The British Parliament -the Worst Form of Government
Winston Churchill had famously said in 1947 “democracy is the worst form of Government”. No truer words could have been spoken in regard to the example in recent times given by the mother of modern parliaments, the Westminster House of Commons.
However, Churchill went on to say, “except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
Whereas we, in Australia, experience problems with our parliaments (State and Federal), many often turning into shambles due to the bad behaviour and rowdiness of our elected representatives, we still have checks and balances in place to ensure a continuance of stable governance.
In Australia, whenever a government loses a majority and finds itself unable to govern, the prime minister will call on the Governor-General to seek a mandate from the people and if the Governor-General is unable to find an alternative leader in the parliament who is able to receive the confidence of the lower house, he will approve an election.
In the event that the government is unable to govern, and the prime minister does not seek an election, the Governor-General is entitled to withdraw his letter of appointment and appoint another leader who has undertaken to call an election. This occurred in 1975.
Under our Westminster democracy, it is the people who are supreme and it is they who should be called upon to resolve any crisis or deadlock.
However, in 2011 the Cameron government of the United Kingdom legislated ‘The Fixed-term Parliaments Act’ through the British parliament guaranteeing five years for the life of a parliament and allowing an election in between only if there is a vote of no confidence in the government, and a vote of two-thirds of the House of Commons.
It is due to this Act that Boris Johnson, who now leads a minority government, is unable to hold a snap election so that the people can decide on whether he remains prime minister or whether Labour or even the Liberal Democrat Party is elected to office. Essentially, the election would be a second referendum between those who want to leave the European Union and those who want to remain.
Eventually, things will work out in the United Kingdom, but it is impossible to predict the outcome. We should not forget that, whilst the Leavers secured 51.9% of the votes, that was of the 72.2% who voted. Since 2016 there would be several million new voters, additionally a number of those who did not vote in 2016 could be encouraged to vote one way or another if there is an election in December.
What is happening in the UK, is a warning to us to be very careful about any proposal to amend the constitution to enable fixed four-year terms in Australia. In no way would we want to create the ungovernable mess that Britain is now in. Yes, at present, the Australian prime minister has the power to decide upon the date of an election, generally one considered to be most favourable, but that is subject to many factors outside his control, including the Senate election, the national calendar and the agreement of the Governor-General. Furthermore, on many occasions deciding the date has not helped a sitting government win.
(‘Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government.…’ Winston S Churchill, 11 November 1947)
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