When you say ‘direct democracy’ 99% of people immediately stop listening. If you go back 10 years in British political intercourse you will see it was often said that ‘the EU’ was one of the least important considerations for the majority of voters. It ranked far behind matters such as the NHS, crime or the economy. Direct Democracy is boring, that’s the most difficult roadblock to overcome when you want to talk about it. Just as with EU membership, you can’t go in fresh, you have to learn about direct democracy for it to become interesting.
Seizing attention back from the yawning abyss of total utter disinterest and shifting it back onto the more favourable plains of ‘not sure, but interest piqued’ requires only to point out that the great Brexit referendum of 2016 was almost the epitomisation of Direct Democracy. The people were asked a direct question and were able to answer knowing their vote would have a direct effect on how we run our country. That’s what it’s all about. It’s probably fair to say at this point that around 48% of voters aren’t in favour of referendums. That’s probably one of the most interesting aspects outside of the dry mechanics of how it all works, some people really object to it. Let’s call them elitists.
We should all know about Direct Democracy already though, it isn’t a new idea at all. It occupies a distinct group of established governmental systems for nation states, including our current system of representative democracy, dictatorships, communist regimes, supranationalism and feudal systems.
Personally I can’t be swayed in my belief that direct democracy is the best of all the possible systems. You have to think of politics as a means for the human race to rise above violence and resolve the complexities of human civilisation by means of dialogue and reasoning rather than fists and swords. To do that most effectively you must engage all of the people in a system which involves everybody and can’t be corrupted. Other systems of government are less than that.
And it has been done before, Switzerland is an 800 year old living breathing example of how Direct Democracy works in real life. The people don’t go to war; Switzerland remained neutral during both world wars and pretty much every conflict since the invention of the concept of neutrality in 1815. They’re also incredibly rich and very happy according to surveys.
I would hate it if I had gone to the trouble of writing about Direct Democracy, for people to read but to remain unsure of what it actually is. Briefly I will try to encapsulate the essence of it in a few brief lines. I will say firstly that personality is removed from the equation. We stop concentrating on the idea of who blew a raspberry at who, what political parties stand for, who is the minister for state of whatever department. The people within the system become functionaries who simply carry out the will of the people. Much like swathes of the Labour party who are now promising, apparently out of character, to execute Brexit “because it’s what the British people voted for”. As a result of the referendum they are grudgingly agreeing to respect the will of the people. Secondly, any citizen can change the law of the land. It is done via means of ‘citizens initiative’. If you are a special interest campaigner concentrating on an issue you feel is important you can raise a petition and that begins the process of getting law onto the statute. Thresholds are implemented to ensure your idea is popular enough to make it worthy of consideration. i.e. you must get 1000 people to sign your petition before it can move to the next stage. This is much like the petition system we have on the UK government website where after 100,000 signatories MPs will debate your petition in parliament. The major difference is that under Direct Democracy they are required to make it law, not just talk about it. UKIP is introducing Direct Democracy to the party as a first step towards directly including the membership in the formation of policy.
One of the most popular amateur arguments against Direct Democracy is that it means tyranny of the majority. It doesn’t really. What happens in reality is that people become less extreme and more sensible because they know there is an accessible and trustworthy mechanism for effecting real change. Society is less divided and most referendums where the whole nation votes will come out significantly in favour of the preferred outcome.
When I spoke to Nigel Farage about UKIPs recent move towards Direct Democracy he had this to say: “I’ve being trying to push for the party to take it up for 3 years but the party wasn’t in the right place for it at the time. I met with Gianroberto Casaleggio of the Italian 5-Star movement which has been very, very effective in Italy. Genuinely engaging members saves an awful lot of money on newsletters. Now that UKIP are ready to give this a go I think this is great.”
John Rees-Evans made the introduction of direct democracy his most prominent policy during the most recent UKIP leadership campaign. Paul Nuttal won that leadership election but then he lost the Stoke by-election. It became obvious to the party that having succeeded with the flagship policy of EU withdrawal new goals would have to be defined to reaffirm UKIPs position within the political zeitgeist (ok, those were my words… but you get the gist)
John Rees-Evans told me: “Today, UKIP is known as the party that secured genuine sovereignty for Britain. In a few years’ time, UKIP will be known as the party that delivered genuine democracy, and freed the British people from the despotism of non-representative democracy”.
Our country has to its credit, centuries of democratic tradition. We have a great history to be proud of but March 2017 finds us facing a bit of an impasse. Our current Conservative government didn’t win by a landslide by any means. Supporters of Labour, UKIP and the Lib Dems all have their own ideas of what should follow some of the most turbulent moments in the history of our country. I always thought Brexit ought to go hand-in-hand with a move towards direct democracy. One part of that is regaining control of our country – the Brexit bit. The second part is making sure it isn’t possible for the politicians who hoodwinked us into the EU before can’t repeat that same self-serving deception and take us back in – that’s the Direct Democracy bit. You could say “Vote Leave, Take Control!”