The debate on democracy – to the moon and back
I’ve just finished reading a novel that promised much but delivered very little. The picture on the front and blurb on the back hinted at one story; the content delivered another entirely. It promised a murder on the moon, three people caught up in the turmoil – a classic who-dunnit. The actual plot exposition in a sentence? Journey to the moon, escape from the moon, back to the moon, escape from the moon, return to the moon, escape from the moon; under arrest, escape custody, rearrested, escape custody – and so on, ad nauseum.
The plot, in fact, seemed entirely secondary to a debate about the politics of China, and the possible scenario under which a population in excess of a billion might come together to drive change. And as a discourse on politics and socio-economics, it had some merit. As a murder mystery, though, it was seriously lacking. The deed itself, depicted in the opening chapters, was finally wrapped up 400 or so pages later at the very end of the book in an “oh, by the way” moment, in a story that didn’t even have the decency to conclude satisfactorily, instead brazenly inviting to the reader to beg for a sequel.
Suffice to say, I shan’t be begging, and if it wasn’t for our own general election I’d be even less charitable about the book. But the discussion of Chinese politics was timely, as was the reminder within the narrative of the quote from Winston Churchill: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” We live in a representative democracy, capped with a parliamentary democracy. We elect politicians supposedly more qualified than ourselves in tackling the key issues of our society, to represent us within the halls of government. But the Brexit referendum laid bare the question of how those politicians should represent us: do they carry out the explicit wish of their constituents, or do they do what they believe is best for the constituents, even if those two things are diametrically opposed? And beyond that where there might be further conflict of interest, do they toe the party line or do they do what they think is best for their own careers?
The trap in opening up a key issue such as Brexit to direct democracy via a referendum is that it’s then very difficult to get the genie back in the bottle and return to a meaningful representative democracy. Maybe you can trick the genie back into the bottle, and certainly political parties have fallen over themselves to promise ever-greater sums of money to make our lives better over the course of the next parliament.
Perhaps if there is one small crumb of comfort that we can draw from the Brexit fiasco and the general election, it is that we have not yet become that dystopian society where politics is the plaything of the mega corporations, because big business by and large is a remainer. But it makes you wonder if perhaps we are about to enter a new chapter in British politics, driven by a deep dissatisfaction among the populace in a system that has let us down one time too many. What might that future look like? Throw in a murder mystery, and it’s a book I’d happily read.
Mark Simms Editor