Sunday 30 November 2008

By Whose Authority?

I would like to formally make a statement to the British government defining my relations with the group of individuals who claim the lawful right to exercise that authority.

I am reliable informed that their official position is that I can do this.
For now, anyway.

You are claiming that you have been chosen by the British people to administer us and determine how the laws of this country are to be implemented. That the body of men and women who form that little clique of people we call the cabinet was chosen by the people residing in the territorial unit known as the United Kingdom to implement the laws they live under. This is the mandate you claim.

Only- this isn't so. I do not believe the British people would ever have chosen you, had the choice been theirs to make. From a free choice. And they didn't choose you. Your authority does not proceed from the British people, it proceeds from commanding a majority in the House of Commons. That isn't the same thing.

Your lawful right to govern, if you call it such, proceeds from the fact that the Queen appointed one of you as Prime Minister and he gets to hand pick all the rest of you.
It actually proceeds from nothing else at all. The Queen, technically, can appoint Gary Glitter as Prime Minister. The authority of all of you derives from an unelected woman who holds that position because she is the the most senior Protestant descendant of the ultimate victor of centuries of dynastic transitions involving various people claiming descent from a Saxon warlord named Cerdic.
So you do not any of you govern because the people chose you, you govern because a woman who wears a funny metal hat and who bases her right to wear that on descent from a pirate gave you the job.

Ok, I admit, in practice her choice is limited. A woman in a funny hat appointing whoever she pleases to run the country doesn't work. Because of this thing called parliament. This passes laws. And because laws have to be passed a lot and budgets have to be passed every year, it helps if she only ever appoints the leader of the party holding a commons majority.

So- in a practical sense, your authority is dependent on that. That you lead the party with a commons majority.
Indeed, pretty much everything comes down to that. If you have a commons majority, you can do what you want.
Now this is interesting, this House of Commons Majority thing. This is the democratic bit, apparently.
The House of Commons passes laws. It also decides, by inactivity, what NOT to change.

Now I know you're going to say, that it's composed of 646 elected representatives who we all got to vote for, but that's pants and you know it.
There's only a certain amount of independence they have. If you have a party majority, your laws will usually get passed.

The reality is, every four or five years, we the people get to vote for an elected representative.
The question we're really being asked is; 'Here is the list of proposed changes my lot will do, here is the list of proposed changes their lot will do. It's not a pick and mix, you choose one or the other. Because if you vote for me, I'll vote for all these things and against all these things. And so will every other representative of my party.'

In case you haven't realised, this means that the statistical certainty that at least a minority of the programme of ANY 'government' are actually passed WITHOUT popular consent, is inevitable. And an even greater amount of laws that the public WOULD repeal, will never get repealed. Because it isn't in your 'programme'.

If you promise to run the country better than the others, we'll hold our noses and vote for you EVEN IF your manifesto contains a promise to pass a law outlawing driving purple cars.

So- you DO pass laws WITHOUT consent. Because you don't actually pass laws by popular consent. Laws are not made by the people, they're made by their elected 'representatives'.

Ok, you concede. We don't actually govern ourselves by consent, you say. But we're still a democracy because the British people have consented to delegate their power to elected representatives who then choose a government from their majority who...

When did we consent to this?
I don't remember us ever voting on this transfer of our popular sovereignty in this way.
I don't remember the time the British people were ever asked if they wanted to hand over their right to democratically vote on the laws that govern them to 646 people chosen every five years.

I actually don't think your power comes from the British people at all. I think your power comes ultimately from the Crown. These elections every five years or so are a concession, a concession to the people. But power, power we have none.

Because this system was never voted on in my lifetime. These laws you govern us by, these laws you pass, I question how any of them can be said to have legitimacy, because they were voted on by only 646 people, and the people who they affect were never asked if they wanted to vest the power to make laws in a mere 646 people.

These 646 people are members of one or other of two organisations which basically exist to fight elections and fill seats in the House of Commons. These organisations are not democratic organisations. Within them, no dissent is tolerated. If you don't tow the party line, you're out. Internally, both of you, red and blue, are run the same way as any political party, call yourself National Socialist, ZANU-PF, New Labour, whatever. Political parties existed before Universal Suffrage. I doubt we'd have tolerated their creation in the first place, had we had the power to prevent it.

What we the people get to do every five years is a tick a box saying 'Which Tyranny would you like, red or blue?'

And you only have to preserve some semblance of ethics about the whole thing, because if you govern too tyrannically, we'll vote for the other tyranny in five years.
And you have to follow the laws you make, because otherwise when you lose, the other lot will prosecute you.

But your authority most certainly doesn't come from the people.
The people never gave it to you.


Anonymous said...

So what's the answer then? Throw the whole process out and create a new one? And if so then "which" people would be chosen to create the new government, and how you one go about choosing them? It all gets a bit circular in my mind...

