The Minister of Magic isn’t even elected! Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Show Hide image

Can wizards vote in Muggle elections? Plus other questions about wizarding democracy

As Rufus Scrimgeour put it: “These are dark times, there is no denying. Our world has perhaps faced no greater threat than it does today.”

During one of the most complex and unpredictable elections of recent years, our democratic process seems shrouded in darkness. Phrases like “no-confidence”, “caretaker convention”, “minority coalition” and “purdah” command a sense of mystery and bafflement. Citizens whisper in the streets of “vote swapping”, a “legitimacy crisis”, even a “second election”. Nick Clegg weeps softly into his pillow at night, clutching the 2011 alternative vote referendum.

In times of moral uncertainty, I often turn to J K Rowling. Feeling like a failure? She’s here for you, babe. Can’t quite suss your boss? Hear her wisdom. But when it comes to solving massive issues of structural inequality and bureaucratic obscurity, the Harry Potter books make our electoral system seem like an Eden of political transparency. If you’re reading this, Jo – I, for one, have a lot of questions.

The magical world, at least in Britain, is not a democracy. Rowling repeatedly refers to the “appointment” of the Minister for Magic: Fudge, Scrimgeour and Shacklebolt all secure the post with seemingly no approval at all from the Wizarding Community at large. Unusually for a community with a stated preference for segregating people into groups based on fairly arbitrary aspects of their personality, there seem to be no political parties, leadership candidates, or elections. Dumbledore casually refers to the fact that he has been “offered” the top job in wizarding society “three times on the last count, actually.” That ol’ Albus merely shrugs off the minor issue that an elusive person or persons has the power to randomly appoint a magical totalitarian overlord shows how deeply entrenched this approach to government is in wizarding society. It might also explain Dumbledore’s paternalistic and secretive approach to both teaching and magical warfare. (“Hey Harry! How about fighting the world’s most dangerous wizard with minimal help and no information at all from me, the closest thing to a guardian you have? I swear, it’s for your own good!”).

This becomes all the more troubling when Rowling hints at the full extent of the Minister’s control over the whole Ministry. The MoM appears to be a sprawling civil service, and a worryingly large percentage of adult wizards are employed by it, perhaps due to the lack of any functional economy (turns out, when you can do MAGIC, you don’t need to pay people to do much). Within the ministry, individuals have little say in their own career trajectories: witches and wizards seem to be moved sideways between departments against their will like pawns in a bureaucratic chess game. The personal preferences of the Minister play a large part in moves, promotions and demotions: Cornelius Fudge is able to freeze Arthur Weasley’s progress in the Ministry purely because he’s friends with Dumbledore. Even more extreme is the Minister’s ability to create and abolish departments, laws and offices at will. In short, the Minister exclusively commands the entire system of government, and the magical population has no control over his or her appointment. Say what you like about Voldemort, but at least he had something vaguely resembling a party, and a solid number of supporters.

Just as the Minister has unnervingly sweeping control of the Ministry, the Ministry guides all areas of wizarding life. The Magical Law Enforcement Office and the Auror Office are subsections of the Ministry with seemingly no operational independence, making them a potentially dangerous and powerful force for subjugation and control. The high court, the Wizengamot, is headed by the Minister, and its cloudy selection process and physical location within the MoM suggest it is utterly under ministerial control. This allows for the regular detaining of persons in Azkaban without trial indefinitely: Sirius Black never received a trial, yet remained wrongly imprisoned, then wanted, for over twelve years, because it was considered better for Ministry PR. The knowledge that laws surrounding imprisonment are often manipulated for political gain is widespread, as is an awareness that Ministry control of the soul-sucking Dementors is weak. The Ministry have intentionally created an unstable palace of mental and physical torture to frighten its population into subservience. In general, people seem pretty cool with that.

It gets worse: the Department of Mysteries essentially allows the Ministry to collect and analyse the private thoughts (they literally collect BRAINS), memories and potential futures of the population without their knowledge or consent. Want to know what this elusive department of government is up to? Sorry, it’s a mystery! There is no free press: the Ministry gains control of the Daily Prophet, seemingly the only respected news outlet. The Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures allows the Ministry to systematically oppress all non-human magical persons (including Beasts, Beings, Spirits, Goblins and Centaurs), enabling a society which depends on the slave labour of House Elves. The Ministry has an unusual level of influence over education: the Minister can appoint the Hogwarts headmaster, and controls the syllabus, pushing forward subjects which inevitably end in Ministry careers. At the same time, basic Muggle subjects like literature and maths are off-limits, essentially making it impossible for young wizards to leave the wizarding community. Muggle-borns are thereby encouraged to distance themselves from their non-magical homes and families, and commit themselves to the wizarding state.

Despite this disregard for the Muggle population as a whole, the Ministry, not content with total domination of magical society, extends its all-powerful grasp over the Muggle parliament, too. The bewitchment and confunding of Muggles is commonplace, structurally validated by the 1689 International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy, which prioritises the invisibilty of the wizarding community over, say, human rights. (The statute, a pillar of wizarding government, declares the primary purpose of the MoM to be concealment, and goes some way to explaining why transparency appears to be utterly disregarded by wizards and witches both within and outside the Ministry.) It remains unconfirmed whether wizards are able to vote in Muggle elections, but the extent to which the Minister for Magic interferes with the business of the Prime Minister suggests that a select group of wizards have unlimited control over any Muggle matters that concern them.

