Now an established event in its calendar, the Bakewell and District Probus Club held its annual springtime debate this year in early April. On this occasion, the motion was ‘Democracy has been a failure as an effective system of government.’ Leading the discussions were club members David Webb who supported the proposition and Tony Crook who opposed it, with Chairman Stefan Andrejczuk overseeing the proceedings. A preliminary vote among those present indicated a clear majority against the motion, although there was a significant number of abstentions.
In his opening arguments, David Webb pointed out that there are many definitions of ‘democracy’ but he took as his theme a version which states that democracy is a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. However, in his view, the electorate is too often ill-educated, ill-informed and influenced by trivial matters and basic instincts, and hence not fit to make serious decisions. Furthermore, the elected representatives are frequently inept, corrupt, self-promoting or, simply, unworthy of the trust placed in them. In the case of the UK at least, the adversarial two-party system leaves huge numbers of people ignored and effectively disenfranchised, especially in constituencies where political views of one persuasion are drowned out by an overwhelming majority of electors of a differing persuasion. In summary, David described democracy as being ‘In a mess’.
Responding to his opponent, Tony Crook held that, if authoritarian and despotic government is to be avoided, there is no realistic alternative to democracy. He acknowledged that it has its faults but most democracies are relatively new creations and therefore still evolving. Many of the difficulties have arisen as a consequence of the electorate’s loss of confidence in the system, undermined by enormous changes in society, economic disappointment and the unfair influence on politics of vested interests and the ‘super-rich’. This led him to ask the question, ‘If it’s broken, can it be fixed?’ In answer to his own question, he offered a number of ways in which it could be. Among these, he proposed a system of proportional representation for the national government (as already operating in the devolved administrations), compulsory voting, rigorous policing of politicians’ standards of conduct, an appointed revising chamber (in place of the House of Lords) with fixed terms and further devolution of powers from central government to the regions of England. In summary, improvements need to be made.
Following these two submissions, there were several contributions from members of the audience, many of whom related their experiences of governments in other countries. At the close of proceedings, a second vote was taken with the result that, in a complete reversal of the vote taken at the start of the meeting, the motion was carried. David Webb’s arguments had carried the day.
Details of the Bakewell and District Probus Club, including reports of earlier meetings, can be found on its website at www.bakewell probus.org