What’s the difference between democracy, and mob rule? Part of the answer is the safeguarding of dissent. The other part of the answer is all about inbuilt checks and balances, but I don’t want to get into that today. Without dissent, what you have is a tyranny, a majority rule that crushes difference. As a Druid, a member of a minority faith group, I feel very strongly in favour of anything that allows a peaceful minority to get on with its own things even when that’s not what the majority wants to do.
Dissent keeps us healthy. A government of yes-men can’t examine its assumptions and actions terribly well. This is one of the main reasons democracies include opposition parties in the decision making process. Criticism, doubt and scrutiny help keep politics more honest and more reasonable then they would otherwise be (consider how all-powerful monarchs have tended to behave). A government that is not dealing with robust opposition gets arrogant and ignores or even abuses segments of its own population.
Radical change in a country does not, and should not happen overnight. For people who are largely oblivious to politics, the whole Brexit thing may look like sudden drama, but it isn’t. The Brexit vote was made possible by years of dissent and disagreement, and by people who did not agree with previous democratic votes and choices being entitled to keep grumbling about that, keep agitating, keep campaigning. I might not like the outcome but I absolutely support the right of people and parties to act in this way.
There are a lot of people who have been drawn into UK politics by Brexit who would not normally be involved, and they do not have much idea how democracy works. This is clear from the number of them who are saying ‘we won so you have to shut up and accept it’. This is not what democracy means, and democracy needs defending from this fundamental misunderstanding.
Imagine what would happen if once a vote had been taken, on anything, it could never again be discussed or re-voted on. We wouldn’t be leaving Europe, for a start. Assume that ‘one vote decides everything’ politics was in place and most of us wouldn’t even have the vote. It took years of dissent and campaigning to get votes for women, and to get rid of the land ownership requirements that excluded many men.
We have to be able to change direction at need. We have to revisit ideas, and challenge established thinking all the time, because the reality around us – physical and political – also changes. A hundred years ago, the politics of what happens when the fossil fuel runs out was not an issue on people’s minds. What will we have to think about a hundred years hence? Who knows!
Whatever your politics are, I call upon you to defend the systems that make democracy work. I know democracy barely works, I know it’s a flawed, problematic, clunky, questionable system, but right now it is the best system we have. If you can think of a better way of doing things… what a good job we do still have an option on dissent.