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Only one way to accountability?

I don't know whether this story has surfaced back home. I recommend anyone who hasn't done so to read it. The basic story we get, once more, is the Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, is an anti-semitic arsehole. Coming so closely on the heals of my recent post about tolerance and free speech, and so soon after the world received a clear, stark reminder that speech DOES hurt, particularly if used to do so, I don't think I need to actually write about what I think about the initial incident.

Instead, I want to discuss his views on accountability. From Livingstone's statement: "This decision strikes at the heart of democracy. Elected politicians should only be able to be removed by the voters or for breaking the law. Three members of a body that no one has elected should not be allowed to overturn the votes of millions of Londoners."

First, he hasn't been removed. He has been temporarily suspended. More importantly, though, I want to investigate his claim about three members of a body that no one has elected. Let's think about some other bodies which hold important democratic functions but the individual members are unelected, and let's adapt Livingstone's view, following some hypothetical examples.

The Judiciary

It is generally held as a tenet of democracy that judges can hold their positions without accountability, so that they can perform their functions without fear or favour. I know of no country in the world where the Judiciary is directly elected. Perhaps one of my readers can correct this if I'm wrong, or affirm it if they know for sure?

Says Livingstone:"This decision strikes at the heart of democracy. Three members of a body that no one has elected should not be able to convict an elected official of breaking the law"

The police force and related

In Australia, there is a regular outcry that organisations such as ASIO and AFP are becoming politicised. Can you imagine the farce if we had to elect each individual member of organisations such as the police? The people who controlled the media would virtually be exempt because they would crush a policeman's career...oh...

Says Livingstone:"This decision strikes at the heart of democracy. Elected politicians should not be investigated or arrested by unelected policemen. Only the voters should be able to do that."


Says Livingstone:"This decision strikes at the heart of democracy. Elected politicians should not be constrained by the laws of gravity devised by unelected scientists."


I don't want to labour the point (too late), but in the UK, the Head of State is unelected. In fact unelected and hereditary. The House of Lords is unelected. Both of which serve important functions in preserving democracy, and while these functions could be performed by elected politicians, such as in the US, I'm not convinced that this leads to a better functioning democracy.

More to the point, these "unelected officials" are, presumably, accountable to a given minister. They are appointed because it is far easier, politically, to have an appointed panel ruling on such matters than allowing a politician to make these decisions arbitrarily and without appropriate recourse or appearance of due process.

We don't want voters to have to make political decisions every 3 weeks. That just gets stupid. But we can't leave politicians with no form of accountability between one election and the next. Particularly as this gives a retiring politician a free hand in what they can do. Consequently we need people to be able to make interim decisions.

In general, we elect people to make political decisions. We elect people to set direction and make the rules. We don't elect people to carry them out. But the elected are still responsible for following the rules, not just obeying the letter of the criminal law.

And hopefully the millions of voters in London will do just he thinks appropriate, and kick him out next election.


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