We Get the Governments we Deserve

The foundations for a democracy to function are: a “Rule of Law’,  protection of “Individual Property Rights” and a system of “Commerce”.  This year we passed the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta but today is the anniversary of the Ballot Act which was passed in England on the 18th July in 1872.  This is a crucial condition for enterprise to flourish in any economy.

Hand of a person casting a ballot at a polling station during voting.

Introducing secret ballots to prevent undue influence by landlords and employers it’s a shame that it does not apply universally in elections of officials who have influence in the economy.  Electing particularly union officials that members want, not simply the ones who are able to bring undue influence or pressure to get elected is a step in the right direction to getting informed and progressive conditions being implemented rather than self interest and political futures.

Adding to the Rule of Law, the Ballot Act 1872 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that introduced the requirement that parliamentary and local government elections in the United Kingdom be held by secret ballot.

The Representation of the People Act 1867 (the Second Reform Act) enfranchised the skilled working class in borough constituencies, and it was felt that, due to their economic circumstances, these voters would be particularly susceptible to bribery, intimidation, or blackmail.   The radical John Bright expressed concerns that tenants would face the threat of eviction were they to vote against the wishes of their landlord. It fell to Edward Aldam Leatham, husband of John Bright’s sister, to introduce the Ballot Act.

Many within the establishment had opposed the introduction of a secret ballot. They felt that pressure from patrons on tenants was legitimate and that a secret ballot was simply unmanly and cowardly. Lord Russell voiced his opposition to the creation of a culture of secrecy in elections which he believed should be public affairs. He saw it as ‘an obvious prelude from household to universal suffrage’.

Election spending was, at the time, unlimited and many voters would take bribes from both sides. While the secret ballot might have had some effect in reducing corruption in British politics, the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act 1883 formalised the position and is seen by many to have been the key legislation in the attempts to end electoral corruption. (1)

These electoral practices in not only the Westminster but western democracies in general ensure that we have free elections where politicians advocate popular policies to get a majority vote and are in office for the electoral cycle.  While we often hear discourse lamenting the lack of political leadership and an unwillingness to take “brave” decisions which may not be popular.  Is lack of leadership really the problem though or should we be thinking more about our responsibility in being part of the solution…

To my mind we get the governments we deserve, Greece is a perfect example of that.  Perhaps we should be more focused on having informed conversations that ensure we attract intelligent people to politics because the electorate demands policies that are popular because they are the right policies to create prosperity and a future for us all, not a short term gravy train that has to crash in the future but the majority is too blind to see it.

On top of that the unrealistic expectation that politicians have no baggage, have no skeletons in the closet and the inordinate scrutiny in the media 24/7 also ensures that many good people with incredible minds and ideas shy away from public service. If we want to start creating the conditions for enterprise to flourish we really need to be thinking more about our individual responsibilities than being critical of our political parties and leaders.

 

Trevor Dixon

Chairman Small Business Foundation

For more on “Enterprise” – The Art of Freedom, visit:

www.smallbusinessfoundation.org

 

References

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballot_Act_1872

 

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