Most people view the “democratic deficit” as imperfections in the way that voters’ wishes are communicated to governments (and governments’ failure in translating them). Hence democracy must be improved by more frequent voting on a wider range of subjects, and hence David Cameron’s promise to “empower” the people in a “post bureaucratic age” via internet technology and so on.
In The Daily Telegraph recently, Melanie McDonagh wrote an article entitled “As the Swiss say no to minarets, I vote we have many more referendums”. In Ireland, she has “seen abortion and divorce taken right out of the political realm by being put to the people in referendums” and cites other candidates like assisted suicide, hunting, and Sunday openings for pubs.
But referendums do not take things out of the political realm at all. More often they take them into the political realm, out of their rightful private realm. All such voting assumes “the divine right of the majority”; the equivalent of two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.
Imagine Tesco operating by a system of votes on what things it should stock and at what prices. Leave aside the fact that a true referendum would rank all people (customers or not!) eligible. Even if limited to customers, should votes depend on the frequency and size of their shopping? Chaos would ensue. In fact voting on major issues is carried out only by shareholders (according to their holdings, not one vote per shareholder) and directors as appointed and approved by shareholders. Shoppers vote with their feet, every day.
Democracy itself is no panacea. It creates groups of vocal busy-bodies, vested interests, angry mobs, and wars. (Let us not forget that democracy elected Hitler.)
Profoundly illiberal, democracy legitimises the oppression of minorities – like Muslims in Switzerland, and high earners here. What we really need is a constitution which specifically excludes most issues from voting and indeed from government itself.