“DEMOCRACY is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half the time.” E B White.

The Irish referendum on abortion has put democracy in Northern Ireland under the spotlight. It is now the only part of the UK that denies marriage to same sex couples and abortion to women. In the white heat of the Brexit debate politicians have been falling over each other to reassure us that whatever the final settlement looks like, Northern Ireland will remain an integral part of the UK. Although not, it seems, if you want to exercise your right to marriage or have an abortion.

Democracy appears to be selective: fundamental when it comes to a decision to leave the EU; not when it comes to defending what is regarded as a basic human right in every other country in Europe and every other part of the UK. In this special case, our democratically elected government bows to the dictates of the DUP, an extremist right wing party whose opposition to an abortion referendum in Northern Ireland is predicated on the fact that they know they will lose, but on whose votes the government in Westminster depends.

The propensity for officials, once elected, to abuse their power, abdicate their responsibility and subvert the democratic process for partisan and political advantage is well illustrated across the pond. President Trump has imposed punitive trade tariffs on his allies (supposedly in the name of national security) in order to placate voters in depressed post-industrial communities. Odd that the UK is trusted enough to share highly confidential anti-terrorist intelligence with our American allies, but not trusted to supply specialist steel for weapons construction. The fact that commentators are in overwhelming agreement that tariffs will put more Americans and more Europeans out of jobs than could ever be created in the US steel industry by a factor of at least ten to one, is also irrelevant. Far more important for Trump to bolster his political base and increase his chances of re-election than to be deflected by reality.

Western democracies are quick to decry the misuse of power, subversion of human rights and corruption in developing countries when it suits them. Shameful then, when they themselves are dishonest, deceitful and use the same behaviours to prop up their own ‘democratic’ ambitions.

Until we demand integrity and honesty of our political leaders, local and national and are prepared to hold them to account, expediency will become the dubious yardstick by which all political and ultimately personal behaviour is judged. Our inaction makes us complicit in the slide to corruption.

“Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.” George Bernard Shaw.