My last blog, a gentle exploration of the IN/OUT decision that faced the UK in June, now resembles the deceptive calm before the storm. It displays the totally misplaced confidence in a ‘Remain’ outcome anticipated by so many around the world. Collectively we have since been tumbled in a political maelstrom, gradually washing up tangled and disorientated on unknown beaches. And as journalists and political commentators create mind jams of informational traffic and kaleidoscopes of emotion, it is the assurance of Democracy that urges us to our feet to take the first wobbly steps towards the blurry horizon of our new destiny.
With so much that could be said I will stick to the general themes of my blogs, for there is a particular issue on which I have questions, but no answers. It’s to do with the whole abstract concept of “democracy”. Does, can, or should the view of the majority always guarantee that the action to be taken is the right thing to do?
At every opportunity we are being reminded of the almost sacred and unquestionable rightness of the democratic process: “the rule of the majority”. I am sure it is a sound basis upon which to make decisions… most of the time. But are there ever times when democracy, or the views of the majority, doesn’t reflect the right thing to do? Is there even an objective “right” thing to do? Or are there just consequences?
Take the case of Turkey. If the Death Penalty is re-introduced in the wake of the coup – because a majority wants it – does that make it right? After all, the majority used to vote against the abolition of slavery, women’s votes, aboriginal rights, gay marriage… Surely getting it right is down to education and consciousness?
Taking the area of society I know and understand best as an example, namely our Criminal Justice System (CJS), I can say, with some degree of certainty, that when people vote for the largely punitive approach to offenders that we have today, they are voting for the wrong thing. It may serve their own feelings for justice and vengeance that are fed by the media, but it does not serve the more objective and complex mission of the CJS “to help prisoners lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after release”. However, it is only now, thanks to the increasingly widespread acknowledgement and evidence that the current system is a “scandalous failure”(David Cameron, 2016), plus the vision of a Justice Secretary with an open mind and genuine will for rehabilitation, that the public are beginning to be in an informed enough position to vote for the things that will work more effectively.
Last year Michael Gove and his team at the Ministry of Justice took on the unprecedented task of consulting and listening to the experts on the ground: charities, artists, educators, prison officers, even me! Most importantly, they also acted on the knowledge and advice they received. Similarly, audiences of my talks on the subject emerge more educated on an area of life they previously “had no idea” about. The facts, statistics, evidence and the alternative ideas presented all place them in a position from which they can evaluate and decide, with a greater conviction and degree of accuracy, what is “right”. However, those people who are educated in the complex issues and solutions, are as yet still in the minority, so the will of the majority, who will still be voting from a more emotional, media-spun, regressive perspective, will win.
If Turkey votes for the reinstatement of the Death Penalty by a majority vote, has democracy been successful? Or is it flawed in a way that needs to be addressed? Fairly urgently.