Friday, 8 May 2015

Democracy and Jubilee the elephant

For some reason today I am reminded of the first occasion I wondered whether it was conceptually possible that democracy could deliver, not just a result I didn’t like but rather, something that surely no one with a proper view of the facts could think the best.

In 1977 a baby elephant was born in Chester Zoo and the BBC children’s television programme Blue Peter was given the task of polling popular opinion for the choice of name. It being 1977, a particular year long royal event was much in the news. As a Cub Scout, I was issued with a huge badge to be worn all that year and there was much predictable and eventually quite tedious hoo-hah even as far I, as an impressionable 12 year old, was concerned. So it was no surprise at all when the utterly witless suggestion ‘Jubilee’ topped the poll for the elephant’s name with about 90% of the votes and some random people were awarded prizes for having had just the same idea as everyone else.

I seem to recall that the third name was completely left-field. Perhaps ‘Gary’. Quite why half a dozen people thought of that I’ve no idea.

But in second place, with perhaps 10% of the vote,  came the rather more imaginative ‘Jumbilee’, a nice compromise of royalist atmosphere with something at least a little elephant specific. Also an idea that required even just a bit of imagination. Surely, I thought, this is obviously better than the actual winner? And what shame must the idiots collecting their prizes for not having thought at all be feeling? Crucially, if they were in possession of the full facts, surely no-one who voted ‘Jubilee’ would really defend it in the face of ‘Jumbilee’, the objectively better name? Such were my 12 year old’s thoughts and doubts. But it seemed, and it still seems, difficult baldly and boldly to think that most people are just idiots and democracy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.