I’m beginning to fear that democracy is under threat in many western nations, and is not the stable platform it once was. Political opinion has become much more volatile as more and more voters claim to have lost trust and respect for establishment politicians.
To help illustrate this, we only need to look at the number of anti-Trump protests following last year’s US election results, the anti-Brexit campaign the UK presently undergoes and Nicola Sturgeon with her ambition for an independent Scotland.
Worryingly, there is a growing number from each population that cannot accept the will of the majority – a resolve that is clear to see despite all of their free and fair elections or referenda.
As much as I can accept that everyone has a right to free speech, to hold opinion and to protest, both by the natural rule of law and with the protection of the Human Rights Act, I must ask what is it they hope to achieve? It is true that in a free and liberal society human rights are crucial for a representative democracy, as a diverse range of expression will always volunteer information and public opinion to inform political debate. But surely the time do that is before the vote, as once complete there is no subsequent recourse should one feel the decision is wrong? It’s no good anyone coming to the party after the table is cleared.
As an example of my fear, last year, and over three thousand miles away, a bizarre, leftist backlash emerged in the US after Donald Trump’s victory. With a million gathered in New York alone, was that just a spontaneous demonstration of democracy, or was it simply a galvanisation of a radical mood being orchestrated by the strength and capabilities of outlets such as web sites and social media?
And the challenge to equality continues, when we had anti-Brexit campaigns and street marches that hoped to change public opinion over the result of an EU Referendum. Then we still see a crusading Nicola Sturgeon on our doorstep who continues to champion a dream for Scotland free of Westminster rule, despite losing such a referendum in 2014.
With an obsession that ignores majority decisions, the threat becomes real when citizens, and some politicians, renege their part in a social pact by not accepting the majority has the greater will. All these movements have opened up debate around the meaning of democracy, as I am doing through these pages. Democracy itself should mean an equal right to have and select a voice, or perhaps a responsibility to participate in politics and public life if one chooses. But equality in that context, surrounding one person one vote, must be adopted at the essential, early stage of collective decision-making. We must acknowledge there will always be disagreement on who is right and who is wrong, but we must also agree to accept a majority rule.
From the setting of any arguments for debate, through to voters considering their ultimate choice, the greater will is determined by counting up the votes, and that result should give the direction of travel for society. Whenever a movement or an individual fails to gain a greater number of votes, it has to be understood by those followers that they were mistaken, and they should admit that the general will is not what they thought it would be.
However, I must impress that I do not say they are wrong in their beliefs, but with an equal vote in an equal society, they must abide by the consensus of opinion. They must work with the system, not against, and try to make changes to that opinion through proper debate. Their aim would be to influence the greater will and hopefully gain a different outcome at the next opportunity. To do anything else will lead us down a rocky road to anarchy, and an unstable society with no government or rule.
Steven Lane is a city councillor representing Werrington First