In Britain, national elections are coming to mean less than they used to. While democratic institutions such as political parties and the House of Commons are losing ground, non-elective ones are usurping their powers.
Power-hungry and fee-hungry members of the British legal establishment and commentators with Liberal Democrat sympathies are overly fond of citing Lord Hailsham's 1976 critique of our "elective dictatorship". The idea that our elected representatives have virtually unlimited powers which, therefore, need to be restricted would be laughable, were it not so often accepted. Hailsham's mistaken and outdated analysis has been used by advocates of constitutional reform to reduce the role of an already weakened House of Commons still further. The danger is that the real powerbrokers in British and European politics have devised ways to make themselves largely immune from the popular will as expressed at the ballot box.
Britain's entry into what was then the European Economic Community and is now the European Union has led to a loss of sovereignty on a scale that was hardly understood by British electors in the 1970s and has been carefully disguised since then. Whatever the merits of the EU, it has undermined the democracy of its member states without substituting a continent-wide democratic alternative. The result is rule by technocrats and by cartels of political leaders.
The pressure in much of Europe and in Britain itself for elections by proportional representation and for the state funding of parties has led to what Peter Mair and Richard Katz term "cartel parties". Almost irrespective of the election results, governments are characteristically formed or overthrown in backroom negotiations between party bosses, all of whom are assured of their public salaries and benefits.
Policy decisions are increasingly determined by judges in national and international courts. Senior civil servants, often linked too closely with barely regulated pressure groups, are ascendant. There are more elections but they decide less and less.