You Review: The Last Vote: The Threats to Western Democracy – Philip Coggan

Reviewed by David Young

Any right-thinking person who has been following the smoke-filled room machinations of the Dutch government recently cannot have failed to wonder about the legitimacy of the democratic process. In The Last Vote: The Threats to Western Democracy, Philip Coggan, a financial journalist for the Financial Times and Economist, purports to examine the current state of democracy and propose some solutions to its problems.

Unfortunately there are some drawbacks in his analysis. Firstly he fails to clearly define what he means by “democracy” – indeed we have to wait till page 221 for “Defining the problem,” which I would have thought should be a starting point.

He writes from an entirely British perspective in which anything other than first-past-the-post electoral systems is an aberration – I quote: “Voters need to have a representative who is responsible for their particular area…….this rules out any system based on party lists.” This would come as news to many European politicians.

His background means we are treated to lengthy rehearsals of the current financial crisis, analysis of the role of the IMF and WTO etc., etc., which seem totally irrelevant to the topic. As a journalist he is also prone to remarkable generalisations – one of my favourites is: “Switzerland….is rather better run than California” – a statement which would have any self-respecting academic tearing his hair out.

The author is obviously a smart and well-informed guy who has researched his topic very deeply and widely. He fails to come up with any proposals for improving the current situation, ending with a rather feeble plea to all of us to use our vote. There is a book (maybe several) which urgently needs to be written on this subject – unfortunately this isn’t it.

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