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Sally's Journal
May 5th, 2005
11:08 am


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Have voted. You should all go and vote, if you're going to vote for the lib dems ;-)

Can anyone on my friends list explain to me the difference between UK democracy, and majority rule? I mean, I can see we have safeguards in place at the moment like not being run just by the house of commons, but Labour seem able to change that to a certain degree. I suppose the question I'm trying to ask is, under the current system, if 60% of the country wanted to make slaves out of the other 40% (and had years to get all the legeslation through) why couldn't they do it? Or could they?

(56 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:May 5th, 2005 10:17 am (UTC)
You mean, theoretically? They could.

They'd need to elect a party that was prepared to pass the legislation. They'd then need to repeal the anti-slavery legislation, including dis-incorporating the Human Rights Act. They'd then need to pass the new legislation. Assuming that the Lords is going to continually reject it, that's quite a long period of time, as they'll need to use the Parliament Act over and over again, and that takes a year each time.

Then it would need to go to Royal Assent, which while just a formality now might not be such a formality if confronted with such an obnoxious bit of legislation.

And they'd have to do so against international criticism.

Theoretically possible. Practically very very difficult.
[User Picture]
Date:May 5th, 2005 10:23 am (UTC)
Royal Assent, as you say. I would expect HMQ to decline to give such assent and dissolve Parliament.

Under the circumstances, with the country probably thrown out of the United Nations and the European Union and under a trade embargo, they'd probably lose the election.

But yes, our system is evil and wrong and gives majorities too much power. Unfortunately majorities rarely see anything wrong with this.
[User Picture]
Date:May 5th, 2005 10:25 am (UTC)
The immediate obstacles which sping to mind are:

* The Human Rights Act - The Judiciary would rule against it, nationally or internationally.
* The Parliamentry system - 60% of the population does not necessarily get a majority in the commons, you would have to get the 60% in the right places. Even then, the individual MPs could revolt against their mandate.
* The Lords could delay it. The Law Lords might shoot it down under Human Rights or maybe even Magna Carta (although I'm less certain about that last one)
* The Privy council - I have no idea if the Privy Council can block legislation, I think they might just be advisory.
* The Queen - Could refuse to sign the legislation
* The Army - Might revolt or be ordered to suspend democracy by the queen.
* The UN - might make a bit of a fuss but would probably let it through.
* The US - would need to be bought off.
* The Unions - could probably shut down the country with a general strike, although this is doubtful given 60% of the population support the legislation.
* The 40% - might object slightly. You know, with muttered complaints, spilt cups of tea and guns and burning stuff.
[User Picture]
Date:May 5th, 2005 10:34 am (UTC)
Britons owned slaves long after the 13th century, so I don't see how Magna Carta could help...
Date:May 5th, 2005 10:25 am (UTC)
Can anyone on my friends list explain to me the difference between UK democracy, and majority rule?

We live in a representative democracy and not a direct one. That is we vote for people to act on our behalf, hopefully these people are better informed and have ideals/morality rather than just a straight popularity contest. I'm worried that we are going more and more down the 'majority rule' route (see e.g. the rhetoric on asylum or Europe where the politicians are following public opinion not trying to lead it), but thankfully we still don't have the death penalty even though polls show that a majority of the population is in favour of it. This is why one shouldn't vote for the 'Rainbow Vote for yourself' party candidate (or whatever it was).
[User Picture]
Date:May 5th, 2005 10:31 am (UTC)
What everyone else said. But is there any system which *isn't*? You could require a larger majority, but then you're screwed because a minority can hold everyone to ransom. The current system seems to be to filter everything obnoxious through several levels of representation so in theory 60% could rule, but in actual fact someone somewhere along the line will realise that just wouldn't work and carefully make things a bit more even. It doesn't work perfectly, but somewhat...
[User Picture]
Date:May 5th, 2005 10:42 am (UTC)
The American one works far better. To make a hugely radical change you need to amend the constitution, or else the judiciary can shoot the legislation down as unconstitutional and probably will.

