Should we let our leaders lead?

Here’s a question for you. Do you want more involvement in the decisions your leaders take? I ask because we’re broadcasting from the Civicus World Assembly today and it’s fair to say all of those attending believe it’s a good idea.

Their goal is to nurture and protect ‘participatory democracy’. Leaving the jargon to one side, they want ordinary people and the organisations that represent them to have more continuous influence over your government’s policies and decisions. I’m curious to hear whether that’s actually the type of democracy you want? Or would you rather have a leader who’s elected every five years, and then is trusted make the right decisions? We’ll have a room full of delegates and they’ve told us they’d like to ask you about this. Please post here.

32 Responses to “Should we let our leaders lead?”

  1. 1 Robert
    June 20, 2008 at 14:08

    True democracy is identical to anarchy. The rights of minorities are removed simply on the whim of the majority. I think it was Churchill who commented that the hard thing is not to give the people what they want but what they need.

    Whilst the public is good at showing the general direction of opinion, the exact details and compromises are often impossible to work out with a continous influence.

    The best system is therefore the one which we have and use. The public decide which general direction they would want the government to go during general election but the details are best left to government to balance the different conflicts that arise. If the public got a say in all issues then government would effectively stall and produce so many dramatic unplanned swings in policies it would be unworkable.

    To give an example. To solve the current credit crisis the majority of people would want lower interest rates to drive the economy and house prices. However if this is done then the economy will over heat and we do serious long term damage to the system. Although it goes against the majority the specialist minority must have more influence in situations like this and make the best decision all round. The next question of this is how to you decide who the specialist minority is?

  2. 2 Brett
    June 20, 2008 at 14:10

    When you have a great leader like good ole Dubya, why stand in the way?

  3. 3 Rob Briggs
    June 20, 2008 at 14:44

    I’d like to have a government that was less responsive to vested interests which have no regard for the common good. Money talks. American politicians will admit that money can get you “access” to the legislator but say that they vote for the best interests of their constituents. They don’t. They respond to cash donations to their “campaign”. Those contributions are theirs keep and do with what they wish.

    I would welcome a single 6 year term for our President, as it is in Mexico, because then he (or she) might be inspired to do something without one eye on the upcoming election.

    It’s a nasty system and is not responsive to the citizenry but as Winnie Churchill said “It’s better than whatever is next best” (or something to that effect.)

  4. 4 Dan
    June 20, 2008 at 14:50

    Leaders should absolutely lead as the general public sways with each passing wind and an uninformed or uneducated public making decisions is in a true Democracy, as Robert points out, Anarchy.
    The problem in the USA is that we no longer have leaders just elected officials who no longer believe they serve the people but are there to put as much loot into their own pockets as they can.
    People no longer trust their “leaders” and we have a paralysis of government where politicians have little time to take their snouts out of the public treasury to pass a bad or ill conceived law.

  5. 5 Shirley
    June 20, 2008 at 14:57

    I think that it wuld be an excellent idea to subject our political leaders to regular townhall-style meetings with the common people in various places. I would also like to see more referendums on bills, even various versions of bills, that are about to be passed. If the government is of the people, by the people, and for the people, then we the people really need to be more involved.

  6. 6 Larry Koskela
    June 20, 2008 at 15:54

    We need more leadership, not less!

  7. June 20, 2008 at 16:15

    Hi Rob Briggs, Dan and Shirley
    Akbar here in Tehran
    Vested interest, nepotism, paraphernalia of office are out. Leaders lead, yes, but with watchdog bodies and civil rights groups breathing down their neck. It is so easy to lapse into indolence and forget who put you there or what you were supposed to do.
    Meet the public, certainly. Come face to face with the problem. See how the other half lives now and then. Give the man in the street a better deal. None of the “sacrosanct” and “do it or else” stuff please.
    I am not sure elections are valid in the modern context. The electorate is more important than deputies, but how do you get that across? Universal franchise, yes, but we are all equally unequal, but how do you reflect this in the ballot box?

  8. 8 Will Rhodes
    June 20, 2008 at 16:55

    For political junkies like me there really is only one answer, which I must say is NOT applicable to the majority – and that is the people should have 100% more say in the way a government goes, what it does and the way it represents the people. The power of any government should be based on fear – a fear of the population/citizens of the respective nation.

    I am also very realistic – I know that is not going to happen.

