The EU and Zimbabwe abandon democracy

Today two pieces of news are juxtaposed which should make supporters of democracy pause for thought.

In Zimbabwe we are told there is a chance that the dictator who lost the election may be about to sign an agreement with the Leader of the Opposition, offering some kind of sop to him whilst retaining the job of President. In the EU the French President acting as President of the EU Council has proposed that the irish No campaign, who won the referendum, should sit down and talk to the Yes campaign and government, who lost the referendum, about how to implement the Treaty the people rejected.

All kinds of bien savants tell us that the new African approach to democracy in Kenya and Zimbabwe offers hope for the future – a government which loses stays in power but agrees to offer the winning Opposition some enhanced role beneath the losing President who retains office. That is not democracy. Democracy says that the will of the majority prevails. Democracy means that if you lose an election you bow out gracefully, to lick your wounds and work out how to do better next time. Similarly democracy means that if a government tables a referendum and loses, it has to stick to the view of the majority. It is not entitled to carry on as if nothing had happened, or to threaten another referendum because it did not like the answer. Indeed, a decent government that lost a referendum on a substantial matter like the future of the country’s constitution would resign, appreciating it had lost the support of the public.

I am astounded that these Europeans seem to think the popular will as expressed in elections or referenda matters so little, and think that in each case people in power have a right to negotiate, spin and slither around any kind of popular rejection. I want to hear our government condemning the idea that in African countries it is just fine for losers to cling to power if they offer the winners a consolation prize, and I want them to tell the French President he is making the Irish situation worse from the EU point of view by interfering in a way which suggest the EU does not care a damn about the views of the public and is desperate to overturn the popular will as soon as possible.

When the Conservatives lost office in 1997 I understood the feelings of the public. I have never through the long years of Opposition thought we had any right to a share in the government, and never wanted to change or rig the electoral system in a way which would give us more chance of winning.

The role of Opposition is an important one in a democracy. A good opposition understands that, and works away first to be a good opposition then to be a plausible alternative government. A sensible elected government seeks to build a wider coalition of support than its own party, but always remembers it only governs through consent, and has to go once it has lost that consent. Those who seek to rewrite the rules for African countries and for the EU are not democrats. They are undermining the very basis of consent which is crucial to democratic government.

True democracy is not the tyranny of the majority so much as the accountability of the government to the majority, and the availability of an alternative to keep a government more honest and responsive.If the system no longer allows the alternative to take over or the popular view in a referendum to prevail, the system is dead.


  1. APL
    July 21, 2008

    JR: "The EU and Zimbabwe abandon democracy"

    Really Mr Redwood, the surprising thing is you think such a headline worth writing.

    The EU has never been interested in democracy, as for Mugabe, you can barely assemble a sentence containing both his name and the word democracy, without it becoming a cynical joke.

    JR: "True democracy is not the tyranny of the majority …"

    Always so.

    An acceptable democracy, is one where the wishes and inclinations of the majority are moderated by an acceptable and accepted constitution, Reinforced by an independent judicial system.

    In England, for a time, the constitution was revered because it was slightly mystical ( there being no single consitutional document ), hallowed by time and having provided the best recipe in Europe leading to the highest degree of freedom to the largest number of people.

    The Labour contribution, accelerated by New Labour is to disparage something *just because* it is old. They have destroyed the institutions of the british constitution, while their accomplices in the media and yes, the Church of England, have disparaged every manifestation of british culture.

    We are facing a whirlwind, and everything that might have given us refuge once, has been destroyed.

    The Tories have made their contribution too, thank you Mr Edward Heath, Mr, Geoffery Howe, Mr Kenneth Clarke, Mr Michael Hesteltine, to name but a few. Each of these have played their part in destroying the british constitution.

  2. Stuart Fairney
    July 21, 2008

    It is quite shameful (as well as highly revealing) that the EU are adopting the same practice of disregarding incomvenient election results so loved by Zanu PF.

  3. Letters From A Tory
    July 21, 2008

    I agree that Sarkozy's attitude towards democratic principles is totally unacceptable. He has told members of his own French party that the Irish must be made to vote again, and now he is making provision to nullify the Irish result.


  4. Neil Craig
    July 21, 2008

    It is a commonly expressed opinion in the BBC & other media that when the people vote in a way the BBC or British government don't like then that is not democracy. Often this means that the western powers increase funding for the losers who get described as the "democratic opposition".

    Thus when the overwhelming majority in Russia vote with Putin, Russia is "undemocratic" & the Russians abject failure to vote for Kasparov's tiny western funded party proves it.

    One of the fundamental problems with politics is that language gets misused & words like "sustainable", "democracy", "freedom not to smoke", "social", "liberal","defence", "peace", "public information" etc get used to describe their opposites. Democracy is rule by the people, even when, as with Hamas, they make a bad choice. Anything less discredits the idea.

  5. Acorn
    July 21, 2008

    We have got democracy coming out of our ears in Euro land John, what's the problem, apart from the cost of it all that is?

