Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Democratic contribution

I thought I'd add my comments to the Maverick Philosopher and Idiot/Savant's debate on democracy.

In my view, elections in many democracies are primarily decided on the incumbent's record. Some way behind this comes the opposition general coherence and perceived competence. Electorates don't generally consider policy very much at all.

I'd suggest the last three UK elections evidence this:
- In 2001, the Blair government was reelected, amid a fairly strong economy and an opposition widely seen as divided.
- In 1997, Blair defeated the Conservative government of John Major. That government was deeply divided on Europe and had performed questionably on the economy.
- In 1992, Major was reelected, despite an economic slowdown. The second factor of opposition competence possibly came to the fore here - Neil Kinnock was the subject of a sustained campaign of vilification in the Tory press.

This is probably a Good Thing in many ways. Most voters are not, on the whole, interested in or knowledgeable about the minutiae of policy. Choosing a government based on two simple questions: Are the current lot doing well? / Might the others do any better? doesn't require such interest or knowledge.

For this reason, I think that referenda are mostly a Bad Thing - the exception being where a constitutional change needs to be confirmed and entrenched. Equally, I think that democracy is best served where the system produces a government that is given its chance to run the country for a few years, and then stand for re-election based on its record.

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