On the 23rd of June 2014 it was announced on the news that the fast rising, far right party, UKIP were backing a reform of the current representative democracy to one of more direct involvement. The promises were for more referendums on national issues to empower the voting public on topical matters such as military intervention and the removal of their elected MPs.
At first this would seem radically against any sort of neo-liberal agenda, empowering the masses to such a degree could open up all sorts of avenues for mobilising political groups and the working class as a whole. Suddenly, not only would you have MPs solely at the mercy of their constituents, the conservative might argue that it would be nigh on impossible to make any tough decisions which on the surface seem wrong but ultimately are “necessary”.
However it could also be argued that opening up policies to real mass debate could create the space for lobbies to grasp a hold of governmental ruling. This could ultimately end up with a system similar to the United States; where massive corporations impede on parliamentary action to prevent measures against themselves (after all the reasoning behind who calls for a referendum and why is central to any democratic issue).
The next issue is creating the space in which we can facilitate such a debate. Whilst it would seem logistically simple; we have the technology for mass amounts of people to register votes on performance based game shows, how do you go about informing a public on issues as complicated as foreign policy?
At a glance it would seem this problem is two-fold. Firstly, with much (if not all) of the information we gain from news outlets being selective, and parties (it would seem) constantly falling over accusations of hidden practise and lack of transparency, what would be to gain from allowing people to exercise opinion? It would seem ultimately flawed to suggest the solving of voter apathy by increased involvement would last any longer than the next scandal of misrepresentation or falsifying facts. Can you imagine the fall out in a direct democracy if the public were to gain access to key documents post-referendum? If the voting public were to have open access to documents detailing the likely rise in suicide rates by investing in a new economic policy? Beyond that, what place would a “secret service” have in a seemingly necessarily open and informed direct democracy?
Secondly is the issue raised in any debate that circumnavigates notions of “what to do?” Would it be feasible to expect any unanimity, or right for any decision to claim to be that of the moral majority that was affecting a minority that could be as large as 49% of a 64 million populous? A poll in 2010 found that 51% of the people asked would vote in favour of the death penalty for “standard” murder. Now whilst the debate for the might of the majority would perhaps be best indulged elsewhere it certainly begs the question, with such grave consequences that arise from capital punishment is it right to enact on a democratically voted majority that is so slim?
It would seem that Mr Farage’s notion of direct democracy could bring about quite the political revolution, perhaps one some feel is necessary. If we are to believe that the European elections are any indication of how voters will behave in general elections, the shift toward UKIP could mean we see a change far greater than any liberal democrats suggestion of AV could have brought about. Time will tell if UKIP and direct democrats can address the many issues surrounding this reform. That isn’t to say however that representative democrats shouldn’t be very wary of the tide of change and the influence of their translucent parliamentary motions.