Leader: the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.
Direct Democracy: (also known as pure democracy) is a form of democracy in which people decide (e.g. vote on, form consensus on) policy initiatives directly. This differs from the majority of modern democracies, which are representative democracies.
After years of ‘representative’ Government where, as Nigel Farage used to say, you couldn’t put a fag paper between the major political parties and where it took fear of UKIP to get the referendum on EU membership – after years of a cabal at the top of UKIP becoming ever distant from the grassroots – after a rudderless year where, never mind humble branch members, even MEPs were excluded from vital decisions like the 2017 manifesto, it is no surprise that leadership candidates and members are looking for change.
Several of the candidates are proposing, to a greater or lesser degree, some form of direct democracy (DD). With his slogan ‘Be the Government’ John Rees Evans would take DD right to national level. At the London ‘Question Time Session’ (see here), the candidates present were asked their views on DD. One difficulty was whether to address the issue at national or party level, although Ben Walker stated clearly that his enthusiasm didn’t extend beyond the party.
DD is as old as the Ancient Greeks (literally) and as modern as 21st century electronic communication and voting. It is worth looking up DD on Wikipedia for the multiple variants – even between Swiss Cantons – and noting the number of political parties set up worldwide on the principles of DD, particularly electronic DD (EDD)
UKIP already has – or perhaps that should be had – policies to bring greater accountability back to the electorate with binding local referenda on, for example, significant planning decisions, right of recall and more decision making at local level: the antithesis of the wholesale handover of governance to Brussels!
My District Council is about to embark on its third public consultation on a flawed local plan. The first two were so complex and verbose that ordinary residents could not be expected to plough through the hundreds of pages of documents – a fake consultation. Cynical and disillusioned residents are convinced the council has already made its mind up. We certainly won’t be getting a referendum on where, let alone if, we want a so called ‘garden village’ of 4,000 houses built on the Metropolitan Greenbelt. Consultation then may not necessarily be democratic, it certainly isn’t in Tandridge.
Switzerland has a long history of DD at Canton level with regular referenda; Swiss citizens are accustomed to the system. With turnout in UK local elections typically at 30-40% and often much lower in ‘out of season’ by elections, how representative would DD be here? How long would it take to engage sufficient numbers of voters for a meaningful result? And – most critically of all, how would we prevent hi-jacking by groups with an agenda? Some of us are old enough to remember the tactics of Militant Tendency – keep the meeting dragging on until only the activists are left, then, when all the moderates have given up, take the vote …!
As for EDD, something that can hardly be representative while there are still voters who ‘don’t do the internet,’ we can already see this happening, as anyone who still hasn’t blocked 38 Degrees or Avaaz will know. Then there are those ‘polls’ on social media, how easily and with little forethought it is to just click – and to vote more than once if you have more than one Twitter account!
I would like to see UKIP fighting for genuine local accountability but even for that small step on the DD road we need councillors – we won’t get those with a leader who hides a lack of direction under a cloak of DD: he, or she will be quickly found out.
Well, what about within the party? We are told that the current, broken, structure was designed to prevent a leader becoming an autocrat: look where that has taken us! In the last 12 months we in the branches have had less communication, less dialogue with the executive than ever before.
With Labour, Conservatives and Brexit on the rocks and another general election looming there is no time for DD. We need a leader who is not afraid to lead, to take command, to take back control from those who have either through incompetence, or with malice aforethought, brought our party to the laughing stock it is today. Lead us first, then engage with us at grassroots level – for our country’s sake!