Digital democracy (this website is example of it, in case you were wondering) is far from universally accepted as being part of the solution to our current problems. An objection that opponents of digital democracy often raise is that it's the first step down a slippery slope that ultimately leads us to the rule of the mob. They paint a picture of an angry, irrational public making stroppy, contradictory demands of representatives, leading to poor government and disaster for the country.
For a start, the very idea of the "rule of the mob" immediately conjures up images of angry crowds of people, flaming torches and absolute chaos. Unless you're a fairly advanced kind of hacker, there is little so threatening about a person sitting at their laptop or tablet. As far as mobs go, the worst that this one might do is send you spiteful messages on Twitter. That's not something that's likely to bring about the end of our parliamentary democracy.
Without the threat of violent compulsion, what's left? A cheap, easily accessible mechanism that allows citizens to express their views and beliefs about the future of their country. Politicians, meanwhile, need not be under any obligation to bow down to the public, although the greater transparency and legitimacy that e-democracy offers makes it easier and more obvious when they're not doing their job.
Conscientious MPs (of which there are many) would actually find that it made their life easier. People would feel closer to their representatives, counteracting wider cynicism and apathy.
Captain Knows Best...(And Why General Elections Are Inadequate)
Other critics argue that making our democracy more direct would compromise a government's ability to provide strong leadership, by which they mean doing the right thing even if it's not popular.
The first objection to this is that a site that was genuinely about democracy would reflect the fact that public opinion is rarely homogenous. There were large numbers of normal people who were in favour of the second Iraq war, who opposed fox hunting or who think that the changes to welfare are fair. Noisy minorities do not necessarily reflect the country as a whole.
Secondly, arguing that a general election is the right and proper way to express your dissatisfaction simply doesn't hold any water. They are far too blunt an instrument to tell our politicians what we want. You might favour Scottish Independence, but be in favour of allowing Trident to stay on Scottish soil or believe that taxes shouldn't increase, yet be in favour of taking more action to protect the environment. I could be desperate to leave the EU, yet think that legal aid changes were wrong. No matter what the parties might say, these are not necessarily contradictory positions, but you're forced to swallow them as part of a lumpen bundle of policies over which you have little say.
On top of that, they way our voting system works means that there might not be any point in voting for the party that represents you best; instead you might have to vote tactically for the lesser of two evils. Alternatively, you might support the manifesto pledges of a party, but find that their candidate believes in something you find totally objectionable. Where does that leave you?
Few people think that we should conduct government by referendum; they're time consuming, simplistic and the result seems illegitimate if turnout isn't sufficiently high. That's not the same as denying that our should democracy become more direct and accountable, though.
Politicians should still do the hard work of drafting legislation and making hard decisions so that we don't have to. The system, though, needs to change.Back to news