Limitations of Electoral Democracy

“Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

Churchill’s famous dictum acknowledges that democracy has both strengths and weaknesses as a system of government.  It certainly isn’t the best form of government everywhere.  For one thing, democracy depends on a population which is sufficiently cohesive for the minority who have been out-voted to accept the choice of government dictated by the majority.  That is the situation which has obtained in the UK for a very long time, but I think we’re approaching a situation where this happy state of affairs is threatened.

The problem is that our society is becoming polarized between people who are net contributors to the Exchequer and those who are permanently net beneficiaries.  I mean by this that there are the people who earn the money that provides the tax revenue which pays for government services and benefits.  These people are the doers who make the things and provide the services on which all depend as well as people who earn huge incomes through such things as banking, insurance and computer software design.  Our present Government has largely ignored the interests of the doers and has encouraged people to vilify the latter group.

At the other end of the spectrum there are nearly three million unemployed and five million on benefits other than jobseekers’ allowances.  Some are long-term scroungers, the idle poor.  Their number is increasing both because, having nothing better to do, they can make a living by drawing benefits for any number of additional children.  On the other hand the increasing cost of employing people is driving businesses to resort to ever more capable computers and machinery, outsourcing work abroad or to immigrant labour at home and to the import of goods that we should be making for ourselves.

In short, a large part of our potential labour force which should be working and paying taxes is lazy or so over-priced and over-protected that it is permanently unemployable.

I think it’s tacitly accepted wisdom that politicians of every stripe must pander to “the poor” because they believe they face electoral ruin otherwise.  This is what comes of a democracy in which the beneficiaries are so numerous as to determine elections.  Furthermore, constructive measures to reduce the cost of employment – less labour protection, lower wages and lower benefits – are opposed by self-appointed “activists” only too ready to take to the streets.

At the other end of the tax-paying spectrum, the doers from the professions who are a minority lack the electoral clout to resist the majority who want to tax the well-off to pay for everything.  They are also much more mobile and many in the new aspirant generation are leaving the country which they believe is finished.  My daughter works abroad and one major reason for her choice is to avoid UK taxation.  She is unlikely to return permanently to the UK and I don’t blame her.  If she finds a good place to settle, I’ll join her.

It’s taken a long time to go so badly wrong, but democracy is splitting our country between the able minority and the majority who vote for “the rich” to pay for everything.

Right now we need to give some political power back to the hard-working classes.  A small move in this direction could be to restore the House of Lords to a mainly hereditary second House which could be expected to redress the balance between taxpayers and tax spenders more effectively than our present form of electoral democracy.

 


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