The Democratic Pact
Is democracy the natural order of things?
Those of us who grew up in the great liberal democracies of the west have never known any different. Sadly, like all spoilt children, we were careless with our privilege. Democracy is not a “turn up to vote once in a while” kind of deal. Democracy is a relationship. It is a fine balance between the state and the people. And like all relationships, it needs work. Constant work. Hard work. Our democratic relationship with our state broke down in March 2020. Yes, the state wielded power it had no business exerting, but the people also have a responsibility in that they acquiesced to it. We gave away our power and bowed down to weak bureaucrats who got drunk on it. We gave them the “keys to the liquor cabinet” and they had a party (in some cases, literally.) Neil Ferguson himself said, that they never expected to “get away with it in Europe... and then Italy did it and we realised we could.”
People in the UK mostly went along with it and you could forgive many of them because the state-sponsored fear-mongering propaganda was staggering. It was criminally abusive to threaten people with the notion that they were going to “kill grannies” if they ventured outside. What they did essentially contravened the UN conditions on solitary confinement and torture known as the “Mandela Rules”. Never mind the small print telling you when you could actually leave the house, the solitary confinement was implicit, especially in the early days. Invisible hands strangled the life out of innocent children who were left without the regular safeguarding that could have saved them from their abusers, single people who lost the will to live after losing contact with the outside world, and elderly residents in care homes who withered away, confused and heart-broken that no one was coming to see them any more.
Not all of us fell prey to the prolonged campaign of terror. Slowly but surely more people woke up and started to protest and disobey... because that was their democratic right. They had never agreed, when they cast their votes at the last general election, to hand dictatorial and tyrannical powers to their public servants. They began to see how the democratic relationship had been broken and to understand that the people who stood in parliament and policed our streets were acting “ultra vires” (beyond their legal power and authority). To be fair, we need a new converse term for whatever the judiciary was doing... “sub vires” maybe? Judicial reviews in a democracy should always lean in favour of the people, not in favour of the public body.
A democracy is the natural order of things. Tyranny is not. In a democracy people hold absolute power, and they grant power to various heads of state and public bodies, entrusting them to run a functioning infrastructure. They pay these people handsomely for this, through taxes. A democracy is the best way of organising society because it recognises that all human beings are born with fundamental rights and that part of the state’s function is to protect those rights. Those rights are codified and protected through the legislature, upheld in every action of the executive and everyone knows where they are. But that doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. This relationship between the state and the people needs to be a living one; and to be healthy it has to be in balance.
If one party in a relationship has more power over the other, the relationship will quickly become toxic. All relationships go through ups and downs, but they must be worked on every day, in order to keep them healthy and in balance.
In early 2020 we went through a breakdown in our relationship with the people we grant authority to. And we got off on the wrong foot when we realised it had all gone wrong. “Give us our freedom back!” we demanded. But our freedom had not been taken; we had given it up. And righting this wrong just seemed too much like hard work. So the “parent” became the “child” and we had a collective tantrum (either over wanting our “freedom back” or wanting to be “protected from a deadly virus”). And we are still in that tantrum, this time demanding our “authorities” rescue us from the “baddies”. We can’t be bothered to look beyond the Facebook post, get up from the television and read a history book, or think of something original to say. Whatever the BBC is churning out, we will parrot it.
And they – our “authorities” – seem to be of the same mindset. It’s dangerously immature and lazy.
Well someone has to be the “bigger person” in this relationship and do something to fix it. A pact has two sides and both must play their part. The democratic pact you have with your state is your responsibility, too. Yes, you may be exhausted because we’ve only just got off the merry-go-round after two years of madness, but this is no time for inertia or hubris or denying reality. You better start educating yourself, looking beyond the multi-faceted propaganda campaigns (coming at us from all directions), and speaking up and demanding that your leaders make good decisions. Your life depends on it. It’s your democracy to lose.