I just came across this passage from Charles Dickens’s novel Nicholas Nickleby. Mr. Gregsbury is a member of Parliament, and Mr. Pugstyles is the spokesman for a delegation sent by his constituents to confront him. Take note of the nature of the complaints against the politician (emphasis added):
This permission being conceded, Mr Pugstyles put on his spectacles, and referred to a written paper which he drew from his pocket; whereupon nearly every other member of the deputation pulled a written paper from HIS pocket, to check Mr Pugstyles off, as he read the questions.
This done, Mr Pugstyles proceeded to business.
‘Question number one.–Whether, sir, you did not give a voluntary pledge previous to your election, that in event of your being returned, you would immediately put down the practice of coughing and groaning in the House of Commons. And whether you did not submit to be coughed and groaned down in the very first debate of the session, and have since made no effort to effect a reform in this respect? Whether you did not also pledge yourself to astonish
the government, and make them shrink in their shoes? And whether you have astonished them, and made them shrink in their shoes, or not?’
‘Go on to the next one, my dear Pugstyles,’ said Mr Gregsbury.
‘Have you any explanation to offer with reference to that question, sir?’ asked Mr Pugstyles.
‘Certainly not,’ said Mr Gregsbury.
The members of the deputation looked fiercely at each other, and afterwards at the member. ‘Dear Pugstyles’ having taken a very long stare at Mr Gregsbury over the tops of his spectacles, resumed his list of inquiries.
‘Question number two.–Whether, sir, you did not likewise give a voluntary pledge that you would support your colleague on every occasion; and whether you did not, the night before last, desert him and vote upon the other side, because the wife of a leader on that other side had invited Mrs Gregsbury to an evening party?’
‘Go on,’ said Mr Gregsbury.
‘Nothing to say on that, either, sir?’ asked the spokesman.
‘Nothing whatever,’ replied Mr Gregsbury. The deputation, who had only seen him at canvassing or election time, were struck dumb by his coolness. He didn’t appear like the same man; then he was all milk and honey; now he was all starch and vinegar. But men ARE so different at different times!
‘Question number three–and last,’ said Mr Pugstyles, emphatically. ‘Whether, sir, you did not state upon the hustings, that it was your firm and determined intention to oppose everything proposed; to divide the house upon every question, to move for returns on every subject, to place a motion on the books every day, and, in short, in your own memorable words, to play the very devil with everything and everybody?’ With this comprehensive inquiry, Mr Pugstyles folded up his list of questions, as did all his backers.
Mr Gregsbury reflected, blew his nose, threw himself further back in his chair, came forward again, leaning his elbows on the table, made a triangle with his two thumbs and his two forefingers, and tapping his nose with the apex thereof, replied (smiling as he said it), ‘I deny everything.’
What is there to do? Gregsbury refuses to resign, and the delegation shuffles out, leaving the politician chuckling to himself in his chair.
So, our problems with representative democracy are not new. Here’s a flaw known back, at the very least, in 1848. The chief differences being that the government has since claimed for itself mammoth power to direct the lives of the people and that technology has enabled a level of control never before possible.