Common Error No. 75


75. "Democracy is a sham with no real choice because all the major parties basically support the system."

ballot_paper.jpg This is an argument popular among those whose views find little support. They say that choice in our free elections is illusory because Conservative and Labour, Republicans and Democrats, are all committed to continuing with the established system, making only minor changes. A really radical party stands little chance.

The reason that major parties support the current system is because most people prefer it that way. The parties seek votes, and that is where they are to be found. Parties which come along with radical alternatives generally attract little support. People are suspicious of the untried and untested. Sometimes, though, a new party with new ideas can emerge as a major player. It takes time for the electorate to assess their competence and to trust them. This is how the Labour Party emerged in Britain.

Sometimes the times call for radical action and the electorate backs it. This is how the post-war Atlee government was returned with a mandate to build a new, radical and modern Britain. It is how a radicalized Conservative Party was elected under Margaret Thatcher to break the post-war consensus.

To say that a similarity of party outlooks denies choice is to sidestep the whole point of democratic elections, which is the ability to change a government peacefully. Even if our parties were the same, which they are not, at least we could still change the people. The important thing is that we can throw out governments we do not like. It is the knowledge that they can be thrown out that keeps our governments reasonably responsive to the needs and wishes of the people. Very often we have seen governments which have been in office too long become complacent and bankrupt of ideas. In a democracy the people can replace them with new and untainted leaders to do things differently.