Sunday, February 11, 2007

The need for democracy

My views are becoming clearer on House of Lords Reform.

Seems to me that the inherent argument against electing legislators is dangerous and I'm indebted to Nick Cohen for articulating this in today's Observer.

'Democracy' means that you agree for your society to be governed by people who are elected.

The attitude of people who defend the Lords as an appointed or semi-appointed body is "we need to be saved from having too much democracy" and "democracy is a good thing provided it is tempered with an anti-democratic element".

In fact this constitutional set up is profoundly corrosive because the Lords do occasionally thwart the Government on either controversial or unpopular legislation. What happens then is everybody starts saying "Thank God for the unelected laws for saving us from the tyranny of being governed by elected representatives". As a consequence the elected part of our constitution gets done down which inevitably trivialises our deomcratic set up.

Any one who wields power over laws (and ultimately the Lords do have the power to make the Government 'think again' and change many aspects of laws being passed) just has to do so by virtue of being elected. To do anyting other just exacerbates the problem of the lack of confidence in elected politicians.

Yes there's lots of experience in the Lords. They'll make all the more attractive candidates in an upper house. Don't want to put yourself through an election? Then you don't deserve to be runnign the country. There are, after all, many other ways of contributing to debate withotu obtruding yourself on one half of the legislature.

Finally it does come down to this. Jacques Ranciere wrote a book called "La haine de la democratie" - the hatred of democracy. Although my French is fairly good I can't claim to have understood it in its entirety, but one aspect of his book is imply to point out that people find the concept of democracy hateful because they think government belongs to the wise, the old, the experienced, whereas democracy gives it to eveyone and makes people equal.

To have your upper chamber non-elected debases the very life blood of democratic government, denigrating the very principle of democracy.

Are we really to believe that our country couldn't make decent laws if, like virtually all countries the world over (Canada being a notable exeption) our legislature was founded on democracy - that people elect representative who make and unmake laws?

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