In the 2010 general election, the Conservative party ‘won the vote’ (enabling them to enact their highly divisive policies) with the backing of less than a quarter of the electorate (36% of votes on a 65% turnout). Today, despite numerous deeply worrying problems facing the county, the population is generally apathetic towards politics. Establishment party membership is at its lowest for generations, turnout at all elections (particularly amongst the young) is at dire levels, and politicians of all stripes are uniformly denigrated. It seems that people have lost faith in democracy. They see the crooked, corrupt politicians, gerrymandered voting systems and the constant subversion of the popular will by the political class and collectively shrug their shoulders. When politicos are asked about such apathy, the blame is generally attributed to people not being bothered to vote. Personally, I give people more credit – they’ve sussed that it’s a rigged game. They get the same wealthy, white, middle-aged, centrist whomever they vote for, so why bother?
Democracy is a frequently slandered political idea (in the words of Churchill, it is “the worst political system, except for all the others”). However, people’s conception of “democracy” is tainted by their experience of living under a political system labelled as democracy. Just as the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea is neither democratic nor popular (although it is in Korea), so our democratic system has only the hint of democracy at its heart. This is because true democracy gives people freedom and this has always presented ruling classes with a problem. As Hitler used to say, “Democracy inevitably leads to Socialism”. Inevitably, if you have a significant level of wealth inequality in a free and transparent democracy, then the poor majority will eventually vote to take back the rich minority’s wealth. This was indeed the worry of the founders of the United States of America and so the congressional system was designed to stop such “injustices”. Similarly throughout the world, ruling classes have developed a number of tactics for curtailing freedom. These include controlling the flow of information, using the law and police for political purposes, and developing systems of voting that act to subvert the democratic will of the people.
The UK’s system is an instructive example. Due to the inherent bias of first-past-the-post, it is almost impossible for new parties to emerge. Consider that if an election were held tomorrow, despite consistently polling significantly higher than the Liberal Democrats, UKIP would be unlikely to get even a single MP. However the UK’s political system was never designed to be a method of enacting the will of its citizens. It is the product of various gradual concessions, made to quell the latest protest whilst keeping power in as few hands as possible. With the advent of full suffrage, power elites have now set up extra levels of defence beyond the reach of national democracies. This means that if, by some miracle, a popular government threatens to take power in a developed country, “the markets”, as well as the International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization and European Union all essentially tie the hands of any future government and silence the voice of the people. In these circumstances so called “democratic freedoms” ultimately boil down to: “of course you can vote for whoever you like, although if you don’t vote for the establishment party, we will have to wreck your economy and bankrupt your country”.
The key aspect of this political system is the centralisation of power. By ensuring that all power flows through central government and that all political decisions are made by a tiny minority of people, a ruling class is able to exert its will over the population. Moves for popular change are then resisted as the process by which one would seek to challenge the political establishment grossly favours those inside the political establishment. Think about the problem yourself. If you were to conceive a political system which maximises the will of the people, it would be unlikely to involve picking six hundred people from a country of sixty million, to then decide almost everything for the next five years.
Our system needs fundamental reform. There is no reason why we must all be ruled from Westminster, so that communities are forced to submit to laws that have no local support. Instead, regions should have the power and autonomy to decide their own laws, collect their own taxes, and enact economic and social policy that reflects local priorities and desires. It is madness to think that the legal, economic and social priorities of inner city London and rural Devon are the same, yet they are currently governed as though that was the case. With empowered, independent local government, changes in the law can be put to popular votes and we can achieve real, direct democracy rather than its poor imitation. Who is more likely to formulate a policy in the interests of the local community, a politician in central government or local citizens?
To achieve change, it is not simply a case of supporting one establishment party over another. It is not a coincidence that the same political system keeps producing political parties of a similar nature. If we want to change our politics and politicians, we will have to change our political system. Whilst in the short-term one might find one party’s vision of the future more agreeable, they are all ultimately wedded to the current system as it is from this arrangement that they draw their power. As such they can only act to prevent real change from occurring. What political party has ever wished to give power away? Instead, we should act to build a non-partisan movement with the sole purpose of reforming the political system. This should be attractive to individuals on both the political right and left. If local governments want to end immigration, abolish inheritance tax and ban wind farms, or alternatively implement living wages, increase corporation tax and control rents, it should and will be up to them. No more empty compromises pleasing no one and leaving everyone disappointed. Real choices, true freedom.
We must rediscover democracy. The struggles of our ancestors to win the vote are meaningless as long as that vote is simply a choice between identical options. As local communities we must regain the freedom to decide our own laws, our own politics and our own destiny. Then finally our communities can be run in the interests of local citizens and we can rightly call ourselves “a democracy”.