Philip Coggan, a financial journalist renowned for objectivity and insight, has brought these traits to an analysis of modern democracy and a history of the right to vote. Political analysis is usually marred by partisanship and ideological bias. It is almost disconcerting to read a book which simultaneously dissects the damage done by an expanding welfare state and the insidious corrupting of our political system by an extreme distribution of wealth and influence. Coggan’s relentless objectivity gives great weight to his arguments.
But this book is much more than a crystal clear critique of the current threats to democracy – rising government liabilities, campaign financing by vested interests, and voter apathy. Coggan brings political history alive by tracing the tortuous evolution towards one person one vote. This is a gripping narrative strategy, but also a compelling case for the thesis that power is deeply reluctant to loosen its reins. Often, when we think of the history of suffrage, the civil rights movement and the suffragettes spring to mind. But the battle is centuries old and has afflicted every social group and class, bar the monarchy.
As is typical of Coggan’s work, the writing is superb: clear, articulate and jargon-free. There are also astonishing facts. For example, it took until 1971 for women in Switzerland to obtain the right to vote (and one third of the all-male electorate voted against).
Coggan concludes with an appeal for us to treat each vote as if it were our last. After reading this book it will be hard not to.