    So the only realistic way is to have leaders with the ability to lead. That, unfortunately, we do not have nor have had for many a long decade.

  9. 9 Mark from kansas
    June 20, 2008 at 17:07

    Depends on the leader, depends on the government. American checks and balances have failed horribly, and what we have now does resemble the original at all, what hapened to one rep for 30,000 people. We can build a bigger senate chamber no problem. We have to much power in to few hands.
    The EU is something, they cant decide. They should take the US constition and just replace America with Europe, see if that will pass, Or maybe switch to a majority vote instead. No one knows where the power lies yet.
    Middle east has a religeous approach and that can be a great thing, if only more leaders (the crazy ones, I know most middle eastern people are normal peacefull people) would pay attention to the whole not killing, and respecting thy neighbor thing. There the people need to have a little more say.
    Africa is a sad sad place. Mass rape of children and adults, Genocide go unchecked, voting at gun point. Ther is no power there only pirates and theives stealing the food, life, dignity, and money of suffering people. The next world war should be fought fo those people to end their suffering and bring these criminals to justice, as the death toll im sure has surpased those of Hitlers crimes.
    The far east is neat, but i really dont know that much about it, Ill have to work on that.
    China, is effective but brutal at times. Over all they are the most effective in their execution of policy, they get things done they get them done quickly. Not so nice to their people some times, but they did respond faster with a larger more effective response to their natural disasters then the US. That is the number one mandate of a nation, to take care of it’s people. I feel weird saying this but China seems to have the most effective government on the planet right now even with their seemingly un balance of power.
    I love my country I beleive in democracy, the bottom line is the bottom line.

  10. 10 Pangolin-California
    June 20, 2008 at 17:10

    In the US, our leaders tend to be the kind of people who were popular in Junior High School. This means that they have almost no understanding of how the physical world is put together or how it might be changed to benefit the civic body.

    The average US leader thinks that health care is provided by insurance agents and that the supply of gasoline is infinite.

    Let the leaders follow; they are too foolish to lead.

  11. 11 Jens
    June 20, 2008 at 17:17

    well, i always maintain that “politics is too seriouse to leave to the politicians”.

  12. 12 Katharina in Ghent
    June 20, 2008 at 17:18

    Well, the reason why we elect leaders is because we want them to lead, and we want them to lead us into the direction that we think is the right one, otherwise they needn’t make so many promises… Strong leaders have the courage to make unpopular decisions ie. raise taxes to improve health care and schools (wasn’t there a thread for this somewhere, too?) . Of course you then run the risk that the leader abuses his position and sends his country into a war that nobody wants… power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    That’s why there have to be ways to keep your leader in check and stop him when he’s going too far, usually that’s where the (usually) two chambers of parliament step in, but of course, if they’re of the same party, then they will approve anything and everything.

    We can also look at the way how Switzerland has organized its democrazy, where the citizens get a say about almost everything. But what happened there is that in some parts women were not allowed to vote well into the nineties, because the men in that area had to vote about whether to grant this “privilege” or not… To me, that’s taking it too far.

  13. 13 Tracy
    June 20, 2008 at 17:29

    I think having elected leaders is necessary to expedite day to day operations of government. However here in the United States we do not have a true democracy. The district I live in may overwhelmingly vote for one candidate but the electoral representative for the district may choose on their own volition to vote for another. Also the two party monoploy makes a true domocracy impossible. Add to that some disturbing implications about how elections are run ie not enough voting boothes for some areas, dropping people from voting rolls. The democratic propaganda put out by the US government rings hollow.
    Portland OR

  14. 14 Virginia Davis
    June 20, 2008 at 17:45

    I live in a democracy (the United States) which has been energized by two terms of imposed oligarchy. A straying from the path of “real” democracy and the effects of machinations of power and money.

    In this election season, more and more individuals, one person, one vote type individuals see common cause in getting involved. The internet is important here. Young people are important because many of them live in the real world and want to make a difference.

    I have always considered myself a leader and as a worker believed in collectives.
    I get envelopes from “the leaders of the Oregon Democratic Party” and throw them away unopened. Because I worked hard, and in a small party group of women Democrats who wanted universal health care, and some of the “leaders” sabotaged our efforts.

