Just look at the House of Commons... Dimwittery too often the default position, says Nigel Nelson

Nigel Nelson
Nigel Nelson
GB News
Nigel Nelson

By Nigel Nelson

Published: 27/03/2024

- 17:24

"A Martian doing a PhD in Earthling politics might produce a thesis concluding that democracy in the UK is somewhat shonky"

Democracy is a political system in which two halfwits can outvote a genius. Which makes dimwittery too often the default position. Just look at the House of Commons.

This might imply democracy is not really my bag, and certainly one of my beefs about it is that there is no easy democratic corrective available when it goes wrong.

Adolf Hitler used democratic processes to climb to power before abolishing them. and it took a world war to correct that one.

Tory MPs decided the voters had made a bit of a boo-boo in 2019 when they overwhelmingly confirmed Boris Johnson as PM in the General Election that year. So they engineered his downfall.

Only 0.3 per cent of British voters got to choose Liz Truss as his replacement, and as they were all members of the Conservative Party they could hardly be described as representative of the nation as a whole - 96 per cent white, seven in ten over 50 and two thirds male.

When Liz wrecked the joint in her six weeks of No10 mayhem Rishi Sunak became PM without a single vote being cast. A Martian doing a PhD in Earthling politics might produce a thesis concluding that democracy in the UK is somewhat shonky.

But I guess most of us would go along with Winston Churchill’s perceptive view that “democracy is the worst form of Government... except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Which is why we stick with it.

And if we are sticking with it we ought to do more to look after it because, according to Dame Sara Khan, the Government’s Independent Adviser for Social Cohesion and Democratic Resilience, it’s showing signs of getting sickly.

The bit from her review this week into society’s ills which caught the headlines was her recommendation for the sort of 150 metre protest exclusion zones outside schools which now apply to abortion clinics.

But there was much more to this report than that. And had Ms Khan used more accessible language while writing its 148 pages, it might have reached the larger audience it deserves.

Ms Khan says the machinery of democracy works best when the wheels of social cohesion run smoothly. Well, she doesn’t quite say that, but I think she would if her prose had been clearer.

Things like the cost of living crisis threaten cohesion which leads to disillusion with democracy and, with the failure to tackle it, to distrust in the institutions of government.

Add conspiracy theories and disinformation swirling freely round the internet, and artificial intelligence up to goodness knows what, and we’re in a right pickle.

Freedoms and rights are coming into conflict over such issues as religious parents objecting to LGBT equality being taught to their kids in school. And the trans rights debate is reduced to a punch-up between biological sex in one corner versus gender identity in the other.

When people are subjected to what she calls “freedom-restricting harassment”, both online and off, they will simply self-censor and shut up, or walk away from the positions to which they were democratically elected. Some MPs are doing just that with 63 Tories quitting at the election, some because they fear for their lives.

Local councillors are also in the cross-hairs of the harassers. One complained to Ms Khan the police shrug off and dismiss intimidation as part and parcel of elected office.

The councillor added: “Remove the victim-blaming or this view that by being in this role I have asked for such abuse. I haven’t.”

The police themselves blame the lack of training they receive. One officer said the extent of a diversity course was “to remember to take off your shoes when you enter a mosque.”

Meanwhile, Government should do more to avoid unnecessarily upsetting communities. The sudden appearance of an asylum hotel in a neighbourhood can cause friction, but local authorities say migrants often arrived on their patch before they even knew they’d been placed there.

The Home Office took this gripe to heart and in December 2022 committed to engage...but only by sending emails giving councils 24 hours notice of arrivals. That allowed no time to prepare the locals for what to expect.

No wonder confidence in those ruling us is at such a low ebb - below the Philippines, Nigeria, South Korea, Iran and Russia according to a Kings College London Policy Institute survey.

And turnouts at elections are around 20 points below the 1951 peak of 83.9 per cent.

Not all is doom and gloom though, at least not if you live in Oldham where Ms Khan says the local authority has really pulled out the stops to bring people together.

She writes: “The town has a thriving community and volunteering network of charities and community groups. There is an inspiring sense of belonging, volunteering and strengthening community spirit irrespective of people’s background.”

But for the rest of the country Ms Khan recommends a variety of measures and strategies overseen by a body with a tongue-twister of an acronym. Try saying OSCDR after knocking back a few.

Or, if I read the intrinsic message in this report right, we might achieve the same result just by being that little bit kinder to each other.

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