Anonymous said...

Crushed political parties were created by universal suffrage in their current form. You go back to the early nineteenth century and there really weren't any political parties as we understand them today- there were loose associations based around clubs like the Carlton Club. Political parties as we know them today were the creation of the late nineteenth centuries and the early twentieth century- the time when the first semi-democratic and democratic elections happened. So for example a big change was the creation of mass membership organisations- those came in the late nineteenth centuries things like the Primrose League.

In a second strand, what do you make of John Locke's argument of presumed consent? It features quite largely in the Two Treatises.

Anonymous said...

Crushed, Parliament got to be in charge after having a civil war and cutting the King’s head off. If Cromwell’s son hadn’t been pretty useless we would have Lord Protectors instead of Kings. People felt they needed to have someone in charge in those days, because that’s how it was generally done.

When the second Lord Protector turned out to be such a disappointment Parliament decided to give the job to the ex King’s son instead. They dusted off the title “King”, but the job description had been re written in the meantime by Parliament.

The new King was pretty smart and used the rules to get some power back with a bit of a balancing act.

Later when the King’s brother got the job in turn the silly man thought he really was King and didn’t bother with the balancing act.

Parliament decided they didn’t like him any more than his daddy, so they amended the job description yet again and head hunted another William to come and be King instead. The old King’s brother had to run away.

Later on William passed the job of King on to his kids…

That still leaves Parliament. Why are they in charge?

Because they raised an army and took charge is why. They still have an army and Police and jails that says so, you better believe it.

That still has us asking who gets to be in Parliament and how you get to be part of Parliament. That has changed over time, slow to catch up really. It used to be guys only got to decide. Guys who owned real estate essentially, then it was guys over a certain age. Early last century they finally let women have a say too.

So parliament is in charge because it says so… and can make it stick. The rules as to how it works and who decides who should get to be in it are negotiable over time.

You are right the governing party often gets much less than half the votes. You are right about performing seals voting for what they are told to if it’s right or not. You are right about the manifestos take the whole package or leave it thingy.

Except the manifesto’s, according to a blogger I know in sl, are “Not subject to legitimate expectation”.

Still it seems to me it’s better than lots of other systems, and mostly seems to give enough of us, just about enough of what we want the system to do. So long as we keep an eye on the ball and enough of us make a fuss when it starts not to.

I figure the good thing about Parliament is it’s basically made up of people who have to sleep in the bed they make, even when they don’t get to make it any more, so they do need to pay some attention to the rest of us that get to share it with them and do need to think a little bit about what it will be like to live under their own more stupid laws.

Anonymous said...

Fusion- Well, direct democracy. No reason in this day and age that the entire people can't be the legislature.
And appoint executives and judiciaries directly.

Gracchi- Well, mass parties date to the 1860s- 1870s. Joseph Chamberlain and Randolph Churchill in the main.

I would argue they were quite well entrenched by 1885, when Universal Suffrage was introduced. Look how successful Parnell's organisaton was in that year, already a formidable party machine.

I think Locke's arguments can be seen as kind of groping to the truth, but not getting there. I find LOcke interesting, if only to compare to Hobbes. Locke, of course presents the classical Whig arguments, the arguments on which the Glorious Revolution was fought.

But I don't think they approach the fundamental position of where consent derives from, which is Rousseau's Social Contract.

Moggs- They did, yes. It was believed Republics couldn't work in countries bigger than city states.

Interesting view of Charles I's sons- the traditional view, tis true.
Charls II was certainly more intelligent than his brother- but ultimately, his brother was a historical loser- mainly because he actually converted to Catholicism openly, whereas Charles kept it quiet.

I often wonder what would have happened had Charles actually brought the Treaty of London into force.

William died childless :)

I'm not sure it DOES give us what we want.

The people would never agree to ID cards, I don't think. They wouldn't have gone to war in Iraq.

I think laws passed would be a lot more LIBERAL if they were subject to a direct vote.

Parliament has a vested interest in keeping the laws illiberal...

Anonymous said...

Mixing my Willimas... That'll teach me not to rely on unaided memory. The grand daughter of James suceeded the daughter, but not Mary's daughter, but it is irrelevant to my argument.

The 1689 Bill of Rights, the 1701 Settlement Act established the supremacy of Parliament. Parliamnet even had the right to name the royal succession for goodness sake.

I figure that puts Parliament pretty firmly in charge and Royalty the pretty lights they used to distract the public. I know it is not quite that simple, but it gives the picture.

But universal suffereag in 1885? That not really true is it?

Even the 1918 Representation of the People Act only gave women over 30 who also owned property the right to vote – not all women, not most less well off women. But all men over the age of 21 got the right to vote.

Women didn't get electorial parity till 1928.