The most worrying thing of all, though, is that after the Second Wizarding War, not a huge amount seems to change. Rowling has since given tidbits of information about life after the war. Yes, our dear friend Kinsley Shacklebolt is now Minister, Harry has "revolutionised" the Auror Office, Hermione is a progressive trailblazer in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. But the flawed system that oppressed and endangered so many is largely still in place.

My fellow Muggles: I understand your discontent, your frustration, your apathy. Our political system is inherently flawed. But remember, it could always be worse. You could be a wizard.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Has Arlene Foster saved power-sharing in Northern Ireland?

The DUP leader's decision to attend Martin McGuinness' funeral was much more than symbolic. But is Gerry Adams willing to make a deal?

After some prevarication, DUP leader Arlene Foster chose to attend the funeral of Martin McGuinness in Derry today. Her decision to do so cannot have been an easy one.

A substantial part of her loyalist base has noisily resisted attempts to memorialise the late deputy first minister as anything other than an inveterate killer. Foster herself notes in today’s Belfast Telegraph that the former IRA commander was responsible for the deaths of “many neighbours and friends”. And in 1979 – aged just eight – she bore witness to the bloody aftermath of an IRA attack in her own home: her father, a reservist police officer, was shot in the head by a gunman later eulogised by McGuinness.

Her attendance at today’s funeral is thus noteworthy and has been the subject of due praise. She was twice applauded by the congregation: as she took her seat, and after Bill Clinton singled her out in his eulogy. It is, however, much more than the symbolic gesture it might appear.

Last month’s election, which saw the DUP lose 10 seats and unionist parties lose their Stormont majority for the first time in nearly a century, proved Foster to be damaged goods. She was – and remains – tarnished by the RHI scandal but also by her crass behaviour towards the nationalist community, particularly on Irish language issues.

Her carelessly won reputation as a truculent bigot will therefore not be easily lost. Her departure remains a red line for Sinn Fein. But with just four days until the deadline for a new devolution settlement, Foster’s presence at McGuinness’ funeral is the clearest indication yet of the DUP’s carefully calculated strategy. It isn’t quite a resignation, but is nonetheless indicative of the new manner in which Foster has carried herself since her party’s chastening collapse.

She has demonstrated some contrition and offered tacit acknowledgement that her election shtick was misjudged and incendiary. Her statement on McGuinness’ death was delicately pitched and made only oblique reference to his IRA past. In the absence of a willingness to allow Foster to step down, the decision instead has been taken to detoxify her brand.

The conciliatory Foster the DUP will nominate for First Minister on Monday will as such at least appear to be apart from the dogwhistling Foster who fought the election – and her attendance today is the superlative indication of that careful transition. There has been talk that this increases the chance of a deal on a new executive. This is premature – not least because the onus is now almost entirely on Sinn Fein.

Theirs is just as much a mandate to reject Stormont as we know it as it is to return and right the DUP’s wrongs. Gerry Adams, the last member of the Armalite generation standing, has made this abundantly clear – and has hardened his line just as Foster has made sure to be seen magnanimously softening hers. He said last night that he would not tolerate any extension of power-sharing talks beyond Monday’s deadline, and called on Dublin to prevent the UK government from re-instating direct rule.

Though Adams also maintained a deal was still possible in the coming days, his statement augurs badly. As the former UUP leader Lord Empey told me on the day McGuinness died, the Sinn Fein president – the ideologue to McGuinness’ Stormont pragmatist – is now entirely without equal within his party. Though he has set the transition to a new generation of female leaders in train, he remains in total control.

The demand for Dublin’s involvement is also telling: as the leader of the third-biggest party in the Dail, his is an all-Ireland long game. Enda Kenny will soon depart, offering Fianna Fail – riding high in the polls – a useful pretext to renegotiate or scrap their confidence and supply arrangement with his minority government. Sinn Fein are on course to make gains, but implementing Brexit and austerity as partners in a Stormont executive would undermine their populist anti-austerity platform.

As such, Empey predicted McGuinness’ death would allow Adams to exert a disruptive influence on the talks to come. “I don’t think it’ll be positive because for all his faults, Martin was actually committed to making the institutions work,” he said. “I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed – and it was obvious from the latter part of last year that Gerry was reinstating his significant influence in the party. For that reason I think it will make matters more difficult.  I hope I’m wrong, but that’s my sense.”

He is not alone. There was, earlier this week, growing confidence in Westminster that some fudge could be reached on the most contentious issues. It isn't impossible - but Adams’ renewed dominance and rejection of the extended timeframe such negotiations would undoubtedly require suggests a new executive is as unlikely a prospect as it has ever been. With Foster quietly reinventing herself, the DUP could be the big winners come the next election (which could come this year and reinstate a unionist majority) – and the resurgent republicans might well rue the day they squandered their big chance.

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.