In the UK there is a certain grandeur regarding our parliamentary system. It has been our way of governing for centuries and is perceived as a representative or ‘just’ political practice. But why do we think this? Is it because we have delved into the matter and as a result come to this conclusion? Or do we believe it only because we are told? Like in so many avenues of our lives the common or dominant opinion is riddled with inconsistencies and falsehoods. We have been lied to, and a lot of us know it, but so little can be done. As has been argued by many, this is as a result of the elective dictatorship Britain has become (or always has been). Lord Hailsham in 1976 premised that:
the time has come to take stock, and to recognise how this nation, supposedly dedicated to freedom under law, has moved towards a totalitarianism which can only be altered by a systematic and radical overhaul of our constitution.
Source–Document A Lord Hailsham ‘Elective Dictatorship’, The Richard Dimbleby Lecture The Listener 21 October 1976
At first this statement appears very agreeable, that we need to reform our system in order to make it more representative. Hailsham even expresses his passion for the British system and its successes as a political polity. However, I believe that this argument fails to address the crux of the matter. It does show promise in acknowledging the dictatorship of our parliamentary system, but does not recognise the key factors of its failings. This means the reform Hailsham discusses is more reversion to the old ways, to give life back to all three actors of our government: the crown, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. However, this will not solve the issue at hand. If anything it may further compromise it. What must be understood is that we live in a system of partial representation. Although we have a vote, it does not mean that all of those who represent us and control the country are directly elected. Instead, our vote elects a party that chooses who they want to serve as our government. Take the Chancellor of the Exchequer as an example:
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the government’s chief financial minister and as such is responsible for raising revenue through taxation or borrowing and for controlling public spending. He has overall responsibility for the work of the Treasury.
The Chancellor’s responsibilities cover: fiscal policy (including the presenting of the annual Budget), monetary policy, setting inflation targets, ministerial arrangements (in his role as Second Lord of the Treasury)
This position has huge influence over policy, yet we put blind faith in a majority party to choose the candidate for us. George Osborne, the current chancellor of the Exchequer, has only ever been elected to represent Tatton, he has not been elected for the powerful role he currently serves. Yet he can change/create policy that can effect the lives of people across Britain. It is possible to argue that this is a form of indirect representation: that we are trusting those we choose to represent us to select like minded people to help them govern our country.
However, this gives room for deceit and the diminishing of our democracy. It means policy that was not discussed during the election period can surface, leaving no consideration for voters. An example can be seen in Osborne’s current proposition of retrospective changes to all students loans that started in 2012. This act in itself would be illegal for a citizen or any private enterprise but, because of the power given to this unelected treasurer, the policy could potentially be actuated. We can always hope that our representative system can fight such matters, but the fact that this can occur in the first place is not encouraging.
This is why I am of the opinion that we are in an unelected dictatorship. As much as I dislike Osborne’s policies ranging from student loans to cuts to social welfare, it must be said that just wanting rid of him will not get rid of the problem. What must change is the manner in which our government functions and greater citizen participation on the political process. creating a more direct democracy, but still allowing for our liberal rights as a protective barrier against further tyranny. The system itself can be preserved, but we need to work on it. Not by giving more power to the crown, or by giving more to the Commons or the Lords, but instead giving it to voters, thus balancing out the system by ensuring true and fair representation is achieved. We must be rid of the days where unelected politicians can so adversely influence the political process.