Fine line between mob rule and 'democracy'

What I find irksome about the so-called proponents of "democracy", and their tireless self-promotion in its cause, is the facile appreciation of what democracy actually means; their equally tireless insistence on twisting the pertinent facts; the money they often throw around in its service; and the company some of them keep.

Let's work backwards.

On the latter score, for example, how offensive was it to note placards amid Saturday's march down Queen St in Auckland singling out Prime Minister John Key for the following abuse: "JFK, John Fuhrer Key"?

The idiocy of this kind of slogan is indicative of the general level of intelligence possessed by some of the people involved.

They evidently perceive "democracy" to be anything they agree with; and conversely, anything they don't, they feel entitled to equate with fascism.

They should cool down, go home and take a look in the mirror.

And whether or not they see a swastika imprinted on their foreheads, they should familiarise themselves with the crimes against humanity - the Holocaust for example - perpetrated in the name of the real Fuhrer and the ideologies he represented.

The Nazis, of course, were fond of marching in the name of their own twisted version of democracy - they called it "national socialism" - which, as it transpired, ultimately included the right to shunt millions of innocent Jews including, possibly, some of Mr Key's own Jewish forebears, into gas chambers.

There is a fine line between self-proclaimed ideals of democracy and mob rule.

Unfortunately, this is the kind of blather that increasingly finds a welcoming home on talkback radio, on the wilder reaches of the blogosphere and in street marches, which can be drummed up over just about any issue as long as you're prepared to throw sufficient money at it.

Estimates of the amount Colin Craig, the organiser of Saturday's March for Democracy, spent on it vary from the vague "hundreds of thousands" to $500,000 or so.

Whether getting 3000 or 4000 along for the occasion represents good value for money, only he can say.

But one could understand if a teensy voice in his head was saying, "Gee whizz, this democracy business, it sure is heavy on the pocket."

And one could also understand if his actions and those of his ilk - extremely wealthy, often right-wing, sometimes fundamentalist Christian - saw a return to vogue of the term "rent-a-mob", ironically much used by conservatives and aimed at anti-establishment protesters of a generation or two ago.

Mr Craig wanted to remind governments of their collective failure in acting upon three citizens-initiated referendums.

Never mind that such referendums are non-binding.

Never mind that we live in a Westminster-style representative democracy in which we elect the candidates and parties who best represent our views because while perhaps not perfect, it is a tried, tested and demonstrably successful form of democratic government.

The March for Democracy's publicity machine has been at pains to point out that 87.4% of New Zealand voters supported amending the "anti-smacking" laws.

Nowhere in the voluminous press releases does it say the voter turnout was 56.09% and that, 87.4% of 56.09% is 49.02% of New Zealand voters.

That is to say, less than a majority.

This is even without reference to the partial nature of the referendum question.

In this it shared flaws with that of the Norm Withers-sponsored referendum on crime and punishment.

The questions at the heart of that were so loose and non-specific as to be, in the end, essentially meaningless - beyond a vague waft of sentiment that few could or would want to take issue with.

It's a technique that Mr Craig and his crew have absorbed well, his march purporting to endorse various uncontroversial sentiments: that the "people of New Zealand are to be valued and respected as individuals who count in a democratic society"; that "we the citizens of New Zealand demand the government employ the principle of democracy; enacting laws in accordance with the majority".

But then taking a disingenuous leap to say, "accordingly, we demand the immediate amendment of the law so that a parent correcting a child with a light smack , etc, etc."

Then again perhaps it's not such a leap.

Protest action is a time-honoured tradition and democratic right.

It should be cherished.

But among these people are those who seem able to confuse John Key with Adolf Hitler, and if they can rationalise that comparison, and other sentiments like it, then they can convince themselves of just about anything.

All the more reason for the rest of us to be vigilant.

• Simon Cunliffe is assistant editor at the Otago Daily Times

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