Representative Democracy or "The Will of the People"? Who decides?

There is an interesting section in the 2019 Conservative Party general election manifesto, it begins on page 47 with a heading and a couple of worthy paragraphs:

Section Heading from page 47 of the Conservatives 2019 Manifesto

Subsequent text goes on to explain the kind of things that will be reviewed or done to ‘evolve’ the UK’s constitution. It will be interesting to see in what order these things will happen to ensure that the evolution results in a creature better adapted for the political world. Before the constitution evolves, it would, perhaps, be good to consider whether it is poorly adapted or doomed to extinction due to predatory action.

Although I took little real interest in politics until quite recently, I did think that the UK was a representative (some say ‘Parliamentary’) democracy and that the electorate in each constituency voted for candidates to be their MP. I also thought that the winning MP then represented all of their constituents, whether those people could or did vote for them or not. When it comes to Parliament, I thought that all MPs in the House of Commons had a collective responsibility to always act in a way that they judged to be best for the whole nation and that all of Parliament (Commons and Lords) were supposed to ensure that the Government always acted in the best interests of the nation by scrutiny of all proposed Executive actions. In this model, it seems that some constituents choose who will win the competition to represent all of them and, then, that all of ‘the people’ are represented in the House of Commons, which can hold the Government to account. It is important to note that ‘all of the people’ have not elected the Government.

I’ve pondered hard to try to understand where and how referendums fit into the system of democracy in the UK. Some say that referendums are events of ‘direct democracy’, which our representatives decide are occasionally necessary to determine what voters amongst the people they represent, want the Government to do regarding a particular issue. The idea seems to be that referendums determine what the people represented by MPs want, so that the result of a referendum may be taken as “the will of the people”. This seems odd when only eligible voters can participate in them and, unless by exception, the result stands no matter what proportion of those eligible actually vote.

On the face of it, referendums appear to be good ways of finding out what voters want but I struggle to understand how the result of one can be taken as “the will of the people” – unless, of course, either a majority of the people vote for the result or the result indicates clearly what “the will of the people” is.

So, do our representatives decide whether the UK’s constitution evolves as the Conservatives outline in their manifesto or does the Government hold a referendum to allow “the will of the people” to give them a mandate? Or, will the current Government simply claim that they already have a mandate from ‘the people’ and use their large majority to, first, limit the powers of Parliament to challenge the executive intent and actions of Government and then, push on with constitutional ‘evolution’?

It is going to be fascinating to see whether the UK remains a representative democracy or the Government assumes that it has a mandate to implement “the will of the people” from a general election that was intended to elect representatives of all of the people. It will be interesting to see whether the people want the responsibilities of their representatives to be changed and whether they will consider there is any point voting for MPs who will only be able to represent their best interests if they want what the Government tells them they can have. When one of their manifesto pledges is to “make sure that every vote counts the same”, it is a contradiction that they plan changes which will ensure that not all representatives will be equal. At least one benefit would come from Parliament’s role being weakened, there should be no need for referendum’s in the future. Considering how much political disruption was caused by the last one that’s a good thing but, how will “the will of the people” be determined next time it is needed?

Jeremy Corbyn – A Politician Before His Time?

I am no Labour or Corbyn supporter. But, as a believer in representative democracy, I have been surprised and dismayed by the criticism (vitriol from some) that has been directed towards Labour, for its Brexit ‘policy’, and towards Corbyn, for his neutral stance, in the run up to the December 2019 General Election. There were some points that needed clarification in the policy and many Labour MPs (and pundits) made a bad job of that. Despite that, I have been most dismayed to hear views that Labour or Corbyn were somehow disrespecting democracy or not representing their ‘core’ supporters.

I’d better just check that I understood the Labour policy and Corbyn’s stance. I will be happy for anyone to point out if I misunderstood it. Here goes:
1. Take a few months to negotiate a deal that better protects UK jobs and workers’ rights. (On this, they assured that the EU had already agreed in principle to a ‘better’ deal that Starmer had been leading the negotiation of.)
2. Commit to and prepare the necessary legislation for an informed referendum in mid-2020. Options to be offered in that referendum proposed to be the ‘Better’ Deal versus Remain.
3. Take the ‘better’ deal to some form of special conference to let members vote upon its ‘credibility’.
4. Hold the referendum and implement its result (that requirement to be mandated in the referendum Act).
5. Corbyn committed that he and his Government would not campaign for either option to be offered in the referendum but would make sure that there were only two clear choices offered and that ‘the peoples’ choice’ would be implemented.

Now, I must be honest and write that I was never clear what would have happened if no ‘credible deal’ could be concluded or passed by the promised special conference. I would have better understood a commitment made, simply, to an informed referendum offering two clear choices, even if those were Remain and the Prevailing Deal; whether that had been a new deal or the one inherited from the last Government. This lack of clarity would have disinclined me from voting for Labour, unless they were a tactical choice for me, but I don’t understand why (supposedly) Labour supporters were not shouting for clarification rather than shouting ‘foul’.

That said, what’s wrong with a promise from a political party to deliver a deal that is suited to its ideologically, confirm that is acceptable to its membership, put it to ‘the people’ and then implement what ‘the people’ decide? Surely, it’s a lot better than promising people something that can’t be delivered, giving them a choice between two options; one of which is abstract; and then implementing whatever your party alone prefers.

So, it appears to me that Corbyn is just a politician ahead of his time. He’s tried to do something that suits the ideology of his party; presumably what the membership expects. He’s tried to be representative and promise to do what the majority of ‘the people’ want – after making clear to them what they are being asked to choose. In a time when most are calling for more representative democracy, it’s a real surprise that the electorate seem to favour leadership by someone who tells them what is good for them and wants to restrict the powers of the MPs they have elected to represent them. Do the people really want more representative democracy or to go back in time, to when political leaders told them what is good for them? Or, do they simply not want the responsibility of deciding more for themselves in clear referendums but will be happy to be affected by the results of fudged ones?