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  • Petitions are not a sign of democracy

    Posted by Helen on April 27th, 2009 (All posts by )

    For the nth time this morning I received an e-mail this morning, asking me to sign a Number 10 petition that demands Gordon Brown’s resignation. This time I wrote back to say that there will be an election next year and this is called democracy.

    I understand the petition is being promoted by Guido Fawkes but he does not need any links from me. The whole story shows how little even people who apparently exist within the political circle understand the workings of a state, a government or a body politic, namely this country’s.

    Demanding that the elected Prime Minister resign through petition is on the level of saying that because 1 million people of whatever provenance marched against the war in Iraq, Tony Blair and his Cabinet should have changed their foreign policy.

    People have every right to march and proclaim their point of view; they have the right to say that a war is not done “in their name”, whatever that might mean. But an elected government has the right to ignore that and, in any case, many of us can say that they were not marching in our name.

    There is, furthermore, something distasteful from the point of view of a liberal constitutional democracy (of the kind we do not really have in Britain but would like to have) that political changes should be pleaded for in a petition to the strong man at the top.

    While we are on the subject of elected government, let me deal with another canard, that Gordon Brown was not elected to be Prime Minister of this country. No he was not and neither is anybody ever. We do not have a presidential system and elect parties. The leader of the party with a majority (or, if there is a hung parliament, which there might be next year, the one that can form a majority) is asked by the Monarch to form the government. It is up to the party to decide who that leader is and, inevitably, we the voters have to take into account whether we like their choice or not.

    If a Prime Minister resigns between elections the party in power chooses another leader who then becomes PM. If Gordon Brown is not the rightfully elected Prime Minister of this country then neither were Winston Churchill in 1940, Anthony Eden in 1955, Harold Macmillan in 1957, Alec Douglas Home in 1963, James Callaghan in 1976 or John Major in 1991.

    It was, admittedly, very foolish of the Labour Party to bow to Brown’s paranoia and nominate him as leader without an internal party election. That was, however, an internal problem and, I have no doubt, the party will pay for it. As things stand, Labour is on track to losing the next election and I predict an extremely bloody civil war afterwards. The silencing of all opposition to Gordon will, undoubtedly, be brought up.

    So what have we got? A highly unpopular government that did none of the good things it promised to do back in 1997 and managed to destroy the country’s economy, oppressing the wealth-creating private sector and increasing the bloated leach-like public sector. The mess is now so horrendous that even if the Conservative leadership were considerably more intelligent and talented than it is, one doubts they would be able to deal with it.

    Gordon Brown goes from one messy situation to another, one disaster to another, one scandal to another. The Government is flailing around, exhibiting all the signs of a dying political entity.

    If it goes on like this, it will most certainly die at the next General Election, which will be, as we predicted over and over again on EUReferendum, next May. Brown was not going to the country at any one of those dates helpful political pundits proposed – he was going to go to the wire and that is what he will do.

    It doesn’t matter how many people sign that petition – the only thing that matters is how many people will put a cross against the various Labour candidates’ names and how many will put a cross against other candidates’ names.

    This is called democracy. Live with it. And stop pestering people to sign stupid petitions.

    Cross-posted from Your Freedom and Ours

     

    10 Responses to “Petitions are not a sign of democracy”

    1. Shannon Love Says:

      While we are on the subject of elected government, let me deal with another canard, that Gordon Brown was not elected to be Prime Minister of this country. No he was not and neither is anybody ever. We do not have a presidential system and elect parties.

      That’s American cultural leakage altering peoples perceptions of the proper form of government. The French have the same problem as American cop and legal shows alter the common French perception of how a legal system is supposed to work.

      I’m not so sure that the petition is a bad tactic. It won’t, as you point out, alter the government directly but having significant numbers of people attach their names to an idea gives that idea tremendous weight in the internal deliberations of the political class.

      I think a political system is an information processing system. You should take every opportunity to cram information into it that comes your way, even something silly.

    2. Robert Schwartz Says:

      The Founding Fathers of the American republic thought petitioning to be important enough to merit an explicit mention in the Bill of Rights. “The right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

      The first modern petiton campasigns were organized by the anti-slavery movement in England in the late 18th Century. See Adam Hochschild’s “Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves” also the excellent movie “Amazing Grace“.

      I say bury them in petitions. Don’t let the illegitimati think they are not in trouble.

    3. Helen Says:

      Redressing a specific grievance is not the same as petitioning to get the Prime Minister to resign. That is the point of what I was writing. Our system is not presidential. Strictly speaking, I suppose, we can petition the Queen (and people do) but she has no real power these days. It’s a silly waste of time and, far from getting people involved, it is misleading because it involves a misunderstanding of the system.

    4. Robert Schwartz Says:

      “Redressing a specific grievance is not the same as petitioning to get the Prime Minister to resign.”

      I am not persuaded. There is a difference between the intent of the petitioners and the response of the petitioned. There is a further gap, between the logical and and the real.

      My own feeling is that all of the hubbub is a pretty blunt instrument, but so are elections. See “Public Choice Theory” James Buchanan’s picture was above. But, as it is said: “No man’s property nor liberty are safe while the legislature sits”. If sending petitions knocks the villains off balance for an instant, that is a good thing.

      The worst thing is letting the politicians run amok thinking that they are doing good and that people like them.

    5. Helen Says:

      If sending petitions knocks the villains off balance for an instant, that is a good thing.

      It doesn’t. All it does is confuse people. They think something is achieved by signing a petition and are deeply disappointed and embittered to the point of not paying any more attention to politics when the truth emerges. One reason why our political classes have been able to bamboozle people is the latter’s ignorance of the system. Therefore, I view anything that encourages any further misunderstanding as extremely harmful and as another weapon for the political classes.

    6. Robert Schwartz Says:

      The glass is too half full.

    7. Jay Stranahan Says:

      Uh… in California, petitions *do* mean something.

      /points at Arnie

    8. John Jay Says:

      I tend to agree with Helen. Petitions, especially in Europe, smack of the serfs petitioning the Tsar.

      Responsible, free people make their wishes known to their representatives, but an over-reliance on petitions harkens back to the days of royal strongmen – it reveals an attitude of servitude on the part of the petitioners.

      I prefer petitions that threaten to vote the b@stards out as a negative reinforcement – it shows some spine on the part of the petitioner.

    9. Douglas2 Says:

      The official website of the UK prime minister invites petitions at number10.gov.uk
      It is a part of an effort at “openness”, and I can see how useful it would be to them in assessing what are hot topics.
      I suspect the joy with which many people are promoting this petition is less to do with any practical effect that they think it might have, and more to do with the joy of using resources of the office of the prime-minister in order to dis the current prime minister.

    10. Mike Cunningham Says:

      Some may well argue that, as with many other protest movements, a petition such as the one circulating through the blogs of Britain, they are destined to be ignored, but most perhaps forget that it only takes a few voters to commit to an about-face in electoral terms to influence the outcome of an Election. I would predict that this petition will make a difference as it reminds people that we do have the means to tell Mr. Brown and his cohorts that their time is nearing a close; and that means is a General Election.