Ancient and modern

Corbyn’s false democracy

6 October 2018

9:00 AM

6 October 2018

9:00 AM

At the Labour party conference, Jeremy Corbyn said that he would do whatever his party members told him to. This, apparently, is what he means by democracy. Neither the original nor the modern version bears any resemblance to it.

Full-on Athenian direct democracy developed from its origins in 508 bc into a system in which every Athenian male citizen over 18 could attend an official Assembly (usually once a week) and determine, by a majority show of hands, whatever policy was put before them. These policies were presented by the Council, which consisted of 500 citizens aged over 30, serving for one year only and never more than two. They were appointed by lot via proportional representation, from the 139 demes (roughly, parishes) that made up Athens’ city-state. The Council was available at any time to accept any business put before it, and decided the form in which it would be put to the Assembly. But the Assembly was sovereign: it could change the proposal or send it back to the Council as it saw fit.


Most officials who turned policy into action were appointed for one year only, most again by lot. All were subject to regular audit by the Assembly and, if responsible for any failure, could be fined, exiled or executed. The Assembly, probably 95 per cent of whom were poor, voted for the rich to pay for almost everything (war, triremes, festivals, etc), but at least gave them full credit for it.

All this sounds like a Corbyn wonderland — apart from the regular audits and credit to the rich — but bears no relation to party-based, parliamentary democracy. In case he had not noticed, this works by accountable MPs producing policies on the strength of which they hope the nation will elect them. But Corbyn’s policies will be produced by unaccountable party members. There is nothing to stop them changing policy whenever the mood takes them, and Corbyn’s zombie MPs will be helpless to stop them. So stuff the nation: none of us will have the faintest idea what we are voting for.

That’s old-left ‘democracy’ for you. Nooo, Jeremy Cooorbyn.

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