You know that quote often attributed to Winston Churchill that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”? I’m sure I’ve bandied it about myself at parties, but of course that’s not what he said. What he actually said was “it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” In fact, Churchill wasn’t trashing democracy, he was defending it. And why wouldn’t he, he was a politician who gained power and fame thanks to the democratic process.
It seems true that when you look at the alternatives, it is hard to question democracy, but the problem is it doesn’t seem to work very well. Brexit is now a reality (check out our series of articles from pages 16 to 21 on what the UK leaving the EU might mean for us in the future), and yet no one seems to have any idea about whether it’s a good or bad thing, it seems poorly thought out, misrepresented by both sides, and has potentially left a country divided while leaving a major breach in an already unsteady European Union. And yet, Brexit is the result of a valid, free and fair democratic process that you would presume can only lead to the best possible outcome for a majority of people. It may do in the end, but it doesn’t look like it at the moment.
Meanwhile, Brexit is only one example of how dodgy democracy can be. Closer to home, we have a Catalan government that is based on a narrow majority of pro-independence parties. When you’re hanging in there thanks to a seat or two in the chamber, you would think that it might be a good idea to put your plan to turn an entire country upside down on the back burner until you’ve convinced a few more people to come over to your side, including the pro-independence party that held its nose to lend you their seats so you could get into government in the first place. But no, it’s a case of the “people have voted; we have a mandate. Let’s party!” And don’t forget Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are the result of democratic elections, as was Mariano Rajoy and – God help us - now Pedro Sánchez. Also don’t forget, as it’s customary to mention him in these cases, Hitler came to power in Germany through a democratic election.
Even on the micro-level democracy doesn’t seem to live up to its hype. Speaking for myself, despite living in this country for over 20 years, working here and paying taxes, and bringing up children who will themselves become taxpayers (and voters), I have never been able to vote in a Spanish or Catalan election, and now thanks to Brexit I will lose the chance to vote in EU elections (for what that’s worth), leaving me with a single vote in local elections, and I live in a municipality that has had the same party in power for the past 30 years with little sign of that changing. Meanwhile, my vote in the UK lapsed after I had been out of the country for 15 years, so there’s no joy there either. And I’m not alone.
Anyway, I’m not suggesting we scrap democracy and go back to the feudal system or anything, and I’m certainly not offering any answers – god forbid – but this democracy business seems very dodgy indeed and needs looking at, and how we go about choosing our political leaders and making the necessary reforms so that the system does what it says on the label might be a good place to start.