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Sham Dem

Posted by Dr No on 30 September 2009

acrop.jpgThe ever intriguing Witch Doctor has been exercising her formidable intellect lately on matters which, it appears, are more tangled than a witch’s spell.

There are many recurring themes. One of them is democracy, and what it is and what it means – and how it can be manipulated, even misrepresented .

Political theory is as old as the hills – at least the Athenian hills – for it was Aristotle who laid out the first recorded coherent account of ways of government. His analysis is as simple as it is astute.

The first question to ask is who is doing the governing? The choices are: an individual, a minority or the majority. Then you ask: in who’s interest is the government governing? There are only two answers: in their own interest, or in the common – as in all the people’s – interest.

These two questions allow us to classify all governments by way of a three by two table. The true, good forms of government, which govern in the common interest are, when an individual governs, a kingship; when a minority governs, an aristocracy and when the majority rules, a polity.

The deviant forms of government, which govern in their own interest, are, respectively, a tyranny, an oligarchy and a democracy.

This is an analysis which our politicians would prefer us not to dwell on, for it alerts us to the fact that that which they sing the praises of – democracy – is in fact a deviant form of government.

But, some say, democracy is the best we have. It took a politician of Churchill’s stature to be open about this:

Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

But even Churchill was being optimistic, for in fact that which we call a democracy is rarely, if ever, actually a democracy.

Consider electoral turnout and share of the vote figures from the last century. These are widely available – see here and here, for example.

What these figures show is that no party ever gained a 50% or greater share of the people’s support. Even in years of high turnout and large majorities, like 1931, less that 50% of the people actually voted for the party that won (Turnout: 76.4%; Tory share of the vote: 60.7%; share of the total population voting Tory: 46.4%).

And of course, in recent years matters have got worse as turnout has declined. At the last election, in 2005, the share of the total was 21.8% (Turnout: 61.4% Labour share of vote: 35.3%)

In reality, it is even worse, because turnout is the percentage of registered electors who actually cast their vote, so excluding any one who is not on the Electoral Roll.

This is important, because it means less that one in four of the people actually voted for our current government. Less that one in four is not a majority, it is a minority. In a very real sense, what we pretend is a democracy is no such thing: it is rule by a minority, in their own interest, and that makes it an oligarchy. It is sham dem.

Calling an oligarchy a democracy is spin-doctoring, and spin-doctoring is always bad medicine. Which is why, of course, so many of us are, if not actually disgruntled, far from being gruntled. It is also possibly one of the reasons why the Witch Doctor’s black cat has taken to arching her back so much of late.

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