Sunday, 11 August 2013

Britain's democracy is broken, is it beyond repair?

David Cameron came into office in 2010 banging on about 'broken Britain', since then he and Chancellor George Osborne seem to have done their best to ensure that Britain's society is broken with massive cuts of over £80 billion affecting the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Cameron also talked about the electorate's lack of trust in politicians, but he has done nothing to restore that trust, and if anything, trust in politicians continues to decline. Despite Cameron's best efforts its not our society that's broken, its our democracy.

Two recent news stories which reinforce this point caught my eye this week. The first was about a dramatic decline in Conservative Party membership. Depending on which figures you believe membership is down to about 100,000 and has halved since Cameron came to power. According to George Eaton in the New Statesman:
"Although Labour membership has risen by 31,000 to 187,000 since Ed Miliband became leader, this remains far below the peak of 405,000 seen under Tony Blair in 1997. The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, have seen membership fall by 5,000 since the general election to 60,000, down from a peak of 101,000 in 1994. But it is the Tories, who once boasted a membership in excess of three million (see graph), who have suffered the most rapid decline. Should the trend continue, membership will soon fall below the psychologically significant 100,000 mark."
A similar story appeared in the Independent which talked about not just decline in membership of the Tories but increasing disillusionment with Westminster politics. I don't find any of this surprising and I posted about the decline of the three main Parties recently. It's not really difficult to understand why any of this is happening. Firstly, there is nothing to choose between the three main Parties. For a bunch of Parties who talk about offering the electorate "choice", there is precious little choice on offer from them. All have the same identikit policies. Of course "choice" really means "privatisation", which is something millions of voters, who are sick of being ripped-off by the private sector 'fat cats', are totally disillusioned with.

But the disillusionment goes much deeper than this and its the second reason for this decline which is by far the most important; our democracy is broken, it isn't working, and the list of things that are wrong is a very long one indeed. For a start, our electoral system doesn't reflect voters views; first past the post is well past its sell by date, a rotten system which no longer meets voters needs and aspirations. Then there is the increasing centralisation of power, something which has been happening for more than forty years. Local Government has been hollowed-out and councillors are little more than mere managers paid to implement central diktat. Also, there is the ongoing scandal of the continuation of the House of Lords, which was recently reported to be the largest chamber in the world after the National People's Assembly in China! I could go on but that will suffice for now.

The Palace of Westminster: home of a rotten and discredited parliament

Reform of our democratic system has never been more urgent. Without reform power will continue to be in the hands of the few, propped up by a shrinking number of voters. In the longer run this is a recipe for disaster, as people are likely to become disillusioned with the idea of democracy itself. We really need to re-evaluate what 'democracy' is, and I'd recommend you read David Graeber's recent book 'The Democracy Project', which examines what democracy really is, how it has developed, and how it can be made more participatory and responsive to people's needs. One thing is for sure, for a start we need real power devolved to regions and localities, instead of Tory platitudes about "localism", a completely reformed Parliament, with a fully elected second chamber, preferably based in a new chamber away from Westminster, which should become a museum, and an electoral system based on proportional representation. Until this happens, our democracy will continue to decay, and the legitimacy of Parliament, which is unloved and discredited, will continue to decline.


Chara said...

This is great!

Anonymous said...

Excellent piece, really makes you think.