• We Didn’t Do Badly in 2017

    The New Year should be, and no doubt was again this year, an opportunity to celebrate as we look forward, but we also have cause for congratulation as we review the year just ended.  2017 has left us in good shape, and having successfully surmounted one of the great challenges of a democratic society – a general election.

    Not everyone will applaud the outcome of that election, but it is worth reminding ourselves that it was conducted peacefully and in orderly fashion, that there were no allegations of corruption, that there was a substantial turnout, and that we were able to effect a transfer of government from one group of parties to another without violence or threats.

    These are all the hallmarks of a mature and well-functioning democracy. The list of significant pluses can be lengthened.  Our new Prime Minister is a woman – our second elected woman Prime Minister – no glass ceiling here!  And, with her relative youth, she has taken her place in a new generation of younger leaders worldwide.

    Nor should we under-estimate the civic discipline required to remove a well-established government from office and to replace it peaceably with another.  This is a trick that many other countries have found it difficult to pull, but we managed it without any great dissension.

    We managed it, despite an electoral system that made a “hung” parliament virtually inevitable (in itself no bad thing and producing a more representative parliament).  The negotiations needed to form a government were conducted with good faith and decorum and (by international standards), in remarkably quick time.

    Whatever view we take of these matters, we should acknowledge that a change of government is healthy for our democracy.  A government that has been in power for nearly a decade and that has won three elections in a row inevitably becomes accustomed to manipulating the levers of power.  A certain arrogance creeps in, an assumption that government by that party is the norm, and that only exceptional circumstances will disturb the status quo.

    It is, in other words, good for the country that there should be a recognition that democracy always implies the possibility that power will change hands – and the big gain from that change is that a fresh approach may produce new solutions to old problems and identify new problems we didn’t even know we had.

    But the cause for self-congratulation can really be made when we compare our experience with what has happened elsewhere, and particularly in that self-appointed exemplar of how democracy should work – the United States.

    They, too, have recently had a change of government – they have a new President and a new Republican majority in Congress.  The process by which that change was effected, however, was far from straightforward, with threats, charges and counter-charges made during the campaign from all quarters – and the outcome was one that prompted marches and demonstrations by those who were appalled at what the democratic process had produced.

    The “glass ceiling” was well and truly in operation, so that one of the candidates seems to have suffered some loss of support on account of her gender – and the electorate revealed itself to be deeply divided as to the merits or otherwise of the new administration’s proposals as to racial and religious discrimination, and the priority to be given to the interests of the “haves” and the willingness to inflict further pain on the “have-nots”.

    And that is to say nothing of the growing evidence, now impossible to ignore, that the successful candidate is totally unfitted, in terms of both personal and professional qualities, to undertake his onerous new responsibilities.  That realisation is not matched, however, by any will to remedy the situation – the Republican congressional majority prefers to maintain its own ascendancy, even if it means taking major risks with the country’s future.

    Our 2017 exercise in democracy looks, by contrast, to have been pretty successful.  We have no reason to question our processes or to doubt the democratic commitment and good faith of the government we have elected.  The coming year is one we can welcome, secure in the knowledge that our new government, like its predecessor, will have to satisfy the voters – in a properly functioning democracy – that it merits their support.

    Bryan Gould

    31 December 2017