To amend the constitution you require truly ridiculous majorities - two-thirds in the House and Senate and then three-quarters of the States.
Date:May 5th, 2005 10:36 am (UTC)
I think part of the difference is a majority rule and parliment is that parliment has to at least vaguely try to get some consistentency to their policies, whereas getting majority support on individual policies doesn't guarentee this.

#1 believes: A, A=>B, B
#2 believes: A, A=>¬B, ¬B
#3 believes: ¬A, A=>B, ¬B

Majority believe: A, A=>B, ¬B

!! (was an example sheet question in my Logic course)
Date:May 5th, 2005 12:02 pm (UTC)
See also the Condorcet paradox, for a similar example of inconsistent behaviour by "majorities"
[User Picture]
Date:May 5th, 2005 11:13 am (UTC)
The thing to remember about the British Constitution is that it is held together with spit. Theoretically it is riddled with holes, but it has worked rather well in practice.

The straightforward answer to your question is as Carys says, that the difference between our system of government and majority rule is that we have a representative democracy, whereby we choose our rulers and our rulers then decide (without having to consult us) how best to govern. So in practice, on any one issue, Parliament may not reflect the consensus of the country, as with the death penalty or the Iraq war.

Nevertheless, as you say, if enough people cared enough about a single issue to insist on electing representatives who would give effect to their views, then they could cause their views to be given effect. If it were a manifesto commitment then by convention the Lords would not oppose it, and even if they did, this would only give a one year delay. It is a much debated point as to whether the Queen can refuse to give assent, but it would be particularly hard to justify if it were a manifesto commitment. If she did refuse consent I do not think there would be any constitutional way around it, but a revolution would surely be inevitable in those circumstances.

It is the fundamental principle of the British Consitution that Parliament is supreme, and that no person or body has the authority to ignore an Act of Parliament, therefore, assuming the legislation was carefully drafted, there would be no possibility of its being judicially overruled.

We would need to leave the ECHR and the EU, and this would probably require the explicit repeal of the European Communities Act and the Human Rights Act, for slightly complex reasons. Other contradictatory legislation (including Magna Carta!), would be impliedly repealed by the subsequent Act.

The only real reason why that would never happen is that it would never happen.
[User Picture]
Date:May 5th, 2005 11:19 am (UTC)
So is there any currently legal way of getting rid of the Queen? (I suppose if the Queen agrees to getting rid of the Queen it's all OK, but apart from that?)
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Date:May 5th, 2005 11:16 am (UTC)
Given our electoral system, 40% of the country could make slaves of the other 60%, if the opposition was split between rival candidates (likely).
[User Picture]
Date:May 5th, 2005 02:40 pm (UTC)
Practicalities also mean that, while all this legislation was being passed, most of the 40% who could afford to (or who could sucessfully apply for asylum on grounds of risk of persecution) would - once they realised that the passing of the legislation was inevitable, anyway - probably have fled the country.
[User Picture]
Date:May 5th, 2005 04:01 pm (UTC)
Depends how blatently it is done. Although I don't recall the Nazis being very subtle about their dislike of jews, and although many jews left Germany in the late 1930s, many millions stayed behind until long after it was too late to leave.
[User Picture]
Date:May 5th, 2005 04:31 pm (UTC)
I don't think there is any democratic country in the world which has fixed enough rules to prevent that happening if a majority wanted it badly enough. Ironically, only the dictatorships would be safe.
Date:May 6th, 2005 12:35 am (UTC)
They did. That was the point of that whole feminism lark.
[User Picture]
Date:May 9th, 2005 10:50 pm (UTC)
I think your other option would be allowing 40% of the population to enslave 60%. Pretty much regardless of how you arrange things an adaquetely large section of the population adaquetely placed can do pretty much whatever they like.
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