On equality in Politics
Should there be equality in Politics? Specifically, should everyone’s point of view count for the same when making political decisions?
This was the question posed to us during a discussion we had in Politics the other week, and the inspiration for this entry. I have been sitting on it for a while, and have only just finished writing it. I strongly dislike the way it reads (this far more so than previous entries), in particular I dislike the way that this piece of writing does not flow. Also, re-reading it, there doesn’t seem to be any real point to the entry. I really need the practice though so I’m going to try to force myself to write more and more.
The current system in Britain allows every citizen over the age of 18 to vote. They have a choice of political parties, and they can exercise their political power by choosing the party that they believe will best represent their views.
This, however, seems to be as far as their political power goes. Yes, they can exercise the right to choose their leader, but then after that they have to trust that this leader will be able to psychically divine what it is that his electorate wants him to do for every political decision.
To be sure, there are other ways that the public’s voice is heard. A referendum is where a piece of legislation is put to the public vote. In other words, the electorate get to decide on a matter that then gets put into motion. But even this ability to vote on a topic doesn’t demonstrate complete equality in politics. Everyone of the electorate gets to vote, yes, but who chooses the topic/legislation that you get to vote on? Further more, referendums themselves have been the subject of much controversy. Many people have argued that the government will want a certain outcome, and so will keep holding referendums (perhaps rewording proposals slightly each time) until the public choose the ‘right’ answer.
In fact, it is obvious that many people are not satisfied with their lack of involvement in political decisions; the existence of various pressure groups proves that the public (or at least parts of the public) are not happy.
But how much power do these groups have? The clue is in the name: ‘pressure’ groups. Yes they can lean on government bodies, and they can represent the public to show the government that certain decisions are not what some people want, but at the end of the day the government can do what it wants to do more or less regardless of the public’s wishes.
If you don’t believe me, I have two words for you: ‘Iraq War’. Hundreds of thousands of people (estimates range from 150,000 to 400,000 and beyond on the first march alone) marched and protested outside the Houses of Parliament to show the government that a considerable proportion of the British public did not want to go to war. Despite this blatant display, we still went to war.
One of the arguments against everyone voting on everything is one of simple logistics. The ancient Athenians did have a system (for a period of time, at any rate) whereby any political decision was made by consulting every single citizen of Athens. In effect they had a big political arena where proposals where put forth, and anyone who wanted to could speak either for or against the proposal until a democratic decision was reached. To put it into modern terms – imagine the House of Commons, only really, really big, and open to the public rather than just MPs.
The problem with this idea, some say, is that there is no arena big enough to allow the entire electorate of Britain inside to vote; ancient Athens was considerably smaller than modern Britain. However, clever though the ancient Athenians were, they didn’t have the internet. While it is true that there is no physical building big enough to hold some 40 million voters, a website does not have this problem. There are obviously still some technicalities to work out with, but the fact remains we have the ability to ask everyone’s opinion on matters.
So we’ve established that there isn’t equality in politics (and this was just looking at the current electorate – I didn’t even touch on the matter of under 18s being completely excluded (a point of discussion for another time)), but that there is probably the means of changing this. One area I haven’t explored yet is whether or not we should change the system? When all is said and done, should everyone actually have an equal say in Politics?
In my last post, I made the point that I don’t believe people are sufficiently educated in politics to be able to make certain decisions. I have thought about this while writing this entry though and have come to the conclusion that perhaps this isn’t as essential as my elitist side would have me believe. To take the Iraq War point again, I’d bet good money that not a high proportion of the protestors had degrees in Politics, had read Aristotle’s works, or watched ‘Question Time’ even semi-regularly. But they had an opinion, one based perhaps on morals more than politics (though, as I am rapidly learning, the two are perhaps not as far from each other as you may first think). What ever thought process they followed, they all arrived at the same conclusion: Britain should not go to war in Iraq.
Plato (among others) explored the idea of the ‘wisdom of the collective’, the phenomenon that if you take a large enough group of people the majority will arrive at a general consensus on a given topic. This theory has been backed up in modern studies, and shows that even though not everyone may be well versed in a given topic a large group of ‘average intelligence’ can arrive upon a conclusion that may not be reached by one ‘genius’.
Perhaps then, the idea that politics should be left to the upper echelons of society is a misguided one. A part of me says that everyone should be allowed to take part in the running of their state – after all, is that not what we mean when we say ‘democracy’?
And yet I still can’t help but wonder if that idea would really work as well at it seems. With all my talk about the ‘wisdom of the collective’ and how governments still do what they like regardless of what I, as a member of the electorate, want, I can’t help but shake the sense that maybe a government of elected elites is a necessary evil. Perhaps it is just the culture I was brought up in, but I feel there needs to be a hierarchy of some description.
I do believe that everyone’s voice should be heard. What I am less clear about, is whether or not they should be listened to.
Until next time.