Fear of the electorate

There is one thing that holds true: people don’t always know what they want, but they do know what they don’t want.

This shows when looking at politics and the evolution of ideas of freedom and democracy. If one was looking for a particular jewel of wisdom, you would find very little. As research reveals, case after case, it is the protest against abuse of authority that invariably leads to systems of change.

As glorious as the Westminster parliamentary system or the United States presidential system sounds, they both were as a result of movements to reduce the power of the monarchy.

In the British context, the seminal document was the Magna Carta, which essentially bound the King to limits on his rulership and provided that persons and parliament had basic rights. The signing of the Magna Carta did not occur because the King had an epiphany and recognised the wisdom of people having rights; rather, it was the threat of war and anarchy.

Again with American revolution, which was to establish “We the people” as the final authority, there was no acquiescence to a noble idea in that case, either. It took a bloody war to break from parliamentarianism to establish presidentialism as a system of governance.

What we evidence throughout history is the sociology of rulership, and it never bends to logic or towards greater human freedoms unless threatened. This just happens to be a sociological fact of life regarding all rule, and is completely impersonal.

It is perhaps for that reason exists the quote: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” (Wendell Phillips, 1852). It doesn’t matter who or what organisation, or what its original goals were, once a system of a rule sets in, it wants to remain at all costs — even if tyrannical. It is only by oversight that it can remain on course.

Bermuda’s political history is no different. A change was needed because to remain would have been catastrophic. So, no, there was not an enlightened period of reason and higher truths. Dispense with any idea of a well-thought-out political process moving forward. It was a cold attrition with a franchise extended to the electorate — parties were formed in relative haste, but the power remained the same.

After many decades, political power has shifted from one room to another. Unfortunately, the term “room” is literal because the framers were skilled enough to create the kind of party constructs that allowed the illusion that the entire electorate was involved when the reality has always been of a tight kitchen cabinet actually running the affairs. The words “egalitarianism” or even “participatory democracy” vanished from political discourse and lists of goals decades ago.

Canada and Bermuda are in similar boats as far as participatory politics is concerned. When you look at a total electorate of close to 20 million, you calculate the number of persons involved in the choice of party candidates or even the leader of the country, for that matter, and you get less than 2 per cent actually getting involved.

Rather than flogging a dead horse or perhaps a blind one, if the cry during the Fifties and early Sixties was “end the unfair, elitist property vote” because that system catered to only a segment of the potential electorate, should not the emphasis today be on how to maximise the participation of the entire electorate?

If by having a property vote only a few thousand participated, why subscribe today to a system that does the same in allowing a couple of thousand to have real participation while the rest basically participate in a ratification?

Why is there fear of the electorate?

When the country is in need of fundamental change, there is no point in being a Voltaire. The country will either sit around and complain or a strong group will amass the attention because nothing will happen without a real and potential threat.

In the Bermuda context, that may mean a significant group of party members, or even delegates, who want to see real change for the better.

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Published Aug 7, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated Aug 6, 2018 at 8:31 pm)

Fear of the electorate

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