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I know I shouldn't read the comments on the BBC blogs (especially Robert Peston's), but there's a certain car-crash fascination with watching logical fallacies colliding with the real world. I keep my mouth shut, laugh a little and move on to the rest of the internet.

However there's one big howler that keeps recurring and that I'm starting to find (a) annoying and (b) extremely worrying.

The main thrust of this so-called argument is that Gordon Brown was never voted for as Prime Minister, and so has no mandate for governing the country. I'm really astounded by this, as it implies a complete lack of understanding of the British political system, and of just how the country is governed. Of course this basic ignorance might explain why a sizeable number of them believe that one BBC journalist's reports are responsible for much the current economic morass...

This then leads me to ask the obvious question: do these people know how a parliamentary representative democracy like Britain (and much of the Commonwealth) actually works? It also leads on to the sadder question: if they don't, how did they get to voting age without knowing anything about the political system that governs their day-to-day lives?

Britain isn't a presidential state like the USA or Eire or France. We don't vote for a President on top of our elected local representative. Instead we vote for a Member of Parliament, and the leader of the majority grouping in Parliament becomes the Prime Minister. We don't vote for a party slate or for a party leader - we vote for the person we believe will do the best for our constituency. If you voted for your MP believing that you were voting for Tony Blair or David Cameron or whoever, well, your mistake. But just because you don't know how the world works isn't an excuse for it not working the way you want it to.

If the majority party changes leader, well, they just go on to become Prime Minister, with no need for a general election. We may even get the rare situation where minority parties go into coalition and completely replace the majority government. Again, there's no need for an election. While these changes may mean a new person at the top, the person you voted for is still in Parliament - and still answerable to you for their actions.

I suspect it's time for a mass civics lesson, and a pointer to They Work For You.

It's enough to make me want to scream.

However I have a blog, so I'll just rant there instead.

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Comments

( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
andrewducker
Feb. 3rd, 2009 08:51 pm (UTC)
if they don't, how did they get to voting age without knowing anything about the political system that governs their day-to-day lives?

Why would they? It wasn't taught to me in school.
sbisson
Feb. 3rd, 2009 08:55 pm (UTC)
It wasn't?

Wow.

It ran all through my history lessons, and was taught as part of General Studies too...
megadog
Feb. 3rd, 2009 08:58 pm (UTC)
Like me, you were lucky in that we both went to school back in the era before education became optional.
andrewducker
Feb. 3rd, 2009 08:59 pm (UTC)
History lessons - covered 1930-46(-ish), the Roman invasion, and a few other bits and pieces. Of course, I stopped at age 14.

Oh, and I didn't get taught General Studies.
sbisson
Feb. 3rd, 2009 09:00 pm (UTC)
Ah. My history lessons covered 1300 to 1850 - with much of it centred around 1700 to 1805. So that was the whole post Civil War reconstruction and invention of parliamentary democracy.
moral_vacuum
Feb. 3rd, 2009 09:03 pm (UTC)
1) Come to think of it, I wasn't taught that at school either. Or at least I was, but it was part of Acnient History A level comparing Roman, Athenian and Modern British political systems. So not exactly mainstream programming.

The Gordon Brown "not having a mandate" thing really annoys me to. How long was John Major PM before winning an election? About two years.

2) "But just because you don't know how the world works isn't an excuse for it not working the way you want it to."

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! You'd have to brainwash more than half the population to eradicate THAT tendency. It's all part of the infantalised, life-on-demand culture in which we live.
sbisson
Feb. 3rd, 2009 09:16 pm (UTC)
Re 2)

Oh, I know. Did you see that piece that was going around last week on the Principles of the American Cargo Cult? Seems to fit western society in general rather well...
moral_vacuum
Feb. 3rd, 2009 09:29 pm (UTC)
As does the experiment that works on both pigeons and humans, where you have something that randomly dispenses treats/points, and the subjects develop highly ritualised behaviours as they attempt to replicate whatever it was that made the treats appear.

Sentience is wasted on a lot of people.
marypcb
Feb. 3rd, 2009 10:17 pm (UTC)
like teh intarweb?
ciphergoth
Feb. 3rd, 2009 09:20 pm (UTC)
AFAICT this still isn't generally taught in schools even today.

I increasingly think that preparing people to participate in democracy should be a school's primary function. Certainly the need to teach science, math, history, geography and several other school subjects follow straightforwardly from that function.
andrewducker
Feb. 3rd, 2009 10:11 pm (UTC)
I agree. More coping skills needed.
marypcb
Feb. 3rd, 2009 09:36 pm (UTC)
it wasn't taught to me (I didn't get general studies as I was using the time to study ancient greek) but I absorbed it somewhere along the line - probably from the BBC. Nowadays people absorb from blog comments and wikipedia; I have problems with this...
andrewducker
Feb. 3rd, 2009 10:10 pm (UTC)
Oh, me too.

