Democracy in Southend, alive if a little offended

Democracy comes in many shapes and sizes. That some systems are more democratic than others seems obvious to me. I do accept that my preferred democratic model does not match everyone’s preferences. I prefer elections at all levels of administration, and want proportional representation. I would also widen the franchise.

I would not claim that democratic models that do not meet my preferences are not democratic.

Saxon King in Priory Park is a local pressure group, set up initially in response to the Saxon finds in Priory Crescent in Southend-on-Sea. They evolved from the remnants of the Camp Bling organisation that successfully campaigned against the road widening in Priory Crescent. I share some common ground insofar that I too have a strong environmentalist streak running through me.

However, I do not agree with everything they do, far from it. Their latest statement includes a line that is blatantly wrong: “… to highlight the lack of democracy in local government and the fact that the voice of ordinary people is ignored.

I am a member of the Electoral Reform Society – I want an improved democracy. It is wrong, though, to suggest that there is no democracy. I sit in council because I managed to get enough people to vote for me. This is democracy. It is not perfect, but it is democratic.

Ordinary people are not ignored, not by me anyway (or by my Labour colleagues). I cannot vouch for all of Southend’s councillors, but since we all depend on the consent of the people it would be extremely short-sighted to do anything but listen and respond. However, listening does not mean necessarily agreeing, if for no other reason than that we sometimes get conflicting opinions.

At the recent council meeting I was the only councillor to refer to the incident mentioned in SKIPP’s latest announcement. Since, though, a number of other councillors have waded into the fray.

I have called for a public apology from the council, and for the security team to be spoken to in the hope that this incident not be repeated. Insofar as democracy is not just about votes, but also about freedom of speech, then this incident is an affront to democracy.

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2 Responses to Democracy in Southend, alive if a little offended

  1. How offended can you be before a result is “not democratic”?

    (Accepting that you advocate Electoral Reform …)

    Our current system is by agreement of many rigged. Last week’s by-election was won with 32% support. Now we don’t actually know what would have happened under AV – it is possible that the Lib Dems may have scrambled to 50%+1 (a result that it is hard to be offended by in a single member constituency), but it is quite possible that UKIP might have won.

    Should we be offended by results under the current system and should we be sufficiently offended to call it “undemocratic”?

    I have never lived in a marginal constituency, so my vote has never made a difference. I have never viewed the politics of my MP as reflecting my own. In these respects I am probably in a majority as are most “voters” in non-marginal constituencies. The voice of most “ordinary people” is ignored.

    Of course we are in a better position that say “voters” in Zimbabwe, but just because we are in a better position does that make our position “democratic”?

    So what does? I think as a minimum representatives should be able to claim some level of majority support (in single member constituencies, 50%+1 – i.e. all the other votes combined could not give another candidate a better claim).

    However, this is a pretty pathetic minimum as large numbers of our fellow voters can be perpetually unrepresented – which strikes me as “undemocratic”. This happens in non-marginal parliamentary constituencies and in local council elections. Multi-member wards do not necessarily help. If one councillor is up for election each election, the biggest minority will always win. In all up elections where voters are given as many votes as there are seats to be filled, the biggest minority will still win all seats (saving where an individual may persuade voters to break party loyalty). Clearly to avoid this situation some form of proportional system is required. My preference is for the Single Transferable Vote (STV) as this also takes selection powers from the parties and gives that power to the electorate. List systems do not do this. Under STV you can demonstrate that if all the remaining votes for unsuccessful candidates were combined they could not give another candidate a better claim than the successful candidates. (Such is the workings of the “quota”.)

    Many in the Conservative party (and a large proportion of the Labour party) will argue that such systems give “undemocratic” results with unstable coalitions. They may give unstable coalitions (particularly if there is no willingness to work across parties), but I would maintain that the result is “democratic”. The “antis” are actually arguing for rule by a minority – which to me is a form of dictatorship. They should be prepared to make the argument for dictatorship on the basis of efficiency of government (I would not argue that democracy is necessarily directly efficient) but I do not think they should call their prefered systems “democratic” – I am more than a little offended by such claims.

    I notice incidentally that the Conservatives (who made up the core of the 2011 No to AV campaign) said that under AV the person who came second could win and this was “undemocratic”, and yet that is fundamentally what Daniel Hannan is now saying in calling for a UKIP/Tory pact – we should have stitch-ups so that either UKIP or the Conservatives (who came second and third in Eastleigh) might win. They can’t have it both ways.

  2. jayman says:

    In our electoral system ‘democracy’ is a vague and vote driven concept for those who seek power.

    If democracy where to be observed then all issues would be open to public opinion and the results of public opinion would be published. it would then be the councillors/MP’s job to justify why a decision has been arrived at in the light of public opinion.

    Take the case of southends cabinet system. The Tories will produce a scheme or spending policy (usually capital spending) without one iota of proof that it is (a) something that is needed/required or (b) that it is something anyone or any group have requested or petitioned the council for.

    what is missing in southends local democracy is evidence that ‘democracy’ is a daily event, Not just an event that happens once every few years.

    We also require politicians who are fully employed as ‘politicians’ so that it becomes a paid job, not just an expenses covered, part time activity. If you fail in representing the people you stand for (you loose your job!) election time becomes a job interview with several thousand people sat on the other side of the desk who have the right to demand answers and demand results..

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