2 September 2010
Much as a direct result of events here in Somerton, I have been reading about 'democracy' and 'freedom' and, with regard to the UK, I am forming the view that our 'democracy' is both far more limited and far less secure than I imagined.
Not long ago, I was invited out to dinner and conversation eventually turned to the 'Somerton Saga'. My line these days is to attempt, as best I can, to stay away from matters specifically 'Somerton' and focus more on what Somerton says about the state of our nation's democracy. In that context I expressed the view that our democracy was a fine idea but one that was undermined and betrayed by our elected representatives and their failures. As a consequence, I now believe that our democratic freedoms will only be secured by an engaged and active electorate. Importantly, that engaged and active electorate must remain vigilant, engaged and active after the election and throughout any term of government, ready to call those elected to account when they forget that they are, or should be, answerable, continually, to the electorate.
To my surprise, and given the fact that I had stated my belief in our democracy (or at least in the basis of our democracy) I was told that if I didn't like it I should "find another country". The consensus view around the dinner table was that ours was a perfect democracy where the electorate's responsibility was a) to vote (when given the opportunity) and b) to bitch and complain, based upon individual prejudice, until the next election. The idea that any member of the electorate would seek to be engaged and active in our democracy between election was seen as being perverse. Equally perverse, and possibly seditious was the idea that a member of the electorate would seek to call their elected representatives to account between elections.
And I am beginning to suspect that, consciously or sub-consciously, that view has a far wider acceptance throughout our society than does my own. And it is because that view has wider acceptance that a) our democracy is under threat and that b) self-interested politicians seek to restrict, deny or obstruct those few freedoms that we do enjoy.
Quoting from the prologue of Ben Wilson's book 'What Price Liberty?' - 'We should not loose sight of the idea that ideals such as liberty - which seem to simple at first glance - must be worked at ceaselessly. The sheer effort of will which is required from all sections of society to keep them in good shape is often overlooked.'
Somerton is the perfect illustration of a disengaged electorate and the consequences of that disengagement. Somerton's 'democratic deficit' was certainly constructed by Somerton's Town Council but it was enabled, across a decade or more, by the disinterest of the community. By the same token, it was the engagement of a significant part of the community, the one hundred plus citizens who called Somerton Town Council to account in the days leading up to 27th October last year, who brought that 'democratic deficit' to an end.
The community of Somerton should resist the temptation to believe that 'all is well' just because there is a new Town Council. That Town Council needs the continual engagement of the community. That Town Council needs the support of the community because it derives its mandate from the community and, importantly, is answerable to the community. If the community steps back, thinking that its job is done, then the vested interests waiting in the wings will again seek to subvert the Town Council to their own particular and personal agendas.
Till next time, I'm still Niall Connolly