I think it should have been taught, along with some basic philosophy, sociology, and general coping skills.
marypcb
Feb. 3rd, 2009 10:16 pm (UTC)
how to balance your checkbook
how to spot snake oil
how to store food so it doesn't get crushed or go off before you eat it
why the rates on regualr savings accounts are deceptive
how to tell when a politician is lying...
ivory_goddess
Feb. 4th, 2009 09:42 am (UTC)
how to tell when a politician is lying...

whenever their mouth is open...
lil_shepherd
Feb. 3rd, 2009 09:05 pm (UTC)
It really does worry me that supposedly educated people are this ignorant. I was certainly taught how our democracy (and, for that matter, how the US, German and French democracies) worked when I was at school. This is so long ago now (the 1960s) that I can't remember which classes this was taught in, but almost certainly history, as we were expected to have a wide enough knowledge to walk through O Level General Studies without a single class. All except a couple of us did. (A Level General Studies on the other hand, did allow for a couple of classes a week in those subjects where you were weak - the translations and foreign language essays for the science students and the maths for the arts students.) However, this was a rather decent Grammar School.)

Aren't kids supposed to have Civics or something nowadays? How come I had a better education on this subject than political correspondents and journalists?

Oh, and I agree with your rant...
rezendi
Feb. 3rd, 2009 09:20 pm (UTC)
If it's any consolation, the exact same annoying thing keeps happening here in Canadia...

I do get the sense, though, that people argue that Prime Ministers have no moral right to govern without a so-called "people's mandate", not that they have no legal right. You could argue that while the government is de jure parliamentary, it's de facto somewhat presidential, many people tend to vote for leaders not parties, and that pretending this isn't the case is a little disingenuous. I don't agree, but I see where the people who say so are coming from.
ias
Feb. 3rd, 2009 09:26 pm (UTC)
I'd take out Eire from your comparision (or more correctly the Republic of Ireland as you are writing in English not Gaelic). The RoI had a parliamentary democracy as we do in the UK but with an elected upper house rather than appointed and an elected head of state rather than hereditary. The President of Ireland can no more effect policy or run the country than can the Queen. They sign off acts of parliament, shake hands, open hospital wings, supports charities, represents Ireland abroad and all the sort of stuff the Queen does but at a fraction of the cost.
moral_vacuum
Feb. 3rd, 2009 09:42 pm (UTC)
Further on the Eire thing: it''s not an interchangeable term, either, as ROI is the country as it exists and Eire has connotations of a united Ireland.
ias
Feb. 3rd, 2009 10:21 pm (UTC)
Eire is the official name of the RoI in Gaelic and is the form of the country's name used on the stamps, coinage and passports. It is interchangeable.

It may have connotations of a united Ireland but until v. recently, the state of RoI/Eire claimed sovereignity over the whole island of Ireland which is why I, a Co. Antrim born child of two Scots parents can claim Irish as well as British citizenship.
ias
Feb. 3rd, 2009 10:22 pm (UTC)
Apologies for the typos (had for has, effect for affect) and doubtless many others.
grey_lady
Feb. 3rd, 2009 09:52 pm (UTC)
I was taught how the US government and my own state's government worked when I was in school (in the US); that said, it was an elective course.

When I moved here I made a point of learning about the parliamentary representative democracy - but then, I'm like that.
kevin_standlee
Feb. 3rd, 2009 10:19 pm (UTC)
...that said, it was an elective course...
Wow! When I was in the eighth grade (at Yuba Feather Elementary School in Challenge, California) in 1978-79, we spent several weeks on how the US democracy works. I recall having to do a paper and project on it. Much of it must have stuck with me, as I developed an interest in how the systems work, which is why I'm pretty well versed in American parliamentary procedure.

(Attempting to head off neepery: "parliamentary procedure" in this case doesn't mean "the rules of the British Parliament," but rules for governance of deliberative assemblies in general. I should think this is obvious, but experience has shown me otherwise.)

But I also have a general understanding of how Westminster-style parliamentary democracies work, which is why I also am mystified by people claiming that the current PMs in the UK and Canada are illegitimate because "the people didn't vote for them." Since the people never vote for the Prime Minister (except for those in that person's home district), that shouldn't be an issue. Or maybe a lot of people have been contaminated by Americanism and think that all governments are run by elected heads of state?
stevegreen
Feb. 4th, 2009 01:48 am (UTC)
And by the way Blair attempted to effect the air of presidency.
mymatedave
Feb. 3rd, 2009 10:04 pm (UTC)
A-fucking-men!
stevegreen
Feb. 4th, 2009 01:44 am (UTC)
Technically, of course, the Monarch asks the majority party leader to form his/her government, but the odds against the King or Queen breaking with tradition and choosing a different party take that into the realms of fantasy.
montemplar
Feb. 11th, 2009 01:09 am (UTC)
Speaking of Peston... I find it very hard to watch him on TV without snickering... constantly reminded of the way Rory Bremner impersonates him so well... same goes for Huw Edwards and Nick Robinson... :)
( 27 comments — Leave a comment )