A preachy one on democracy: have we forgotten our responsibility?

Petraeus (c) Pablo Martinez Monsivais-AP Photo

Petraeus (c) Pablo Martinez Monsivais-AP Photo

Over the past decade, we, “the populus” have been holding our leaders to higher and higher standards. Examples of this range from our treatment of MPs caught up in the expenses scandal, to the media’s trial at the Leveson inquiry to General Petraeus’ recent resignation. Some standards may seem more rational than others – for example whereas MPs were committing actual crimes, Petraeus merely fell foul of lust. However, our leaders have been acting in ways other than saintly, across the spectrum of minor misdemeanours to full-on corruption, for thousands of years. But it is only now that we seem to be expecting so much of them.

Voting (c) Rama

Voting (c) Rama

At the same time, we seem to be neglecting our duties as citizens, forgetting the boon of democracy. The whingeing as witnessed on #BBCQT this Thursday, over the UK Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections was grim viewing. “MPs should make these decisions, not us”, “We don’t have enough information” and “Too much money being spent on these elections” were just some of the audience’s complaints. Record low turn-outs only evidenced that the audience was representative of the rest of us; indeed, voting turnout was so low (less than 15% across England), that an official review has been commissioned. And this wasn’t just a one-off – UK voting, at General Elections has fell by a staggering 19% over the past 60 years. In 1950, 83.9% of us made it to the polling booths; in 2010 – the figure had fallen to 65.1%. The same is true for the rest of the Western world, from Switzerland to Germany to the USA.

UK General Election Turnout (c) Civitas.org

UK General Election Turnout (c) Civitas.org

So my question is –have we forgotten what it is to be a responsible citizen? Are we putting our leaders on a pedestal because we’re pushing our own responsibility onto them? Of course, it’s right to expect that our elected representatives and ruling institutions are playing by the rules – that they’re not corrupt and cheating the system – but is it right to expect them to be moral paradigm’s such as in the case of General Petraeus? Are we in fact, distancing ourselves from the duties of a citizen, by lazily putting the onus on our leaders, and as we do so, making sure that they live up the standards needed to take such power?

To quote Spiderman (who wouldn’t) – “With great power, comes great responsibility”. Perhaps we should try to make the most of our own democratic power, rather than give it away?

N.B. Due warning re the preachiness was given.


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