Tagged: democracy

Planning Brexit: the government’s assault on democracy

The Brexit process has been marked throughout by a thoroughgoing disregard for democratic principles and political legitimacy.

First, the referendum vote excluded more than a million British citizens with a direct interest in the issue.  That decision was upheld in court, which meant that it was legal, but it meant at the outset that the process was neither democratic nor legitimate.

Second, the process to date has overridden the rights of the minority.   James Madison argued, in the Federalist Papers, that every majority had to be understood as a coalition of minorities, and the convention of majority rule was based on respect for the rights of the minorities that remained.  That principle is fundamental to liberal democracy.  The government has a duty to find a resolution of the vote that will maintain the fundamental rights of the citizens who it is bound by law to protect.  However, nothing in the debates, and nothing in the government’s current plans, has given any attention to the issue.

Third, the government is proceeding without respecting its previous undertakings to consult directly with devolved governments.  This, again, is not about the legal point; it’s about legitimacy.  Ms May’s administration has been messing around for six months, and now they have the gall to claim that there isn’t time.   A decision to consult is not a commitment to agree.  It is disturbing that the consultation has not taken place.

Fourth, the government has proceeded in a way which is inimical to democratic conventions.  It is disgraceful that they should have tried to go ahead without parliamentary debate, and no less disgraceful that it should have taken a citizens’ challenge to establish the obvious principle that they do not have the power to wipe out existing laws or citizens’ rights by fiat.   The most surprising thing about the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller is that it should have to be said at all.

40 years of freedom

I’m two days late, but then I was late for my sister’s birthday as well, and I hope I can be forgiven if I mention it now.  It’s 40 years since the Carnation Revolution of 1974 led to the fall of the Salazar government in Portugal and the birth of a new social democracy.  (If you missed the anniversary in the British press, it might be because they didn’t think to mention it.) It’s too easy to forget what Europe used to be like before the EU. Portugal has its problems, but it’s more prosperous, more secure, better housed and better educated than it used to be. Happy anniversary.

Poverty, democratic governance and poverty reduction strategies

I have given a presentation today at an International Symposium in Istanbul, Turkey, organised by Fatih Sultan Mehmet Vakif University and Sosyal Politikalar Dernegi.  The argument was this:

The Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers have become a significant experiment in world governance.  Poverty is a complex, multidimensional phenomenon, and responses to poverty need to be adapt to a wide range of circumstances.  In the belief that deliberative democracy is the route to prosperity, international organisations have directed governments around the world to undertake a process of strategic planning, based on participative development and negotiation of policy with stakeholders. However, the emphasis in the PRSPs seems to have fallen more on the methods they use than the substance of the strategies.  Democracy is not valued only for its process; it matters what it achieves.   If PRSPs are to help the poor, they need to extend their focus, moving beyond procedural issues towards substantive policies that stand to benefit the poor.

Here is a copy of the slides and a copy of the paper.

Symposium in Istanbul

Good news from Africa

This table is drawn from a recent study looking at the fall of mortality in Kenya. It points to a general trend: across Africa, more children are surviving.

Under 5 mortality (per 1000 live births)
Previous studies (1998-2007)

Most recent study (2005-2009)
Benin

160 (2001)

125 (2006)
Ethiopia

166 (2000)

124 (2005)
Ghana

111 (2003)

80 (2008)
Kenya

115 (2003)

74 (2009)
Liberia

110 (2007)

114 (2009)
Madagascar

94 (2004)

72 (2009)
Mali

229 (2001)

191 (2006)
Namibia

62 (2000)

69 (2007)
Niger

274 (1998)

198 (2006)
Nigeria

201 (2003)

157 (2008)
Rwanda

152 (2005)

103 (2008)
Senegal

121 (2005)

85 (2009)
Tanzania

147 (1999)

112 (2005)
Uganda

152 (2001)

128 (2006)
Zambia

168 (2002)

119 (2007)
Zimbabwe

102 (1999)

83 (2006)

Stephen Radelet, in Emerging Africa?, claims that the factors behind this improvement are

  • “more democratic and accountable governments
  • more sensible economic policies,
  • the end of the debt crisis and major changes in relationships with the international community
  • new technologies that are creating new opportunities for business and political accountability, and
  • a new generation of policymakers, activists, and business leaders.”

There are problems – such as the recent (hopefully short term) increase in mortality in Liberia. But the trend is clear, and it is very good news indeed – especially for those who are concerned about population increase, because there is a clear and strong association between infant survival and the number of children a woman must have.