Vincent Masterson's speech - Cardinal Newman Sixth Form, Luton  Represented Province 14

Vincent Masterson

'Some people can't be trusted with democracy.'

I propose that some people can't be trusted with democracy.

Nick Clegg spoke in an interview following the EU referendum and recalled a conversation he had with someone prior to the referendum. He asked the man, “How are you going to vote?” The man replied, “Leave, because it will be funny to see what would happen. But your side will win.” “And if we don’t?” Nick Clegg replied. “Oh, that would be awful, the economy would be ruined.” Its instances like this that lead me to thinking that some people can’t be trusted with democracy.

I believe that it is particularly potent to discuss this following the events of 2016, particularly the referendum on our membership of the European Union and the presidential election in America. Regardless of your political opinion, democracy was the loser on both of these occasions. In the EU referendum, the turnout was 72%. This means that 28% of the electorate did not make their opinion heard at the ballot box, equal to 13 million people. In a vote where there was a margin of victory of only 1.3 million, the voice of those 13 million people could have changed the path our country chose to take in leaving the European Union. Perhaps the result would have been the same, but we will never know.

Furthermore, there was a similar pattern in the presidential election in America but this one was even more shocking. I'm not necessarily talking about the result of the election but how it happened. Turnout was an abysmal 55%, meaning that Donald Trump received the equivalent of just 26.3% of the vote from the whole electorate. These statistics were published by CNN, so of course Donald Trump would brand this as being 'fake news'. Nevertheless, the question remains of what would have happened if the 45% had been bothered to vote?

There may be multiple reasons for the low turnout in these and other elections, the system itself, the constant cynicism of the media or indeed the politicians themselves, but it is clear that if just a few more people had made use of the democratic right gifted to them, they could literally have changed the course of history; or to take another view, our future.

Could you imagine for just a moment how people such as Nelson Mandela, who fought for and spent 27 years in jail to ensure black people could have freedom and the right to vote in South Africa, or Emily Pankhurst who led the Suffragette movement whose members literally gave their lives for the right of women to vote in this country, would react to see the freedom they fought so hard for to be disregarded in such a way?

In the words of Franklin. D. Roosevelt, "Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. So many people are not prepared to educate or engage themselves in crucial issues being voted on, but is there a solution to this? It might be that we adopt the Australian system in which people are fined if they do not vote? Alternatively, we could ban people from voting unless they can prove they have achieved a certain level of education.

Indeed it was the great British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill who stated, “Democracy is the worst form of Government, except for all the others!”

However based on the outcome of recent elections and the attitude of those potential voters on the doorstep, I can only conclude that some people can't be trusted with democracy.