The Mouse That Roared

We owe the Barclay brothers our thanks. In trying to use their money to buy an election and then throwing a hissy fit, punishing the electors for making a choice of which they do not approve, they have highlighted a wider malaise; the vulnerability of democracy to manipulation by the powerful.

Thankfully on the small Channel Island of Sark the electors said no to the list of candidates backed by the billionaire brothers. They used the first democratic election in this last Western bastion of feudalism to vote for continuity. There is no shame in a democracy of voting for more feudalism; because the truly important thing is that in the years to come they will be able to review their choice regularly.

On this first occasion, however, their independence of mind looks set to cost the island hundreds of jobs.

What has happened on Sark is, in microcosm, what is happening in many other places, most of them far larger and better known than Sark. A healthy democracy is a strong a flexible form of government. It reflects the mores and aspirations of the majority of electors whilst allowing for the voices of the minority, in its various guises, to be heard.

Yet democracy is not difficult to manipulate. Money, control of the media, control of business can all be used to shape the result.

The cynical might suggest that Western powers have sought to bring democracy to the developing world because democratic governments can be replaced or recast more easily than dictatorships if those governments don’t promote Western interests (not withstanding the fact that in a democracy those governments should be promoting the interests of their own citizens.)

Equally in the West the penalties for manipulating a democracy are rather less serious than the price that can be extracted for meddling in the doings of a dictatorship.

So democracy has an appeal both to the democratically minded and to the undemocratic at heart.

In capitalist societies there is a balance to be found. We do not wish to constrain enterprise and innovation too greatly both because they benefit many of us and because many also dream of one day using their own talents to create a business. It’s like the lottery; winning big is the good fortune of relatively few but the dream of winning big and the sustaining hope that it offers touches many.

Yet beyond a certain level wealth offers few discernible material improvements. The Barclays have reached a level of wealth where they have a choice between gold plated bathroom taps and solid gold bathroom taps; a choice barely worth making. However the brothers, owners of the Daily Telegraph and worth an estimated £1.8 billion, had hoped to buy power, or at least influence, and that power, in a democracy, belongs equally to all of us.

Sark may be a Duchy of Grand Fenwick for our times, it may have struck a blow for the status quo and to retain some of its outdated principles, but it also said no to the influence of big money and in doing so has reminded the rest of us what democracy is for, and what it is not.

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One Response to “The Mouse That Roared”

  1. Nice Site layout for your blog. I am looking forward to reading more from you.

    Tom Humes

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