    Most recently I gave money to support a real maverick here in Oregon, and the Democratic machine defeated his run for the Democratic nomination against Gordon Smith. Now two Democratic women leaders are on a TV spot for Smith.

    So yes, everybody get involved. Demand transparent government. Articulate your visions. Use technology. Work for Obama OR McCain. And look for the “signs” – they are there. Last night’s Charlie Rose program had an environmentalist who’d been consulted by Texas money on how to proceed on an energy question. Imagine a conspiracy of “all the best” from the 60’s as engaged support. Believe in people. Believe in yourself.

    Virginia in Oregon

  15. 15 Duncan Taylor
    June 20, 2008 at 18:10

    1 vote every 5 years is not really democracy when the elected person can ignore or change their pledges. Also, the elected party assumes that because they are in power, they have been given a free mandate to do whatever they want. There should have been a vote on the EU 10 years ago but it is unlikely to ever happen. People do not pick a subject like the EU and based their entire decision on that one issue. If that was the case, then BNP would have been in power long ago. I believe that governments should have to ask the people when decision are to be made on issue which are outside of the ‘norm’.

  16. 16 Bob P- USA
    June 20, 2008 at 18:43

    I don’t think we should have direct input on day to day things our government does. That is why they are elected. The state I live in has the ability to put initiatives on the ballot if the legislature does or doesn’t do something that they don’t like. It really makes it difficult for our elected officials to do there jobs.

  17. 17 Vijay
    June 20, 2008 at 18:45

    The more extreme the conditions the more interest there is in politics and leadership.In western countries hardly anybody is bothered about politicians and politics,just look at the voting percentages.
    Having said that, anthropologists like Desmond Morris have shown that humans instinctively look for leadership .

  18. 18 kalypso-vienna,austria
    June 20, 2008 at 18:47

    i think the big problem with “western live style” is the lack of values. we should NOT aspire to this.

  19. 19 Thomas Murray
    June 20, 2008 at 19:49

    Robert’s comment reminds me of the first rule of screenwriting: Always respect your audience. ALWAYS give them what they want, but never give them what they expect.

    I participate in my government as much as I can. I enjoy working the polls (our motto: “EVERYBODY votes!”), and I’m an somewhat frequent letter writer to my Congressperson, and, when the stakes are high, to the president. It’s good therapy, and in some little way I feel I’ve been able to do some good.

    But I don’t deceive myself that any letter is read by the president, only by some lower-level aide who throws the letter into either the “FOR” box, the “AGAINST” box, and the “DETAIN IMMEDIATELY” box, as I’m also cognizant that threats are taken seriiously.

    But each letter represents a bloc of opinion. And the number of “FORS” and “AGAINSTS” go into the mix when considering public opinion.

    It also eases my mind to realize that somewhere in the basement of the Bush White House is an “AGAINST” box with my letter advising against the invasion of Iraq. My only regret being that in it I used humor to make my case. Which is another no-no when writing a public figure: They want it straight and serious.

    Reagan responded to folksy metaphor. The Bush the First people seemed to like epic counter-arguments. Clinton’s people responded to grass roots pragmatism and compromise. I think the Bush II team responds to historical precedent.

    And though the locals ignore me completely — they go positively into a fascist redneck snit about being criticised — I’ve found that with a genteel style, a little researched insight, and a dab of self-deprecating humor, I can get even my congressperson to respond to me.

    And it’s always nice to get that boilerplate thank you note back written by some flunky on high-grade typing paper with the official seal watermarked on it. But with this in mind, take this final rule seriously: ALWAYS be VERY CAREFUL what you write, because they might do EXACTLY what you suggest.

    What might start out as a joke, might have you waking up the next week with the realization that you’ve gotten the entire Fifth Fleet bottled-up in the Bosporus.

    And no, unless there’s only five people left on the Earth and it needs to be repopulated fast to fight the zombie mutant invaders from Mars (who always seem to show up when there’s only five people left on Earth), it’s never a good thing to let teenage girls get pregnant. Where did this question come from?
    Bug Tussle?

    –Regards. Louisville, Kentucky, US.

  20. 20 savane
    June 20, 2008 at 19:55

    In Kenya we have lots of leadership. What we lack, especially politically, is good, effective leadership.