    I have my Parish Council, about 15 members on that one.
    Then there is my District Council another 60 members.
    My MP.
    My County Council, another 70.
    Then there is my EU Parliament Constituency MEPs, 10 of them.
    Oh, can't forget my Regional Assembly 111 of them.
    Not forgetting my EU Committee of the Regions Quangocrats – 44 for the UK – appointed by the Regional Assemblies.

    And, probably a lot more that I don't know about. All with my best interests at heart.

    Now, if you tried to introduce this structure in southern Africa, you would probably run out of available Swiss bank account numbers on day one!

  6. Iain
    July 21, 2008

    "They have destroyed the institutions of the british constitution, "

    At times I wonder how our politicians expect to survive long enough to pick up their solid gold pension plans, for as you say they have destabilised our constitution, rubbished everything we stand for, and sold us out to the EU, which means they couldn't respond to the wishes of the British electorate even if they wanted to.

    So it seems to me all it would take is one further situation to develop and our politicians would be looking in the face of a lynch mob. Something not beyond the bounds of possibility, for it could be quite easily envisioned that in an economic downturn British people would find they are being made redundant in preference to foreign EU nationals, just as British business has preferred to employ them rather than British people. And the likely response from the British political establishment would be what? Would it be something like…' Well this is the joys of the EU we have signed you up to that you didn't want, and no we aren't going to do anything about it as we don't want to lose face with our EU elite brethren and anyway you and your opinions don't matter!'

    Hmmm I think I will have to buy some share in some rope manufactures.

  7. Richard
    July 21, 2008

    Half of the African Union don't practice it which rather explains their reluctance to condemn his appalling actions.

    What I fail to understand is why Mugabe even pretends at democracy. Surely whatever it it that's stopping him from declaring himself el-Presidente for Life (and having Morgan Tzvangarai shot) could be used to get him to resign…

  8. David Hannah
    July 21, 2008

    Democracy has been dead in the United Kingdom for some time. One cannot be a member of the EU and still be a democracy, as so many of our powers have been outsourced to a kleptocracy which is immune from the ballot box. The EU can never be a democracy as is does not have a common demos. The political elite are painfully aware of this, which is why they go to so much trouble to keep their ideas out of the hands of voters. Each EU member state wants something different from the EU; each with their own obsessions and red lines. The only notable exception is the United Kingdom, which does not appear to drive ANY benefits from membership that could not be achieved by other means.

    With important WTO talks taking place in Geneva today, the United Kingdom (a country which once had an empire on which the sun never set) has been relegated to the role of impotent bystander. While the rest of the world decides on the future of global trade, we must adhere to whatever common position Mandy can cobble together. This must be an example of the "influence" that EU membership gives us.

    Now that the UK has formally ratified the Lisbon Treaty, and assuming that the 'colleagues' can come up with a creative solution to bypass the Irish electorate, we need an update from David Cameron on what a future Conservative Government will do about this unacceptable state of affairs.

    As a young professional, I am not ill, nor do I have children. Therefore the Schools'n'hospitals discourse is of little interest to me. With these issues being one of the few (in an ever-diminishing list of) competencies left in Westminster's hands after Lisbon, there's little incentive for me to go out and vote.

  9. Alison Saville
    July 21, 2008

    I understand from today's BBC News that we are now banned from referring to acres, and must adopt hectares instead. No-one has asked us – any more than they did when the crown symbol was removed from beer glasses and replaced with the letters "CE".

    Perhaps some see these as trivial instances, but they are indicators that we are being swallowed up by the EU, and that it is more and more urgent that we should extricate ourselves from it and reclaim our sovereignty.

  10. adam
    July 21, 2008

    I think labour lost a referendum on regional governance too.

  11. Freeborn John
    July 21, 2008

    I don’t think we have a ‘tyranny of the majority’ in Europe but there is definitely an ‘authoritarianism of the qualified majority’. 300 years of Union between England and Scotland under one Parliament did not extinguish different legislation in many areas between these two countries because of a culture that tolerated different approaches. But after 15 years of political union in Europe we already see that the continental mania for harmonisation tolerates no diversity and will lead if unchecked to the federal pre-emption of national law in all areas where the EU has assumed competence. The illiberal instinct that others should be prevented from doing what they want to (e.g. working more than 48 hours, etc.) even if it causes no one else any harm is alive and well at international level in Brussels.

    The root cause of the EU democracy problem though is that the different peoples that live in Europe do not consider themselves to be part of the same polity and so will not accept living under pan-European decisions that a majority of their countrymen do not support. So long as this is the case, no amount of institutional tinkering can make the EU democratic. International organisations retain democratic legitimacy in politically sensitive matters only through the use of unanimity. The EU began to lose its legitimacy as soon as it introduced the combination of (i) the imposition by qualified majority votes of (ii) law superior to national law in (iii) politically sensitive areas. There are three ways to cut this knot; for example by returning decision-making in politically sensitive areas to national control, or by replacing QMV by unanimity again, but the only way to prevent one parliament binding its successors is to make national law superior to European in all areas other than the common market. If this were done we would automatically create a “Europe a la carte” and even QMV could then be retained for approving EU laws efficiently. Those governments voting in the Council of Ministers to approve EU legislation should be honour bound to implement it nationally for the lifetime of their administrations, but their successors should be able to take a different view without needing to seek the approval of anyone except their national parliament.

