A balance must be struck that promotes and encourages effective involvement in policy-making at all levels from the national to the local, while guarding against the manipulation of popular opinion to the detriment of minority interests. It is imperative that there should be proper channels for individuals and groups to express their views, and that no one should feel that their opinions have been ignored.
This can only be achieved through political and social structures that allow people to decide issues at the appropriate level, combined with legislation that protects human rights.
The right to vote
The right to play a formal part in the democratic process through voting should not be withdrawn from any individual, regardless of status or conduct. We believe, for example, that prisoners should have the right to vote1, and we support the efforts of the European Union in this regard.
Changing the voting system
The Peace Party supports the move towards a proportional voting system for General Elections, in the belief that this will result in government that is more representative of the population. We are aware that valid arguments can be made for and against different systems, and that the proposed ‘alternative vote’ system may not be the best that could be devised, but we believe it is probably the best that we could hope for in the present political climate.
Referendums and other forms of consultation
There is a place for referendums. Where a government believes there is a need to implement a policy that was not envisaged in its manifesto, and which may not be whole-heartedly supported by the people, a referendum is a reasonable way to to establish a mandate, provided it is honestly and fairly organised. But too heavy a reliance on such an ad hoc form of mandating would be at odds with the ideal of representative democracy, and must be avoided.
It must also be recognised that democracy is not just a matter of voting when there’s an election or a referendum. The role of the government must be to represent, and as far as is possible and proper, to implement, the will of the people. This can only be done if the will of the people is known, and it is therefore both the responsibility of the people to make their views known, and of the government to canvass the views of all sections of the community.
The importance of education
A government can only be democratic to the the extent that it has the informed consent of the people for its policies. For this to be real, it is essential that young people be properly educated about the role of politics in their lives, and their role, when they become adults, in influencing policies. They should be encouraged to consider the purpose of government, its social and economic functions, and how it affects their lives and those of other people.
Space should be made in the curriculum for the unbiased teaching of constitutional, social and economic issues, as well as an introduction to the ideas underpinning different political theories and philosophies.
Sovereignty of Parliament — and its limitations
It is generally supposed (in the UK) that the best guarantee of fair and just laws is the ‘sovereignty of Parliament’ as the institution that best reflects the will of the people. Despite this there have been occasions in the not too distant past where it has appeared that the Crown has felt the need to express disquiet over government policies, and has consequently seemed to become an alternative representative of the people against a potentially overweening legislature.
This whole area has become confused and is probably not, as many have assumed, ‘the best in this the best of all possible worlds’. As we argue elsewhere, the fault lies partly in the assumption that the will of the people, as expressed through its representative institution, Parliament, and ratified by the Crown as Head of State, must always be paramount.
The problem with this assumption is that it is possible for the will of the people as a whole, particularly in times of stress or general hardship, to ride roughshod over the rights and proper interests of individuals and minority groups, in ways that could amount to democratic tyranny. A defence against such excesses would be a written Constitution.