    The national budget was read in Parliament this week, and the Finance Manager plans to tax MPs allowances. Kenyans reaction? It’s about time!!! The MPs? This is a quote from one MP: “Why should we pay tax? We’ll end up as miserable as our constituents! MPs not paying tax is not the reason why Kenya’s inflation rate is rising. Besides, we have to tap into our salaries and allowances to pay for funerals and fundraising efforts for our constituents!”

    Did I mention that our MPs approve their remuneration through Parliament? They earn about US$100,000 per year, and are one of the top 5, best paid MPs in the world!

    For the rest of Kenyans, taxation begins from an annual salary of US$3,000 at a base rate of 30%!

    And just like all other Kenyans, they contribute to funeral and other fundraisers too!

  21. 21 Rick
    June 21, 2008 at 10:31

    Thank you Thomas Murray. Nice to see everyone doesn’t take themselves too seriously.
    I can email my PM but always get a note back that my mail has been forwarded to the appropriate department. Then I get a note that it has arrived at the wrong department and should be forwarded to another one. No link or address included of course. And on it goes.

  22. 22 Shakhoor Rehman
    June 21, 2008 at 11:53

    Once elected, yes. Scrutiny of what they do is also necessary and annual elections would be useful.

  23. 23 John in Germany
    June 21, 2008 at 12:33

    Only if they convince us that it is we that they have at heart, and not their own egocentric whims. That they listen to us, and not the lobbyists. That they household just as our wife’s do, and not throw our money down the drain, or give it away as if the purse has no bottom. That they are prepared to work as their conscious dictates and not the party line. That they keep the pre election prommisses, and not back down as soon as they take their seats in the house.

    We have a lot that are good, and deserve praise, but many more that would be out on there A……………..in a normal commercial environment (and i mean normal).

    And so on.

    John in Germany.

  24. 24 John van Dokkumburg
    June 21, 2008 at 22:42

    Infact , if our constitution allows us to walk the road with and to anarchie , we never have a clean direction … Anarchie begins on the middle of the swort , in the middle of focus .. if we think – this life is the only life – , we keep on getting anarchie , getting the best of our lifes .. If we want it our not .. This now and here time is infact the making of – spiritual – believe , that there must be a better way ( spiritualy ) to life in understanding of the law .. thats the reason we have religion .. it learns us to transformate so we choose the automatic justisch in life … the way our earth ask to live to … We need to have a c-l-o-s-e-r / p-e-r-s-o-n-a-l relation with – the religion to be a easy human in the works – , not lead by church our moskee our the “money saver” …

  25. 25 John van Dokkumburg
    June 21, 2008 at 23:51

    Do you want more involvement in the decisions your leaders take? I do know that that must be, but they never should have the power of punishing us but … they must be a example to live pro life . Now they often are slaves of market solutions and history and so in that way , we dont have the leaders we wish and because they do a lot bad comprimise our not open /take time for dialog ( for open our land for responsable live the life of justice in spiritual togethernis ) Stop defending your anti life / ( wrong ) ideas to lead the communion , – we are not babys .

    I think , leaders must be in a way , learn there lesson and get overboard , making deals with criminals, to keep them bad .. yes bad , because bad is the slave of good. and good is democratie , only the good knows how it works , the bad only destruction it and needs more bad of the leader . Now hear , i say it to the goodies : Lets make it better , dont listen to the leader but be a misleader of all !!

  26. 26 Ogola Benard
    June 22, 2008 at 09:21

    The thing is very clear that the world democracy shall stand not to be changed. Leader should not lag in power but should stay as per the term given, say five years. If this does’nt happen the world starts expiriencing the Mugabe type of regime.
    When you talk about consultations and committees and polices which are later changed to suit persoanl interest other than the one agreed upon – Ask one question!
    Why is it that when we call on phone , a minister or person of high level in government, his phone will either be switched off or some other person will respond to the call and the answer will be his out.
    I guess he was involved in the same committee and formulation of the same policy but now not ready for any abrupt phone calls.
    some of these people dont even understand the world policy and even the word committee itself.

  27. June 22, 2008 at 15:30

    I have to agree with Brett. George W. Bush has figured out a way to drag all the liberal, gutless, know nothings….kicking, screaming along with him. If there was anyone with an idea in their heads and an ability to transform good ideas into a meaningful course of action….they would have been successful in opposing all that George W. Bush decides the people need. Their needs are a lot more important than their surface screams for immediate gratification.

