Letter: Democracy: just what is it, and where can we get one?

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The Independent Online
Sir: Andrew Marr's account of 'the Government's horror story' turns on Margaret Beckett accusing the Government of 'betraying democracy' and David Hunt accusing the Opposition of 'seeking to undermine the political system'. Mr Marr was obviously deeply disturbed by this exchange of accusations. But what exactly do they mean? Do we know what Mrs Beckett means by 'democracy'? And what exactly is 'the political system' that Mr Hunt is so anxious to protect from Mrs Beckett?

We know, don't we, that what purports to be 'democracy' is in fact a grubby charade played out between professional politicians largely in private. Our 'democracy' was defined by Joseph Schumpeter (and I write from memory) as 'an arrangement by which elites compete for votes in order to determine who shall take decisions on behalf of the rest'.

It would be interesting to know what Mrs Beckett and Mr Hunt - and, indeed, Mr Marr - mean by 'democracy' and 'our political system' over which they are so exercised. I doubt that they mean 'government of the people, by the people, for the people'. The fact that Abraham Lincoln's famous definition is dismissed as unworkable by practising politicians and political commentators leaves the rest of us stuck with the mess that competing elites make of our democratic political systems.

Both this pathetic government and its posturing opposition are the product of our existing 'democratic political system' and they and we - and future generations - are victims of its inadequacies.

We need urgently to rethink this 'least-worst' system and devise a genuinely democratic political system that will help the country to tackle its problems. The one we have merely aggravates and multiplies them, adding to an already frightening complexity an infuriating frustration. Perhaps Mr Marr would like to consider how we could democratically rethink our democratic political systems so that we can have confidence in them. The present system does not deserve our confidence. We need a new one based on Lincoln's definition.

Yours faithfully,


Celles sur Belle, France