Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Britain: The democracy that isn't

"Were it put to a national vote the public would, without doubt, support a decision to have Chindamo deported.", writes Sue Carroll in today's Daily Mirror.

I've no doubt they would. And I've no doubt too that put to national vote the public would support renationalisation of the railways as well. And the restoration of capital punishment. And higher taxes on the very rich. And the scrapping of the ludicrously undemocratic Human Rights Act. And, had there been a public vote, there would probably not have been war with Iraq.

Far, far better of course, not to put such matters to the "public vote", but to leave decisions up to such wise, civilised people as Sir Henry Hodge, the "human rights campaigner" (and husband of Nu Labour Culture Minister Margaret Hodge) who headed the panel which granted the convicted Italian passport-holding murderer Learco Chindamo the right to live freely in the UK, and the other braying, super-confident middle-class Oxbridge types who dominate the Houses of Commons.

After all, Britain's metropolitan middle class elite have such a great track record at making the right decisions don't they?

13 comments:

olaf the hairy said...

Why would deporting him to another EU country be "the right decision", when he doesn't speak the language, has no family connections there, and would consequently be far more likely to get into trouble?

And how, having deported him to another EU country, would you prevent him from legally re-entering the UK on the next plane or train as a legitimate citizen of another EU nation?

Surely it would be far saner to do what seems to be happening already, and encourage him to train as a counsellor for equally disaffected teens, using his experience as a powerful disincentive to go down the same route? Especially at a time of rising knife crime, much of it stemming from a confused macho sense of self-importance?

Incidentally, the Human Rights Act (which has far less relevance to this and indeed many other cases than you seem to believe) could hardly be MORE democratic. And that's precisely the problem that you and your right-wing partners in spittle-flecked rhetoric seem to have with it.

Neil Clark said...

I'd hardly call Sue Carroll 'right-wing', olaf. The disgust at yesterday's decision runs right across the spectrum.
"The Human Rights Act could hardly be more democratic". In what way is it "democratic"? Do you want decision making power to lie with ordinary people or with judges and human rights lawyers?

olaf the hairy said...

I'd hardly call Sue Carroll 'right-wing', olaf. The disgust at yesterday's decision runs right across the spectrum.

Nice to see that you're finally recognising what disgust across the spectrum looks like! But if they'd disagreed with you, they'd doubtless all be "neocons"!

"The Human Rights Act could hardly be more democratic". In what way is it "democratic"?

Because it applies equally across the board, regardless of status. That's as good a definition of democratic as anything I've come across.

Do you want decision making power to lie with ordinary people or with judges and human rights lawyers?

Do I want decision-making power to lie with amateurs (usually ill-informed amateurs at that) acting on the basis of emotion and prejudice, or professionals acting on the basis of the actual circumstances of the case (with which they have infinitely greater familiarity to begin with) applied to a detailed and closely-argued study of the law?

Go on, have a guess!

Dandy Dave said...

IF VOTING CHANGED ANYTHING THEY'D ABOLISH IT!

Neil Clark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Neil Clark said...

"Emotion and prejudice" are always what motivates ordinary, working class people (or should I say 'amateurs') aren't they Olaf; unlike those nice, civilised middle class professionals, who are such masters of reason and who always get EVERY decision right....

olaf the hairy said...

I've got no problem with putting these issues to majority vote provided I can be certain that those voting are familiar with every aspect of the case and aren't getting all their views from a massively slanted and truncated précis.

The jury system works well because you can be reasonably sure that the dozen people in the jury room will be fully acquainted with all the facts of the case, will have heard both sides of the argument given equal weight, and who therefore will be in a strong position to reach an informed, evidence-backed verdict.

On the other hand, what you seem to be proposing takes no account whatever of whether or not the voter actually knows much about the subject being voted upon, and so the possibility for miscarriages of justice must therefore be overwhelming. Especially if the voters are whipped up into a frenzy by a tabloid witch-hunt beforehand.

A case in point: Maxine Carr. Everything I know about this case suggests that the verdict was absolutely fair, and that she served an entirely appropriate sentence for what she did - viz, supplying a false alibi. This actually made no difference to the outcome of the Soham affair, as the girls were already dead, and while Carr was undoubtedly stupid, she clearly wasn't in any way responsible for the murders. Yet popular opinion seems to rank her right up (or down) there with Myra Hindley and Rose West, and I doubt she'd ever be released if it was put to the type of majority vote that you advocate. Would you really be happy with this?

No, expert decisions aren't always right - but they're much more likely to be right than trial by an ill-informed mob. Especially since we generally don't hear much about the situations when things have gone according to plan, largely because they're not newsworthy. So if one decision out of 99 turns out to be the wrong one, that incorrect decision grabs all the headlines, creating the impression of a system in chaos - even when this demonstrably isn't the case.

Neil Clark said...

Olaf: I don't think we're a million miles apart. I'm not calling for members of the public to vote everytime an issue such as the deportation of a prisoner turns up; only that those who make such decisions should be a lot more sensitive to public opinion.
But I certainly believe the public ought to be involved more in the decision making process, and we can do this by moving towards a more 'direct' democracy, with greater use of referenda. Indirect democracy is not really democratic at all, as elected representatives tend to represent their own interests and not the interests of those who elect them.

Nick said...

The problem, Neil, with your diatribe is that GB isn't a democracy and doesn't claim to be one; it's a representative democracy, which is by no means the same thing. (And you know it, I suspect, but to acknowledge that would undermine your argument, wouldn't it?)

Olaf the Hairy said...

I'm not calling for members of the public to vote everytime an issue such as the deportation of a prisoner turns up; only that those who make such decisions should be a lot more sensitive to public opinion.

You and I are a million miles apart, because I categorically disagree that public opinion should play any part at all in such decisions under any circumstances.

It's the politicians' jobs to respond to public opinion. It's legal professionals' job to respond to the law. If the two diverge significantly, then the government should naturally have the right to mount a high-profile protest or even consider changing the law, but it should only be permitted to overturn an existing verdict if it can demonstrate that actual procedural mistakes have been made.

At a time when the government is overfond of trying to interfere in the way we live our lives, it is vitally important that the traditional independence of our legal system from politics (and, by extension, public opinion) is maintained.

Olaf the Hairy said...

There's an exceptionally sensible article in today's Telegraph, which I commend to all those who have remained balanced and sane on this particular issue - as well as those who momentarily succumbed to hysteria but are now having second thoughts.

And at the time of commending it, I note that the comments have been overwhelmingly favourable

Anonymous said...

What would you want to restore the death penalty for? In addition to murder, perhaps those who disagree with you on one issue or another.

Neil Clark said...

What would you want to restore the death penalty for?
Because I think that taken in conjunction with other measures, it would reduce Britain's crime rate and thereby save innocent lives.
Who should be hanged?
Only murderers and those convicted of smuggling Class A drugs into the country.