    Remember W is the decider. Thank the cosmos he is not one of those egomaniacs. Notice no one has lost any freedoms in America and still there are no terrorists attacking the homeland and all the liberals screaming their heads off that the sky is falling.

    We have an unusually heavy load of spoiled brats over here who are convinced they are smart, but need to go to their theroshrinks to try to discover why they are unhappy and no one loves them.

    I say draft the malcontents and use them for bait in the war against religous nut cases who want everyone killed so that allah will be happy with them and reward them with 72 ugly, stincking, chattering endlessly virgins. Hint, hint, there was a reason why those things were virgins.


  28. 28 Dennis
    June 22, 2008 at 15:35

    We need more leadership like that of Bill Clinton in the United States…And less of George W. Bush (Current PRESIDENT of the United States)…

    I personally think that we should let our leaders lead, with some precautions and warnings imposed on them…

    Onondaga Community College
    Syracuse, New York
    United States of America

  29. June 23, 2008 at 05:21

    Sorry Dennis,

    Clinton set up the Problems Bush had to deal with. While he would not deal with the terrorists on the first World Trade Center Bombing and all the other swipes at us, he cashed in on the fall of the Soviet Union by massively cutting back the military under the guise of a peace dividend, thereby slashing our military to the point when we really needed it after 9-11 we did not have it.

    His two great regrets were not dealing with Saddam, and not dealing with the genocide in Rueanda. Clinton was a crook as he proved by letting all the really bad people off with pardons as he left office.

    I did like him, but he was a horrible President.


  30. 30 Gretchen Eldrich
    June 23, 2008 at 14:04

    the current Bush administration (thankfully winding down but like a dinosaur, though the brain is dead the body is still moving) is a great and terrible example of a leader who said anything he needed in order to get elected, then once in office realized he could do basically whatever he wanted. The electorate were a stepping stone and need not be considered once their usefulness has ended.

    Witness the vp Cheney asked in an interview about the majority of Americans wanting the troops to come home from Iraq. His response: “So?”

    Even people I don’t agree with, conservative christian evangelicals (never thought I’d empathise with them) can rightfully feel used, since he played them like a violin goading them to the polls over fear of abortion and gay rights, and has largely ignored their concerns once in office.

    Amazingly, 4 years after this performance, he did the exact same thing again.

    I’d like to see a president much more subject to votes of no confidence or some other check on the ever increasingly king-like loftiness of the office. They may be the boss of us but they aren’t the king of us. CEOs get ousted by the board of directors in response to the shareholders, why is impeachment so unthinkable? They tried to impeach Clinton for getting a little nookie in the Oval Office….Bush has lied us into a disastrous campaign costing thousands of lives, the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians, and our reputation around the world.

  31. 31 Hanson Klitte, Belgium
    June 23, 2008 at 14:35

    I think the George W Bush was a brilliant politician and president. He was faced with an immense challenge and a dilemma following 9/11 terrorist attack to New York. After 5 minutes of thinking he decided to wage war and his popularity soared and went trough the roof. He seemed to be on holiday prior to this horrible event since he was elected, or did he go to articulation lessons, what was he doing I wonder? Where was he?

    This approach was then followed by Tony Blair, whose popularity in Britain, was only surpassed by the late Princess Diana, who bless her tried to make a change in the world where an individual cannot do anything any more, even if they are royalty. Tony’s decision to take Britain to war was his ultimate undoing, oh yes and the sleaze and party donations and the spin. Still he was one of the greatest Labour prime ministers in history and I have a lot of respect for him.

    I can only hope that George W Bush and Tony Blair legacy will remain imprinted in the American and the British electorate. This legacy is clear – we will no longer focus on our policies and what really matters to our countries and the people who elect us. We will do only what is good for the economy no matter how immoral or wrong this might be. We will hire some think tanks, devise clear political branding, and blatantly tell people that they are as a group easily programmed with marketing and spin and as a public will buy anything that the newspapers and the media say. Well done George and Tony for taking politics to a totally new level. I am so pleased that it is finally clear how modern democracy works in reality. Or should it work like this?

  32. June 24, 2008 at 08:22

    In my opinion, the decions that leaders take need more involvement becouse ,always,they never base it what all the community need especially African leaders.
    Their ideolgy is different from the community’s one since they are always dictatorial and never allow people to interfer the goverment affairs and never take care of thier needs.

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