13 May 2010

Fixed Term Parliament

All through the election campaign I told myself, and my loyal readers, that it was just a game - that, out of habit, I would follow it closely, but in the spirit of a major sporting event rather than something that was actually important.

In the face of the new Conservative-LibDem government, however, I am struggling to maintain my cynicism. This government really might make a difference to the real world.

Abolishing ID cards is good. Abolishing ContactPoint is great. But abolishing Parliamentary Sovereignty - that is genius. And done with such subtlety, as a rider on fixed-term parliaments. "Oh, and by the way, Parliament will no longer be able to get rid of the government by majority vote". Talk about balls.

Of course, the newly created system does not make sense. We could end up with a government that can't be sacked, can't resign, and can't govern. What then? Then they will make it up as they go along - and probably at least some of the inconsistency will be resolved by further limiting the powers of parliament.

At the Blogger Bash, I asked the panellist how bad things would have to get before they would give up on democracy. Perry de Havilland (I think) stood up for democracy, saying that it was important that the government could be thrown out. But that is not the same thing as having the voters choose MPs and MPs choose government. You could have the Prime Minister appointed for life, and ministers too, and merely have them recallable by a popular supermajority, and that would still meet the criteria.

Most people think that the government should, in principle, be controlled by the people, but in specific cases most intelligent people come to the conclusion that reducing democratic control actually produces better outcomes. If the new contradiction between the government and the commons majority resolves itself in favour of the government (as I suspect it will), then it should be possible to demonstrate the improvements brought about by reducing democracy.

This would not have been possible even thirty years ago. What has made it possible to casually take away what were always seen as vital fundamental democratic principles is that recent democratic governments have been so bad that nobody cares any more. When I casually mention to strangers that my preferred political outcome is a military coup installing an absolute monarchy, the most common response is "well, it couldn't be any worse." They probably aren't serious, and don't realise that I am, but the reaction is almost automatic - what is the point of defending the democratic system that gave us Gordon Brown? If we do escape democracy, it may not be through violent revolution, or Mencius' "True election", but simply through the influence of voters being chipped away to a chorus of apathy. The electorate will, reasonably in my view, just not care.

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