What the Syria vote tells us about the state of democracy in the UK

Since last night’s vote rejecting UK involvement in any military action against Syria, MPs from all parties have been rushing to the nearest microphones and telephones to offer their tuppence worth to local and national media.

In an attempt to appear relevant and maintain the impression of democratic legitimacy, we have heard MPs reported as saying this was a good day for democracy and that Parliament followed the wishes of the people.

The fact is these assertions are nonsense.

While the media is happy to report such comments uncritically, the reality is Parliament was not bound by the wishes of the people at all.  Instances of genuine common sense among some MPs, and some MPs acting on the basis of representations from their constituents, was combined with the far greater impact generated by manoeuvring for party political advantage to see the motion defeated by the extremely slender margin of 13 votes.

When one considers opinion polls showed public support for action at various levels between 11% and 21%, yet almost half of MPs who voted in favour of the motion, we can see that public influence was quite minor.  Add to this the flip flopping of Ed Miliband.  He was originally and conditionally in favour of the motion, but flipped later.  Had he flipped back, many Labour MPs would have followed his lead and the motion would have been carried.  Right now, work up drills at RAF Akrotiri and somewhere below the waves of the Mediterranean would be underway in preparation for an attack on Syria.

The wishes of the public were not paramount among our elected servants.  This underscores a vital flaw in our democratic process – namely the lack of ability of voters to control the actions and voting of their MPs.  If MPs were genuinely bound by the wishes of their constituents, barely any of them would have been able to vote in favour of the motion.

David Cameron, William Hague and Nick Clegg wanted to attack Syria using as justification evidence that falls well short of the need in criminal cases to prove a case beyond all reasonable doubt.  Instead they contented themselves that on the balance of probability Assad was guilty of launching a chemical attack, and so the British armed forces would kill and injure Syrian soliders and civilians in order to make a point.  There was no reference back to the public, no mandate sought for our permission.

We do not have a democratic system in this country.  We have no control over MPs once they have been elected to Parliament.  The whims and emotions of those who wanted to have a political career and made it into Parliament still determine the actions carried out in our name.  Even despite last night’s vote, Cameron could still use Royal Prerogative to force armed intervention if he was so minded.

Only a wholesale restructure of our methods and manner of governance, of the type advanced by the Harrogate Agenda, would result in a genuinely democratic state of affairs.  As such people should not be taken in by the gushing self praise of MPs and the superlatives about how wonderful our ‘democracy’ is.  Last night was a fluke.  Next time MPs will continue to vote as they see fit, regardless of what we want.

11 Responses to “What the Syria vote tells us about the state of democracy in the UK”


  1. 1 flinthesky 30/08/2013 at 1:07 pm

    The victory for democracy thing is all over the place, what nonsense.
    If it was in any way democratic the result would have been within the range of 9:1 and 7:3 against.

    A lot of the political commentators have the result is a blight on the prime ministers authority, what they fail to say or indeed understand is the only authority he should carry is ours.

  2. 2 Adam West 30/08/2013 at 3:23 pm

    “We do not have a democratic system in this country. We have no control over MPs once they have been elected to Parliament. ”

    A fear of being voted out at the next election ought to keep them in line but years of voter apathy seems to have undermined that.

    A a strong recall mechanism would help. If opposition to military action is as one sided as polls suggest then right now we could have been seeing local people setting in motion a process that could lead to a by-election.

    That said, it is clear that much of this depends on presentation. Ask someone if they think we should go to war with Syria and they might say no or ask Why? Frame the lobbing of missiles into Syria as being a humanitarian issue (as the motion did try to) and public opinion might be less clear. The wording of the motion was meant to play on the minds of the MPs – to make them think that voting no is to be against humanitarian issues.

  3. 3 Tim Evans 30/08/2013 at 3:38 pm

    One small point…..are you suggesting that unless an MP rushes back to gauge the feeling of his constituents every time he/she is about to vote for or against a particular motion, that they are not truly representing our wishes is ludicrous.

    We vote a particular individual as a member of parliament to represent us in these matters, to use their own initiative. Not simply as a mouth-piece to try and best represent the wishes and feelings of the constituents…. which quite frankly would an impossible task.

  4. 4 flinthesky 30/08/2013 at 5:03 pm

    “unless an MP rushes back to gauge the feeling of his constituents every time he/she is about to vote for or against a particular motion, that they are not truly representing our wishes”
    If they don’t or are not at least mindful of their constituents wishes it “isn’t” democracy is it. It’s a huge game, we are the pawns, as we pay the prize money it’s high time we became the players. If we had actual democracy most of the problems we now find our selves mired in wouldn’t exist.
    By any stretch of the definition we don’t live in a democracy.

  5. 5 Rolf Norfolk 30/08/2013 at 6:29 pm

    10/10, AM. We are largely irrelevant to the decisions of our “representatives”. But there’s also the issue of how you can have a democracy when not everyone is well-informed or particularly rational.

  6. 6 flinthesky 30/08/2013 at 8:21 pm

    Rolf, You can’t, but the last thing an incumbent government would want is an informed electorate as this may lead to rational but off message opinion. They’re quite happy with governance by exaggerated and implanted emotives. “How good and wise are we.”
    What we have to begrudgingly accept at this moment in time that the greater majority of the populace don’t care unless it’s perceived that it affects them personally. The reality is it does affect them personally but the creep is so slow they don’t notice it, eu M.O. to a tee.
    I would further posit if the eu had done to us over a period of five years what it has taken it fifty we wouldn’t be contemplating negotiation with it, we would have declared war on it!
    In the same vein the whole phenomenon has gone global, the privileged few are desperately trying to attain an unassailable position, sadly we’re letting them.

  7. 7 flinthesky 30/08/2013 at 8:55 pm

    Addendum, Sadly part of the process is the reinforcement of the “Me” perspective as the “We” perspective is more difficult to assail, we now live in a society that the “I’m alright jack” “Me” mentality prevails, just drive a car to see it in action. As a “we” we would be a force to be reckoned with as a “me” we’re like ducks at the fairground, bang, one at a time.
    Step one: destroy the demos, almost complete, dare to question it, Step two: divide the remainder, ongoing.
    The thing that gauls me the most is the people, not in the clique, who support this abomination will actually hate this faux utopia they are so determined to create.

  8. 8 Judd 31/08/2013 at 7:19 am

    Why should MPs bother doing any bidding of their constituents.

    Those same constituents will vote for them whatever their representatives do, they must be doing the right thing or they’d be voted out, right?

    We get the government we deserve, the electorate prove themselves lacking every time.

  9. 9 solarman 31/08/2013 at 6:37 pm

    You are right. Had Cameron chosen to support the Labour amendment – which he claimed was very similar – then we would have have had that passed by a massive majority. That would not have been the will of the majority of the electorate.

    I can not speak for the rest of the population but for me this was too far too fast.

  10. 10 angela ellis-jones 02/09/2013 at 3:07 pm

    ‘how you can have a democracy when not everyone is well-informed or particularly rational’

    Quite.Our forefathers recongised this,and therefore thought that only the propertied and educated should have a vote!


  1. 1 Down With Progressive Interventionism | Frank Davis Trackback on 01/09/2013 at 1:04 am
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