Degrees of democracy

Not cycling, but still important.
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JohnToo
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Degrees of democracy

Post by JohnToo » 2 months ago

The EU elects MEPs by proportional representation. But MEPs have deliberately limited power, shared with the Council (degree of democracy dependent on political systems in different member states) and the Commission (ultimately democratically accountable, but only through several removes from actual voters, so the degree of actual democratic involvement in the Commission feels very limited).

(I have argued before that our desire to oppose Brexit has led us to feel we have to oppose every criticism of the EU lest we give credence to the Brexiters, and therefore led us to deny the obvious fact that the EU is only partially and opaquely democratic.)

The UK gives more power to its parliament, which is directly elected, but not through proportional representation (and we are reducing the power of parliament in favour of the power of judges, as argued in this year's Reith Lectures). The Executive is ultimately dependent on the (partially) democratically elected parliament, but beyond that, is only tenuously democratic, as we are seeing with the selection of our new prime minister at the moment.

The USA also doesn't have PR for congress, and the Executive (President) is in theory elected indirectly by an electoral college, but in practice, two out of the three branches of government are directly elected, along with great swathes of everyone from judges to assistant dog catchers. The practical functioning of democracy is severely curtailed by money, but then, so it is in the UK.

Is there any objective way of rating how democratic a country is?

(I could almost certainly find an answer, or more probably multiple answers, on google but hey, it's Friday evening, it's more fun to ask here...)
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Iris
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Re: Degrees of democracy

Post by Iris » 2 months ago

"I want someone else to Google it for me."

How about this?
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy_Index
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Re: Degrees of democracy

Post by JohnToo » 2 months ago

Iris wrote:
2 months ago
"I want someone else to Google it for me."

How about this?
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy_Index
Small sigh from someone who does actually know how to use Google and who already spends too much of their life on Wikipedia😀.

When Joan's valiant efforts to establish this site as a sustainable online presence finally fail through lack of discussions and content generated by the rest of us, at least I can tell myself, I tried.
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Joan
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Re: Degrees of democracy

Post by Joan » 2 months ago

I haven't replied, because I haven't finished my homework yet (listened to the first Reith lecture yesterday).

I immediately thought of the 3 political systems I have some knowledge of - Australia, UK and the USA (I watch The Trump Show like it's reality TV, which it is, except it's also reality), and immediately thought Australia would be the most democratic. The US system is becoming very undemocratic, I'm thinking of the senate and the rampant gerrymanering. It's shocking to me that the UK is 14th, seeing we have an unelected upper house. I'm not sanguine about the lack of a written constitution, we rely heavily on Government obeying norms. I wonder what could happen if we got our own Trump? (and no, Boris is not Trump in that way).

So what does Australia do right? The lower house is much like the Commons, with a single representative elected. There is preferential voting, so you don't have to vote tactically. And as here, the MPs choose a PM, who forms a Government. I think it's still the MPs who actually chose, not the party, so those picking the PM are actually elected. I know that's how it used to be here, and I think it's better.

The senate, that fills the role of the house of Lords, is proportional; each state is a constituency and selects 12 senators, so they pretty much represent the proportion of support for each party. But the problem is 12 per state, which means each Tasmanian senator speaks for roughly 40,000 voters, while the NSW senators it's 600,000.

And that's where in the most perfect democracy falls down. Back in the oughts, the Government introduced internet censorship laws that practically no one wanted. It's only proponent in parliament was a senator for Tasmanian. But the Government wanted to sell Telstra (˜= BT) and needed his vote. So if first-past-the-post can lead to tyranny by the majority, then proportional can lead to tyranny by the minority.

It's a nice day out there, so wrapping this up, but I might come back later to explain why compulsory voting is good for democracy.
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Joan
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Re: Degrees of democracy

Post by Joan » 2 months ago

P.S. First Reith lecture: I loved the Imran Khan comedy duo!
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JohnToo
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Re: Degrees of democracy

Post by JohnToo » 2 months ago

Another comparison occurs.

