This blog post was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

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Peter Millett

Ambassador to Libya, Tripoli

Part of UK in Jordan

5th March 2014

The Worst Form of Government

Winston Churchill once said that: “democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others that have been tried.” His cynicism was perhaps justified after the British people voted him out from his position as Prime Minister within months of winning the Second World War.

Whether it is the worst form of government or not, there is little doubt that the alternatives are worse. Suppressing people’s views through dictatorship or tyranny means the rule of a narrow minority over the rest. Imposing stability through fear is not the best way to provide the security, prosperity and growth that will make people’s lives better.

True stability means giving people a voice in the way they are governed, to back the individuals and the policies that they deem capable of making their lives better; and to remove governments that fail to deliver. That connection between the people and their government is pivotal, especially at difficult times.

Democracy is not only about elections: it is also about creating and encouraging the building blocks of an open and fair society: the rule of law, protection of minorities, strong political parties, liberty, a free media, a strong role for civil society and action against corruption.

Building these democratic institutions takes time. Countries like the United Kingdom have been doing it for hundreds of years. England went through a vicious civil war 350 years ago which culminated in Parliament executing the King. France went through a bloody revolution over 200 years ago and also ended up guillotining the monarch.

These are not necessarily great examples for other countries to follow! But they illustrate the fact that democracy takes time. It is a process not an event. There will inevitably be bumps along the road. And it will mean continually adjusting to new demands for better ways to deliver governments that can govern effectively.

Evolution is better than revolution. And peaceful protest is better than rebellion. The Arab world has seen revolutions and rebellions in the last three years in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and the ongoing tragedy of Syria.

It has been those countries that have accepted the need for incremental change, like Jordan and Morocco that have retained their stability. A common theme in all these countries has been the demand for dignity: that people should not be humiliated by violent suppression, but participate effectively in their governance. Responding to this demand is essential.

Change takes time. There will always be resistance: those people who have been used to political and economic privileges are not always keen to give them up. But it is impossible to keep all the people happy all the time. Responding to the demands and aspirations of people for reform is a fundamental component of stability. Equally, democracy requires people to have the freedom to challenge policy and criticise those who are driving it.

The conspiracy theorists seem to believe that countries outside the Arab world want to interfere in the way countries develop their democracies. Interference is wrong: each country has to respond to the demands of its people in its own way. There is no Western model. Democracy must be built on the history, traditions and political culture of each country in its own way.

What other countries can do is share experience. Bring lessons of what worked and what didn’t. Show that achieving lasting positive change is the work of many generations. And illustrate the fact that it is worth the effort: that each country can achieve, not the best form of government; nor the worst; but the one that works for them.

2 comments on “The Worst Form of Government

  1. “Democracy is when the indigent men , and not the men of property , are the rulers”.
    (Grecian philosoph Aristotle)

    Dear Peter ,
    thanks a lot for sharing this interesting/important report of yours. Well, of course I can ‘t comment yr. entire wise lines. So pls. allow me to pick-up the – to me- most remarkable 2 sentences : # 1 , “Free Media…”. It’s surely a ground pillar of a democracy that the press -online and print media – can write of what they want to. But : After several scandals in re . of hurting the “Private – Sphere” of some (politicians / V.I.P ‘s) people I ‘m doubting of HOW FAR some journalists can go. # 2 : “Evolution is…”. These lines are so notable for they also do mean that there is a peacful, non-violence , way of progress going on which might find its deserved end in a full working democratic system (someday )worldwide.
    “..we wanna dare more democracy / wir wollen mehr Demokratie wagen…”. (Willy Brandt, Peacenobel- Prizewinner, 1970).
    Best wishes, liebe Grüßle, Ingo-Steven, Stuttgart

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About Peter Millett

Peter arrived in Tunis on 23 June 2015 to take up his post as Ambassador to Libya. Previously he was British Ambassador to Jordan from February 2011 to June 2015. He was High Commissioner to…

Peter arrived in Tunis on 23 June 2015 to take up his post as
Ambassador to Libya.
Previously he was British Ambassador to Jordan from February 2011 to June 2015.
He was High Commissioner to Cyprus from 2005 – 2010.
He was Director of Security in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
from 2002-2005, dealing with all aspects of security for British
diplomatic missions overseas.
From 1997-2001 he served as Deputy Head of Mission in Athens.
From 1993-96 Mr Millett was Head of Personnel Policy in the FCO.
From 1989-93 he held the post of First Secretary (Energy) in the UK
Representative Office to the European Union in Brussels, representing
the UK on all energy and nuclear issues.
From 1981-1985 he served as Second Secretary (Political) in Doha.
Peter was born in 1955 in London.  He is married to June Millett and
has three daughters, born in 1984, 1987 and 1991.  
His interests include his family, tennis and travel.