The Contract of Democracy: your rights and responsibilities

Anthony Jeeves Peries

ballottOften we hear people talking about the principle of “freedom” or “liberty”, the protection of the rights of the individual, but rarely do we hear about the responsibilities of the individual. Rights and responsibilities go hand in hand, you cannot have one without the other. This is what I call the “Contract of Democracy” a set of rules, where oddly enough, only half of them are written down.

In the UK we have what is called an “un-codified constitution” this means that our system of government is different to most others. The USA, on the other hand, has a codified constitution, a single document that outlines the rules of government. In the UK we do not have this; the rules of our system of government are spread across various legal books and other texts, and even some unwritten traditions. But whether a constitution is codified or un-codified, they generally stick to talking about the rights of individuals, and the limitations of government. However, the responsibilities of the public are equally important to the democratic process.

In its simplest form, the responsibility of the public is to obey the laws set before them by the government. In a democracy this extends to participating in the democratic process. That means that when there is going to be a vote, you have the right to vote, but it is your responsibility to educate yourself on who, or what, it is that you are voting for. The bottom line is that politicians all tell conflicting stories, so rather than just choosing one that we like the look of, or whoever’s story sounds most plausible, we have to look for ourselves at the evidence, and be critical of the stories we are presented with.

We often hear criticisms of the government, that either they have overstepped their limitations by doing things the public has not consented to, or that they have not fulfilled their functions adequately. Rarely do we hear criticisms of the public, but in a democracy the actions of the public are just as important to achieving legitimate governments as the actions of those who are elected. In recent years, voter turnout has remained staggeringly low. It is a crucial failing of the public that we have neglected to participate in the democratic process of holding the government to account, and providing a legitimate mandate for the future.

If we want better government, we have to engage more. Turnout among young people is unacceptably low. We can change that. Register to vote, educate yourself about the issues, argue with anyone you can about them, learn something, and vote for change.