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ARTICLE | 20.09.2019 | DOES DEMOCRACY EXIST? | WORDS BY MADALENA HERNANDEZ
How is one of the oldest democracies in the world being run by a leader voted for by 0.13% of the population?
Britain is in the midst of parliamentary crisis, with an unelected Prime Minister leading the way, and a government which, after three years of political drama and failed negotiations, still has yet to implement the result of a once in a lifetime referendum. We cannot help but wonder – is this what 2019 democracy looks like?
A short history lesson on the evolution of UK democracy...
For most political historians, modern British democracy begins with the Third Reform Act of 1884, which Joseph Chamberlain termed ‘the greatest revolution this country has ever undergone’. This act saw the establishment of a uniform franchise throughout the country, forging the democratic structure on which our society is based today – although a uniform franchise did not mean votes for all, as women and 40% of men were still excluded. At the start of the 20th century however, Emeline Pankhurst’s suffragette movement campaigned for change, and in 1928 David Lloyd George’s coalition government invited women to the ballot box for the first time.
Democracy’s definition can be found in its Greek roots, stemming from the words ‘demos’, meaning the common people and ‘kratos’ meaning power or rule - a political and social ideal that activists have fought for tirelessly over time, and still do today to preserve the democratic process in countries all around the globe.
Today, many question if democracy even exists in countries like America. Such is the opinion of Michael Moore, the documentary filmmaker behind 'Bowling for Columbine, Capitalism: A Love Story' and his new Netflix documentary, 'Fahrenheit 9/11'. In his new doc, Moore focuses his attentions on Donald Trump and the state of American democracy. With his characteristic, dry sense of humour and keen investigative eye, Moore situates Trump mania within a global trend towards despotic leaders. In building his case, Moore points to the iniquities of the American electoral system, which saw Trump awarded the presidency despite receiving 2.87 million less votes than Hilary Clinton nationwide, as well as to the 2016 Democratic primaries, in which Clinton was announced to have won in West Virginia, despite Bernie Sanders having beaten her in all 55 counties. The effect of all this is, as Moore suggests, a widespread disillusionment in the democratic system, a sense that the voice of the people is being silenced.
As UK citizens being asked to get behind a leader that just 0.13% of us voted for, it’s hard to ignore the resonances between the political situation Moore describes in America, and our own. Perhaps when historian Timothy Snyder claimed that democracy is ‘aspirational’, and not by any means where we are at right now - he was spot on.