Head Lines with Jonny Mitchell: Demoncracy – is it all that it should be?

Thornhill Community Academy’s straight-talking headteacher Jonny Mitchell showed the world what life in the classroom is really like in the award-winning TV documentary series Educating Yorkshire.

Tuesday, 29th April 2014, 10:33 am
HEAD LINES Jonny Mitchell.

Now he writes exclusively for the Reporter Series.

Every week he will give us his take on life in and outside school from his hometown in Dewsbury.

How many times do we hear in the media of unfair, biased elections being held in some part of the world, and how often does the international community condemn the processes adopted by one state or another to “democratically” elect its leader?

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A rhetorical question, but I would suggest it’s more often than not. 
Elections are only credible if they are based on mutual trust and fairness, with everybody eligible to cast their vote without fear of reprisal or recrimination, and without the constant menace of violence and intimidation. And then, in some circumstances, malignant policies of Lebensraum, where statesmen occupy other territories to expand their empires, are becoming more prevalent.

And then we all thank our lucky stars that we live in a civilised, Western democracy where none of this is an issue, certainly on a domestic front.

But is democracy all it is cracked up to be? The very nature of the British electoral system means that leaders can be elected without an absolute majority of the electorate voting for them, and this has been the case so often in history, even where Prime Ministers have won landslide victories at the polls, through the arcane and frankly unfair first-past-the-post system.

As successive Governments appear to eschew the idea of proportional representation, where pretty much every vote has a bearing on outcomes, there has been a growing desire in many camps for the emergence of referenda to determine key issues.

Why not ask the people that matter what they genuinely think? If there is a straight Yes or No answer to be given, then it is nigh-on impossible, isn’t it, not to get an absolute majority, even if it is 50.01 per cent. In which case, the decision becomes valid. But I have an issue with this.

Not the fact that, at most, two-thirds of the population vote in a general election, when everybody ought to – perhaps we should be held accountable for our voting patterns, and penalised in some way for failing to turn up to exercise our prerogative. At least we would know that the will of the people is, in fact, the overriding will of all the people, whatever unsatisfactory political maelstrom that might create (constant coalition, no doubt). No, my issue is different. Take the two talked-about referenda of the moment: Scottish independence and European withdrawal. Both, of course, huge issues. So huge, in fact, that they have to be taken extremely seriously.

Who is happy that they know all the relevant reasons for coming out of Europe? I’m pretty well-educated (and I know how I would vote in each of these referenda, were I eligible) and still cannot honestly answer that I know everything I need to know to make a decision.

The problem is, those leading the YES and NO campaigns are the ones that are responsible for publishing the information (rhetoric, perhaps) which aims to garner support for their cause. It is really difficult, even with the wonder of the internet, to find any genuinely neutral documentation or advice highlighting the pros and cons of the decisions; far easier to find lies and half-truths about the issues. Some people will vote on Europe based on apocryphal evidence that Europe doesn’t allow our bananas to be bent. Evidence that existed for a matter of weeks about 25 years ago – because I have found it in anti-Europe documentation recently. Yes, really. The risk is, should either of these processes take place at any time soon, that the decisions will be based on ignorance.

Democracy – the voice of the people has to be based on facts and honesty. Then again, when did we ever get that before we voted?