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David Porter » Articles at Suite 101 » The Art of Riding Roughshod Over the Views of Voters and Taxpayers

The Art of Riding Roughshod Over the Views of Voters and Taxpayers

This article was first published on Suite 101, 5 January 2013. It is reprinted here as I transfer material from Suite 101.

As the argument continues about how elected representatives in a democracy balance special pleading and pushing through their own solutions, we pose some further questions. Is Democracy Always a Compromise Between Caving In to Special Interests or Riding Roughshod Over Them?

People opposed to onshore wind farms should not have their views ridden over roughshod. This pearl of masterful wisdom is reported by the Daily Telegraph (4 January 2012) as coming from planning minister Nick Boles to fellow MP John Hayes in a private letter.The report by Christopher Hope, Senior Political Correspondent confirms that Boles told Hayes, local people have genuine concerns.

Other Issues Equally Deserving

He shouldn’t stop there. There are dozens of issues that people have concerns about and perhaps their views should not be ridden over roughshod either.

  • What about gay marriage redefinitions?
  • What about the in/out EU referendum?
  • What about public spending?
  • What about the way taxes are spent?
  • What about defence?
  • What about the licence fees payers money in the BBC?
  • What about free schools, academies, exam reforms, teachers’ pensions?
  • What about care of the elderly and vulnerable?
  • What about health service inflation?

It goes on and on. Every issue that any government must address is going ride roughshod over the view of somebody. On many cases its a minority who have serious concerns which are effectively brushed aside.

On others, its the majority who are ignored, often in a belittling. dismissive and rude manner.

But Isn’t that Democracy?

Well, of course it is. And its all about compromise. In the blurb for the book The Spirit of Compromise: Why Governing Demands It and Campaigning Undermines It, authors Amy Gutman and Dennis Thompson say: If politics is the art of the possible, then compromise is the artistry of democracy. Unless one partisan ideology holds sway over all branches of government, compromise is necessary to govern for the benefit of all citizens. A rejection of compromise biases politics in favor of the status quo, even when the rejection risks crisis. Why then is compromise so difficult in American politics today?

Its just as applicable to British politics. Government here is a compromise, and ever since the 2010 general election led to the creation of the current Conservative/Lib-Dem Coalition, arguably compromise has been high on the political agenda.

The danger is always that plans are set aside by the vocal strength of special interests, whether they be welfare beneficiaries, residents near airports/motorways/rail line, the disabled, children, the sick, the elderly …. everybody is at least one special group.

Politics is not only the art of the possible, it is the art of getting people to perceive certain things. And what voters perceive at the moment is hastily rethought plans, half-hearted prodding of the debt pile hidden under a nest of wasps and changes midstream. Yes, they perceive a lot of cliches/mixed metaphors and often little else, from all the political parties.

Talk of not riding roughshod may be just more of the same ideal sound-bite, or could it be genuine concern? We live in hope.

It was Parliamentary authority Edmund Burke who laid down in 1774 the maxim: ‘Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.’

What’s your opinion in this era of e-democracy and instant social media?


The Daily Telegraph, Wind farm protestors backed by planning minister, Christopher Hope, 3 January 2013

The Spirit of Compromise, by Amy Gutman and Dennis Thompson, 2012, Princeton University Press

More detailed related information:

Reading Between the Lines of the Party Leaders New Year Messages, 31 December 2012

The Governing Compact Is Itself the Danger for UK Coalition, 8 March 2012

Recall of Parliament Is Action Being Seen to be Done, 11 August 2012

Parliamentary e-Petitions: Another Gimmick or Democratic Reform? 7 August 2011

Image: Al Jazeera English


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