    It strikes me that a Conservative government could at least try to negotiate such a “Europe a la carte” with a fallback to EEA or Swiss-style EFTA + bilateral treaties should our Continental partners prove unwilling to negotiate seriously.

  12. mikestallard
    July 21, 2008

    Mugabe was an admitted Marxist who looked for a one party state even when he was a terrorist. "He won the general elections of 1980, the first in which the majority black Africans participated, amid reports of violent intimidation by the militant freedom fighters he now controlled. Mugabe then became the first Prime Minister of black-ruled Zimbabwe after calling for reconciliation between formerly warring parties, including the white people as well as rival parties.
    "The early years of Mugabe's rule saw killings targeting the Ndebele tribe in the Matabeleland and Midlands areas of Zimbabwe." (Wikipedia). This Marxist has never been a democrat.
    How Morgan Tsvangirai can trust him is quite beyond me. the Ndebele made that mistake. So did the white farmers.

    Sarkozy, of course, argues that the other 26 states have rights just as much as the Irish. So there! He is real democrat! So was Stalin!
    I am glad to hear, too, that the Irish are getting stroppy about having their democratic will overturned.
    The millionaire who led the anti Lisbon vote in Ireland is now going to flood the EU elections with Libertas candidates whose only aim is to overturn Lisbon and make an important point. Are you going to encourage us, John, to vote for Libertas in the EU elections?

  13. anoneumouse
    July 21, 2008

    Dear Anoneumouse…….love David

    Subj: RE: I will withdraw the Conservative Party from the EPP by Christmas. (Frimley 23/11/05)
    Date: 06/01/06 13:35:26 GMT Standard Time

    Thank you for writing to David Cameron – he's asked me to thank you and to say that he appreciated what you had to say.

    David Cameron has made clear that it is his firm policy that the Conservative Party under his leadership will not remain a member of the European Peoples Party-European Democrats Group (EPP-ED) in the European Parliament, and will aim to form a new grouping which reflects more closely our views on the way forward for Europe.

    The Conservative Party has a fundamentally different approach on the key institutional and constitutional questions relating to the future direction of the European Union, and it is natural that we should wish to ally ourselves with parties which share that view. But we intend to maintain close relations with other centre-right parties with which we agree on much, but not on these issues.

    David Cameron has asked the new Shadow Foreign Secretary to take forward this process, with appropriate consultation of all involved. In seeking a new alignment within the European Parliament, the Conservative Party
    will aim to continue to work closely with fellow centre-right parties in the European Parliament on the many issues on which we agree.

    Many thanks again for writing.

    Yours sincerely,

    David Beal
    Correspondence Secretary
    David Cameron's Office
    House of Commons
    London SW1A 0AA

    Ah yes, Firm Political Promises

  14. David Eyles
    July 21, 2008

    Having worked in West Africa for two years in the '80s, I still have memories, fond and otherwise, of that continent. I also have some sympathy for Tsvangiri. He is in the invidious position of having clearly won an election and then watching whilst his own people are having a fleeting glimpse of democracy murdered, beaten and tortured out of them. Mugabe is an old man who may have been on the verge of conceeding defeat at the ballot box, but has (most likely) been propelled into the current situation by hard liners in the military who are frightened of the reckoning that would await them if the MDC were to form a real government. (There is nothing so brutal as an African revenge). "Power sharing" is undoubtedly a cosmetic exercise in face saving which may be necessary for the MDC to eventually stop the lunatics in Zanu PF beating up their opponents and so bring peace to Zimbabwe. It may not be democracy as we know it, but for that shattered country, it may work to bring some stability. The only alternative is for the whole of the MDC to go into hiding and exile. Which is the least favourable option for Zimbabwe.

    However, your comments on the EU are, as usual, extremely apposite. I will only add that Lord Hailsham commented in 1978, just before the '79 election that brought Margaret Thatcher to power, that the sign of of a strong democracy is a strong opposition. I note that today, we have a strong opposition, but that our democracy appears to be almost in tatters after a decade of a Labour government that came into power not to govern a democracy, but to take and maintain absolute control over a client state. A view which it clearly shares with the faceless incumbents in the EU.

  15. Neil Craig
    July 22, 2008

    I think the Tories could usefully support the Lib Dims promise of a referendum on continued EU membership.

    It would be interesting to see them then dangle in their own wind as they tried to explain why their own proposal is now an example of Tory extremism & they will be voting against it 🙂

  16. David Harrington
    July 22, 2008

    Re Mugabe: a cultural point, made to me recently by Nigerian colleagues – apart from his iconic status as a freedom fighter, in Southern Africa age automatically commands respect (do we not wish that sometimes in England?)

    Mugabe is 82. While this may offend against western cultural norms and our view of the role of opposition as expressed by our MP, realistically Mugabe at his age will only go 'quietly' and in honour, not in defeat. The Mbeki settlement is – I regret -the best hope yet.

    David Harrington

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