Courtesy of Douglas Carswell @ The Telegraph:
“The age of purely representative democracy,” Peter Mandelson once told us, “is slowly coming to an end.”
And he was right. Throughout the Western world, public policy choices which were once in the hands of representatives we elected have been farmed out to technocrats.
Whether it is making decisions about dredging or about monetary policy, ministers might justify and explain what has been decided. They rarely if ever make the decision themselves. The machine runs most ministers, not the other way round. Vanity might stop egocentric politicians ‘fessing up to it, but most ministers are little more than departmental mouthpieces.
Whitehall mandarins have long since stopped pretending that they merely implement policy. They make it. More than that, they routinely overrule elected ministers who want things done differently.
To see the most extreme manifestation of post-representative democracy, look at Italy. Any moment now, the mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, is about to be made the third Italian prime minister in a row who wasn’t actually elected to the role. Renzi in office will probably deliver the same bland policy nothingness that every Italian “leader” seems to have produced for as long as anyone can remember.
To understand quite how anti-democratic Italy has become, imagine if, after having had Adair Turner run the country for a bit, followed by Lord O’Donnell, the Queen then invited Boris Johnson to have a go. It might all be rather colourful, yes, but it would hardly be democratic. Nor I suspect, given that only those willing to tag along with mainstream establishment opinion would be chosen, would it lead to better government.
Representative democracy was invented in order to rein in the power of parasitical elites. For a while it worked rather well. Governments were kept small and accountable.
Increasingly, however, the governing elites – the sort of people one finds at Davos each year – have discovered ways of subverting the democratic constraints. The result is big, bloated, inept public administration.
Real Conservative modernisers need to think of new ways to rein government in again. Open primary candidate selection, recalls, popular initiative, annualised budgets, confirmation hearings – we need to make representative democracy a little more direct if we are not to see it replaced by a smug, self-serving Davos technocracy.