - British-style

Tomorrow, Monday 24th October, the British parliament will debate whether the country should remain in the European Union (EU). This debate has been prompted by an e-petition receiving the required 100,000 electronic signatures. So far, this would appear a reasonable example of power being given back to the people, albeit in a very modest way. Unfortunately, this is a mere illusion.


It appears that the major parties are all enforcing a three-line whip on their members. A three-line whip is a strict instruction to the parliamentary members of a party to not only attend but more importantly vote on a debate; it is the most draconian instruction available. Again, this would seem to be a good thing for democracy... the people want you to debate the issue, therefore you must attend. Unfortunately, again, this is more as sleight of procedure, as the three-line whip also includes the instruction of how to vote. Failure by an MP to comply with a three-line whip can lead to exclusion from the parliamentary political group, and even from the party (that's as in political party, not a knees up).


An explanation for this dictatorial behaviour is that "now's not the right time". If this were true, anyone with an ounce of common-sense would therefore suggest having a debate in the (not too distant) future, when the time is more propitious. One can only assume that the preconception of the result will be blamed on the timing, and that then the debate will not take place again in the future because renegotiation (or exiting) EU membership has already been discussed. It is also reminiscent of the parent telling the child that "now is not the right time" to be asking for whatever it might be. "Ask me later", hoping that the youngster will have forgotten. It must be wonderful to understand that you have to be an adult to be entitled to vote, and that the people you elect will then treat you as a child.


So parliament will follow the will of the people in debating an issue but has already decided on the outcome. Still, one should hardly be surprised as it comes from the same people who agreed to a referendum, on whether or not to adopt a system of alternative voting, (see yesterday's article on Swiss democracy)... and did their best to convince the voters that it was far too complicated for their simple minds, so they should vote against.


Three-line whips are normally reserved for use in critical situations, such as a vote of confidence. Perhaps they are right after all, this will have been a vote of confidence, and the government and opposition will have lost it overwhelmingly. The electorate already sees MPs as greedy opportunists, adding dictatorial should seal their fate; vote of confidence lost.


All this from a country which claims to be a democracy. A democracy which, in common with most, boasts two houses of parliament. One is elected by the people (but then takes scant notice of them until election time comes around) and the other is constituted of a mixture of people who are there as a result of male-preferred primogeniture, the rest have been appointed as a result of donations to political parties, in one form or another... which seems the same as buying the seat.


Libya, having got rid of its dictator will hopefully not be influenced by Britain in how to establish a democracy. In a democracy it is the dog that wags its tail and not vice versa.

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