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  Opinion   Oped  29 Sep 2018  Chess game democracy in the UK?

Chess game democracy in the UK?

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : Sep 29, 2018, 12:48 am IST
Updated : Sep 29, 2018, 5:49 am IST

It’s pocket science to realise that democracy means very different things in different countries and institutions.

British Prime Minister Theresa May  (Photo: AFP)
 British Prime Minister Theresa May (Photo: AFP)

“Being obtuse
I am insensitive to abuse
Which, of course, annoys the abuser
So who wins, and who’s the loser?”

From Tapori Tales
by Bachchoo

It must have been Winston Churchill who said democracy is the best worst system of governance and it was certainly Abraham Lincoln who said that the government of the people, by the people, for the people was an enduring one.

It’s pocket science to realise that democracy means very different things in different countries and institutions.

My first personal brush with democracy, when I was not old enough to vote in national elections, was in my first year of college in Pune. Every year each class, of 150 or so pupils, voted for a class representative to the annual “social”. It was a meaningless election as the social celebrations were unchanged year after year. It was reputed to be a source of backhanders for the top secretary from caterers, etc. Nevertheless, it took on a symbolic significance.

Some friends urged me to stand for this election and to attempt a change in the way the social celebrations went and attack the corruption from within. They put my name forward in the prescribed way with a proposer and seconder. Canvassing was not allowed. The results were proclaimed and I got precisely four votes out of 150 — my Sindhi proposer, my Parsi seconder and two mysterious ones. I had myself, out of a spirit of sportsmanship and ignorance of how democracy worked, voted for someone else.

The winner was a Maharashtrian lad and it soon became clear that the 130 votes he got were all cast by the Maharashtrian mob who paraded him on their shoulders around the college grounds.

It was my first consciousness of the pull of regional, caste and linguistic allegiance in Indian democracy. My first awareness of “votebanks”.

Subsequent observations through half a century of Indian democracy proved that in a country with nascent, infant or underdeveloped capitalism people didn’t vote along class lines as they do in the United States or in Britain. They vote through religious or caste deposits in these banks.

Arguing with a friend, a member of the CPI(M), I asked why as Communists they still looked to these caste-and-religion-defined votebanks for support. She was contemptuous of my supposedly analytical question, saying that the party offered particular material benefits to each of these banks and got their votes on the same material basis that, say, Donald Trump got the blue-collar vote by saying he’d bring back manufacturing jobs to and keep Mexicans out of the US. I was only half persuaded.

The question of democracy and how it should work is the large pachydermous presence in Britain’s spaces. Nearly 52 per cent versus something — above 48 per cent voted in the 2016 referendum to leave the European Union. Since then Parliament and the government have got their underwear in several twists. There is a majority in Parliament demanding that any negotiated result on the terms of departure of this sceptered isle (or isle and a bit) from the European Union should be subject to a vote in both Houses of Parliament. There is a further move by MPs and members of all parties to say that there should be a second referendum, which may or may not reverse the decision to leave the EU.

They argue that the “Leave” campaign in the last referendum deceived people about the dire consequences of leaving and now that the population is more aware of what they would be voting for, democratic principles demand such a second referendum. Their opponents argue that once the nation has spoken, there’s no going back.

This is not true in any democracy. Every four or five years the people are asked again as to who should govern. This could apply to referendums as well.

The Labour Party has just concluded its annual conference and though one of its senior shadow ministers said that a second referendum was not possible as the people had spoken, the conference overwhelmingly voted to countenance one, if the terms negotiated by Tory Prime Minister Theresa May and her team were not deemed acceptable.

The reluctance of the Labour leadership to unequivocally embrace the will of the huge majority of its own membership and demand a second referendum arises from the fact that there is a larger “democratic constituency” to which they must defer. And that is the northern working class Labour voters whose chief, if irrational and self-destructive concern is to keep immigrants out of the country and who see leaving the EU as a means of doing this, regardless of the disastrous consequences that may impoverish them and throw them out of jobs. So the leadership has one eye on the conference and its own membership and the other, squintingly, on xenophobic horizons outside the conference hall.

This idea of democracy and how it should work is also at the centre of the Tory party’s present crises — they can only be justifiably described as such. Fifty MPs are plotting to get rid of Ms May and they can force a vote of no-confidence, but they don’t have the 160 it would take to displace her. Tory rules specify that the parliamentary party whittles down candidates for the leadership to two and then puts the two names to the general membership of the party.

The loudest opponent to Ms May is Boris Johnson, who may be popular with Tory voters at large and perhaps with the 125,000 signed-up party members. But reliable sources conclude that he hasn’t the support within the parliamentary party to get to be one of the last two standing. His supporters are trying to change the rules and bypass the MPs voting.

A bit of a chess game, this democracy in the UK. Or is it more like Monopoly in India, with the buying and selling of votes and corruptly lucrative posts at several levels?

Tags: theresa may, winston churchill