A triumph for democracy?


I have an article in the Observer this morning. It explores why as a country we seem to be able to organise big events like the Olympics but not to address the more fundamental problems of modernising our creaking and outdated infrastructure.

Regular readers of this blog won't be surprised that among the reasons I offer is the difficulty politicians have in persuading the public to support long term investment. Genuine political leadership, I argue, involves overcoming our innate tendencies toward self interest and short termism and helping to forge an enlightened view of the national interest.

The idea that effective democracy is about shaping not pandering to public opinion is picked up in another story I came across this morning. It concerns the grim plight of the Gurkhas who have come to the UK as a result of the change of rules implemented following Joanna Lumley´s high profile campaign.

The article speaks for itself with a very clear implication that it would have been much better both for the Gurkhas and for Aldershot, where thousands of aged Gurkhas have now settled (but not integrated), if other routes to improving their welfare had been pursued. It would, for example, have been much easier, cheaper and better in terms of outcome simply to have increased the military pension the Gurkhas were receiving in Nepal. 

But what I find fascinating about the article is Lumley´s suggestion that although the outcome of her campaign has ultimately been pretty disastrous it should still be seen as ´a victory for democracy´! 

There are two problems with this assertion. The first is the simple equation of ´democracy´with popular opinion at some given point in time. This is only one of many ways of being democratic and is often in conflict with other equally valid descriptions.

Secondly, surely a victory for democracy is not doing something counter-productive on the run from a  populist campaign, but engaging in an informed debate with the public and its representatives which leads ultimately to a good decision?

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