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Monday, August 09, 2010

Winston Churchill on Democracy, Constitutional Safeguards and the Separation of Powers

"A healthy male adult bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people's patience." - John Updike

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"The spirit of the Parliament Act, and the purpose of that Act, were to secure the intimate, effective and continuous influence of the will of the people upon the conduct and progress of their affairs. That was the purpose—not the will of the governors or the governesses of the people, but the will of the people...

Democracy, I must explain to the Lord President, does not mean, "We have got our majority, never mind how, and we have our lease of office for five years, so what are you going to do about it?" That is not democracy, that is only small party patter, which will not go down with the mass of the people of this country...

The right hon. Gentleman has an obvious, unconcealable, well-known relish for petty dictatorship. He has many good qualities, but he should always be on guard against his propensity and love to "cat and mouse" people from morning until night. Look at all the power he is enjoying today. No Government in time of peace has ever had such arbitrary power over the lives and actions of the British people, and no Government has ever failed more completely to meet their daily practical needs. Yet the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are avid for more power. No Government has ever combined so passionate a lust for power with such incurable impotence in its exercise. The whole history of this country shows a British instinct—and, I think I may say, a genius—for the division of power. The American Constitution, with its checks and counterchecks, combined with its frequent appeals to the people, embodied much of the ancient wisdom of this island. Of course, there must be proper executive power to any Government, but our British, our English idea, in a special sense, has always been a system of balanced rights and divided authority, with many other persons and organised bodies having to be considered besides the Government of the day and the officials they employ. This essential British wisdom is expressed in many foreign Constitutions which followed our Parliamentary system, outside the totalitarian zone, but never was it so necessary as in a country which has no written Constitution...

It is not Parliament that should rule; it is the people who should rule through Parliament... We accept in the fullest sense of the word the settled and persistent will of the people. All this idea of a group of super men and super-planners, such as we see before us, "playing the angel," as the French call it, and making the masses of the people do what they think is good for them, without any check or correction, is a violation of democracy. Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time; but there is the broad feeling in our country that the people should rule, continuously rule, and that public opinion, expressed by all constitutional means, should shape, guide, and control the actions of Ministers who are their servants and not their masters...

Both progress and stability are needed to make a happy country. But the right hon. Gentleman complains that the present Second Chamber has, from its composition, an undue bias in favour of stability...

No free country of which I have heard up to the present... which is enjoying democratic institutions has adopted single-Chamber Government. The United States, the Swiss, the Dutch, the Belgians, the French even in their latest constitution have a Second Chamber. Eire has created its own Senate... All feel that between the chance vote of an election on universal sufferage and the permanent alteration of the whole slowly built structure of the State and nation there ought to be some modifying process...

Look around at what is happening every day. The idea of a mandate is only a convention. A band of men who have got hold of the machine and have a Parliamentary majority undoubtedly have the power to propose anything they choose without the slightest regard to whether the people like it or not, or the slightest reference to whether or not it was included in their election literature"

PARLIAMENT BILL (Hansard, 11 November 1947): HC Deb 11 November 1947 vol 444 cc203-321)
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