The movement of the UK Labour Party away from the unions – and therefore away from the People – has left England in particular in a situation where the three main political parties represent different versions of the same thing. If Labour originally represented the possibility of choosing a different kind of politics, that choice no longer exists. Some may believe the party can become relevant once again, while others believe the Left needs to organise in a new way, but these analyses don’t change reality – the fact that there are no genuine electoral alternatives today and, as a result, no real democracy.
Labour leader Ed Miliband recently said that the biggest problem facing our democracy today is that “people aren’t bothering to vote” and, indeed, in a real democracy, everyone should be encouraged to vote. But that is not the main problem. The crucial issue is why they are not voting. And the simple answer is that voting doesn’t bring about profound change – something that the majority of people need, whether they realise it or not.
The Conservatives, the Lib Dems, and Labour all believe in working within the neoliberal capitalist system, and in the view that democracy means parties and their leaders dominating politics. If people could genuinely participate in democracy, and see with their own eyes the fruits of their labour, maybe they would have more faith in ‘politics’. As it stands, however, there is no wonder politics is a seen as a dirty word today.
As a result, around 60 per cent of eligible voters refused to participate in the recent European elections, and around 10 per cent of those who did voted for UKIP. Miliband seems interested now in getting some votes back from UKIP by focussing on EU reform and immigration, without mentioning, of course, why these issues exist. He did not mention the lack of dignified work and wages for both British citizens and our brothers and sisters abroad. If he had, he would have been forced to promise profound reform – which the backers of ‘New Labour’ would obviously not be very happy about.
Whilst maintaining a fairly superficial political analysis, Miliband did correctly state that “too many people in our country feel Britain doesn’t work for them and hasn’t done so for a long time” (‘too many’ perhaps suggesting that, before now, there was a manageable amount of people disenchanted with the political system). Indirectly, he recognised that living standards have fallen in the last few decades, and that issues like children being “able to afford a home of their own” are real, tangible concerns for many parents today. Another problem is that “the work and effort people put in” is simply not “reflected in them sharing fairly in the wealth of this country”. Even the Governor of the Bank of England, he said, recognised that “inequality was now one of the biggest challenges in our country”. Challenging parliament, Miliband then asked MPs if the system in which they work “just offers more of the same” or actually “offers a new direction, so we can genuinely say it works for all and not just a few at the top”.
The answer, unfortunately, is that it “just offers more of the same”. Even Miliband correctly identified that many people believe parliament “cannot achieve anything at all”. All parties present, he said, had heard citizens say at some point “you’re all the same, you’re in it for yourself, it doesn’t matter who I vote for”. He went on to affirm that “there is a depth and a scale of disenchantment which we ignore at our peril – disenchantment that goes beyond one party, beyond one government”. And he was right. As long as no real alternative is presented, and as long as we are expected to choose between different versions of the same thing, that ‘disenchantment’ will understandably remain.
If the mainstream political parties want to save this corrupt, broken political system (to actually repair it would be a different issue altogether, and would not exactly please the economic elites behind these parties), they must at least act like they are listening to what people want, rather than pushing their own agendas onto voters. If they do not do this, the system as it stands risks being taken over by extremist right-wing parties who exploit the lack of voter participation, or transformed by grassroots, participative movements that aim to bring justice and equality to their communities – making the profound systemic changes that our corporate ‘democracy’ never would.
Personally, I prefer the latter.
What about you?
A response to a text originally written at http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2014/06/04/at-last-the-crisis-of-british-democracy-is-addressed-by-a-party-leader-ed-miliband/