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An overdose of democracy

I was with an American friend of mine the other day and, while talking about the forthcoming presidential election, she showed me her postal vote ballot paper. It was huge – a triple-folded, precision-engineered voting experience.

But what I found more interesting was the sheer number of elections that will be taking place across the United States this November. Citizens can vote for everything from the president to the directors of the county school board and the state’s senior judges. That’s an awful lot of decisions!

Can you have too much democracy? Is such a high level of involvement a good thing? Will people participate  or will they tire of it? I suspect that if the British electorate was required to vote on so many different issues they would hardly be queuing out of the door.

In fact, we will be able to see for ourselves very shortly. On 15 November, elections for the first Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) will be held in England and Wales. The government looks forward to the day when PCCs adroitly “cut crime and deliver an effective and efficient police service”.

Their purpose is to increase the accountability of the police service to the public and to make individual services more responsive to the community. One of their primary responsibilities will be setting the budget. This is a big change, but so far we haven’t heard a great deal about it.

I am not convinced that PCCs are going to be a great success. Policing is a delicate area, and one that I would prefer to be managed by people whose decision-making is informed by a career’s worth of experience.

What’s more, elections can lead to unsavoury results. The prospect of a BNP victory is frequently paraded about in public discourse, almost to the extent that it has become hackneyed, but the recent storm around Nick Griffin’s unsavoury tweeting underlines the point that there are democratically elected officials (he’s an MEP) who are also pernicious fools. In the wrong hands, policing could become ugly.

And the current system seems to be sufficient. Each county has its own police force, which should cover the desire for law enforcement to respond to local needs, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission goes some way to giving the public the power to guard the guards. The same is true of parliament.

Altering these existing structures, perhaps even strengthening them, would be a far more prudent and efficient way of realising the government’s objectives. Adding an unnecessary layer of democracy, and one that may be largely ignored, into an already complicated system only increases the potential for something to go disastrously wrong. This is an experiment that we cannot afford to undertake.

  • Do you agree with Peter – has democracy gone a step too far? 

About Author

Peter Sheehan Still faffing around after three years at Concrete, Peter is back for a second year as deputy editor. Presumably that means that last year wasn’t a complete disaster, but you never can tell… Peter has pledged to spend this year delegating as much work as possible to his colleagues, thus leaving him free to further his long-standing efforts to become Concrete’s one-man answer to Peter Mandelson and Malcolm Tucker.

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January 2022
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