The idea that there is a democratic deficit at the heart of the European Union is nothing new. It has been a recurrent theme of those critical of the EU for several decades. There is also a growing realisation that there is a democratic deficit at the heart of the British system of government as well. Yes we elect MPs every five years but once they are elected they appear to forget those who elected them until it comes to the next electoral cycle. What people find increasingly irksome is the patronising attitude of politicians who appear to take the view that you elected us and if you don’t like what we’re doing you can vote us out at the next election! Now this might have been a (barely) acceptable position before the 1960s but people are more politically aware and confrontational today. They have views and expect politicians to respond to their concerns which they are often unwilling or unable to do. The result of all this is that political decisions are frequently made by a small cadre of career politicians or, in the case of the EU, unelected officials both of whom have their own agenda that they pursue irrespective of what people say.
Herein lies the problem of the democratic deficit and it’s a problem facing all ‘democracies’. Democracy is increasing losing its core principles: ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’ in favour of a technocratic view of democracy in which frequently unaccountable ‘experts’ propound solutions that are then implemented by elected politicians. This is not to suggest that those solutions are wrong or that they do not benefit the people but that misses the point. The essence of a democratic system is that it is accountable to the people and ‘technocracy’ is, by its nature, largely unaccountable. Take the vexed question of the proposed referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU. It is clear, whatever your views, that the British people have been crying out for the right to vote for or against the Union for the past decade (if not longer) but it has not happened despite the promises of successive governments. The reasons for this are relatively simple: politicians of all parties generally say that this isn't the right time largely because they think they’ll lose.