Direct democracy is based on the right of every citizen over a certain age to attend political meetings, vote on the issue being discussed at that meeting and accepting the majority decision should such a vote lead to a law being passed which you as an individual did not support.
Part of direct democracy is the right of every one to hold political office if they choose to do so. Direct democracy also believes that all people who have the right to, should actively participate in the system so that it is representative of the people and that any law passed does have the support of the majority.
Direct democracy gives all people the right to participate regardless of religious beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, physical well being etc.
Direct democracy is fine in theory but it does not always match the theory when put into practice. Direct democracy requires full participation from those allowed to. But how many people have the time to commit themselves to attending meetings especially when they are held mid-week during an afternoon? How many wish to attend such meetings after a day’ work etc?
If Britain has 40 million people who can involve themselves in politics if they wish, how could such a number be accommodated at meetings etc? Who would be committed to being part of this system day-in and day-out when such commitment would be all but impossible to fulfil? How many people have the time to find out about the issues being discussed whether at a local or a national level ? How many people understand these issues and the complexities that surround them? How many people understood the complexities of the problems surrounding the building of the Newbury by-pass, the installation of Tomahawk cruise missiles at Greenham Common etc?
If people are to be informed on such issues, who does this informing?
How can you guarantee that such information is not biased? Who would have time to read all the information supporting the building of the Newbury by-pass and then read the material against it, before coming to a balanced personal decision? Because of the realities of direct democracy, few nations use it. Some states in New England do use it at a local level but the number of people involved is manageable and the culture of the towns involved actively encourages participation. The issues discussed are relevant purely to the town and therefore there is a good reason for involving yourself if you want your point of view heard. Meetings are held in town halls across New England – which, apart from cities such as Boston, is not highly populated. But how could the system work in heavily populated areas?
In the recent mayoral election in London, the turnout of voters (45%) indicates that one aspect of direct democracy was not there – full active participation by those who could have participated. Over half those in the city who could have voted did not do so.
Of those who did vote, how many will actively participate in the running of the city? Is the mechanism in place for people, other than those appointed by Boris Johnson, to involve themselves in day-to-day decisions? This will be done by a cabinet selected by the mayor. The people of London will have no choice as to who sits on this city cabinet (just as the national electorate has no say in who sits on the government’s cabinet when it is picked). Is it physically possible to have a system that involves all those in London who wish to do so? How many Londoners understand the complexities of the issues which the city government will have to deal with? At this moment in time, London cannot be run by a system of direct democracy.
Technological developments in the future may change this. The expansion of the Internet and the speed with which communication can now be achieved, may favour direct democracy. The present government set-up a system in 1997, whereby 5,000 randomly selected members of the public (the so-called “People’s Panel”) are asked about their reactions to government policy.
However, there is no system in place which allows the public to help formulate government policy, and critics of the “People’s Panel” have called it a gimmick with no purpose. Currently a system exists on the government’s website whereby people can set-up an e-petition on issues that concern them. If an e-petition gets 100,000 supporting signatures it should in theory trigger a debate in the House of Commons.
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