The new president of the EU Commission is chosen by horsetrading behind closed doors, by people who are themselves democratically accountable but in practice with negligible opportunity for the population to have any influence, and the person chosen was not one of the front runners but a compromise candidate who emerged from behind with little popular endorsement or even awareness.

The new UK prime minister is chosen by a larger number of people who have a much better claim to be ordinary members of the population, and by a voting process - but by a completely unrepresentative set of people with no democratic accountability to the country at large. But the person chosen will actually be the in-advance front runner chosen from among a pool of the obvious front runners.

Which is overall the more democratic?
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Re: Degrees of democracy

Post by ransos » 2 months ago

Tory members are ordinary people?

I'm not sure your comparison works: the EU governance structures are different, and one could argue that the Commission is more akin to the civil service than the UK parliament. No-one elected Mark Sedwill...
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Re: Degrees of democracy

Post by JohnToo » 2 months ago

ransos wrote:
2 months ago
Tory members are ordinary people?
Sadly, statistically speaking, yes, which is why civilisation doesn't advance as rapidly as it ought to....
ransos wrote:
2 months ago
I'm not sure your comparison works: the EU governance structures are different, and one could argue that the Commission is more akin to the civil service than the UK parliament. No-one elected Mark Sedwill...
I think, at best, the Commission is intermediate between political and civil service, but actually, in practical working of the EU, the Commission is far more directive and far less responsive than the UK civil service. And isn't it set up that way? Isn't the EU deliberately set up with three (main) arms, roughly co-equal, with one of them directly elected for the purpose, one comprised of people elected for other purposes, and one not elected but appointed? I think, on paper, the UK, where in principle all authority stems from the elected Commons, is more democratic. But I think the arrival of Boris at no 10 should make us more humble about how it works in practice.
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Re: Degrees of democracy

Post by ransos » 2 months ago

If we take "ordinary" to mean white, wealthy men from the Home Counties, then sure. But no-one could reasonably argue that membership of this private members' club is representative of anything else.

Turning to the HoC, when we consider just how few seats are genuinely competitive, then we start to realise how few people actually have a say in the running of the country.

I actually agree that there's a democratic deficit in the EU, but the UK is very far from any kind of positive comparison.
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Re: Degrees of democracy

Post by JohnToo » 2 months ago

ransos wrote:
2 months ago
If we take "ordinary" to mean white, wealthy men from the Home Counties, then sure. But no-one could reasonably argue that membership of this private members' club is representative of anything else.
I was taking "ordinary" more in the sense of selfish, narrow-minded, and conservative (small c)... :)
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Re: Degrees of democracy

Post by ransos » 2 months ago

JohnToo wrote:
2 months ago
I was taking "ordinary" more in the sense of selfish, narrow-minded, and conservative (small c)... :)
I prefer to think most ordinary people are a bit better than that!
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Re: Degrees of democracy

Post by JohnToo » 2 months ago

ransos wrote:
2 months ago
I prefer to think most ordinary people are a bit better than that!
You look at Brexit and Boris and you still manage to be optimistic? :)
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Re: Degrees of democracy

Post by ransos » 2 months ago

JohnToo wrote:
2 months ago
You look at Brexit and Boris and you still manage to be optimistic? :)
Boris isn't "most people" not do I believe that people who voted for Brexit are axiomatically selfish.
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Re: Degrees of democracy

Post by JohnToo » 2 months ago

I was being partly tongue in cheek. But I do find my faith in the innate goodness of people and my trust in inexorable progress towards greater civilisation somewhat shaken at the moment.
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Re: Degrees of democracy

Post by ransos » 2 months ago

JohnToo wrote:
2 months ago
I was being partly tongue in cheek. But I do find my faith in the innate goodness of people and my trust in inexorable progress towards greater civilisation somewhat shaken at the moment.
I use it as a well-being mechanism...
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