Call it what you want: a bourgeois democracy (in which the parties in the service of exploitative economic elites are the most powerful); a kleptocracy (in which “a small group [gets] rich by robbing [citizens] blind” with the compliance of the political class); or a plutocracy (in which the powerful rule, and citizens simply choose the section of elite opinion least offensive to them). Just don’t call it democracy, for that would be a horrific insult to the dignity of a magnificent and revolutionary human concept.
It is the aforementioned anti-democratic system which is primarily to blame for the 2015 election results in the United Kingdom. In fact, the First Past the Post set-up is, almost by definition, based on minority victories and majority losses. The Conservatives, for example, won 41% of the votes in England (with 34% of eligible voters not even voting), and 37% throughout the UK. On top of this, it is difficult to know how many people voted Tory tactically, simply because they disliked policies of the main opposition parties more than they disliked those of the incumbent government.
Nevertheless, the key issue is that the Conservatives (for whom only 27% of eligible British voters chose to vote) have gained a majority of MPs in the House of Commons, and will pretty much be able to do what they want for the next five years as a result. Seventy-three percent of eligible voters, meanwhile, along with countless children who were not able to vote, will have pain inflicted upon them from above by a party solely interested in protecting the interests of society’s richest, most exploitative, and most corrupt individuals.
Our Role in Perpetuating Societal Decay
But we cannot simply blame Britain’s undemocratic electoral system for the pain we will inevitably suffer under the coming Tory regime. Working civilians are not free from protagonism. Those who did not vote helped to increase the apparent ‘legitimacy’ of the Conservative victory (which would no doubt have been diluted by the votes of the dissident, disenchanted, or disinterested non-voters). Those who voted tactically, meanwhile, helped to perpetuate the essentially one-party order in England (in which a Conservative-Labour dichotomy is emphasised in spite of the fact that both parties are essentially just different wings of what ought to be referred to as a ‘business party’). By voting for parties with whom they disagreed significantly simply because they wanted to avoid another party from gaining power, these voters made it seem like the Conservative and Labour victories in England represented the true will and beliefs of the English public (which they almost certainly did not).
As citizens, we are also responsible for our misinformation (and that of our compatriots) by reading the rubbish published by self-interested media moguls like Rupert Murdoch (The Sun and The Times), the Barclays (The Daily Telegraph), and the Viscount Rothermere (The Daily Mail). The divisive, biased, and often chauvinist rhetoric peddled by these papers has long poisoned the minds of British citizens with their unconscious consent.
Finally, we empower exploitative economic elites by failing to unite as citizens, by failing to debate and educate within our local communities, and by allowing individualism to trump the interests of our society as a whole.
What About the SNP?
Last night, Jeremy Paxman asked the SNP’s Alex Salmond if he was worried about Scotland effectively becoming a ‘one-party state’ after the elections. The reality, however, is that, under the First Past the Post electoral system, one party always takes all, even if the majority of voters didn’t elect them (though the SNP actually did manage to gain 50% of Scottish votes). In fact, as mentioned above, England should also be considered a one-party state today, as there are so few differences between Labour and the Tories that they should effectively be seen as different wings of the same party.
My sympathies with the SNP victory in Scotland, however, do not mean I consider the party to be revolutionary. It is not. It was, however, more progressive than the other main parties in Scotland (i.e. the Lib Dems and Labour), so its electoral landslide is indeed the best outcome when we consider the realistic alternatives.
Some pro-Labour commentators have sought in the wake of the elections to blame the SNP for the Conservative victory, but Nicola Sturgeon herself rightly rebutted these claims, saying that “the reason that the Conservatives are back in government is that Labour couldn’t beat the Conservatives in England”. And the main reason for Labour’s failure was clear – it had long since abandoned anything that resembled a real, meaningful alternative to the Conservative Party. The SNP, meanwhile, did the opposite, managing to rout all of its opponents in Scotland by turning itself into a seemingly progressive option. In short, Labour dug its own grave.
What Can We Do to Survive the Next Five Years?
First Past the Post is an anti-democratic system but, if we look at alternatives like Proportional Representation, we can see that there are indeed mainstream ways of ensuring citizens have greater electoral freedom and greater representation in Parliament. Unfortunately, however, our plutocratic rulers are very unlikely to facilitate the installation of a more progressive electoral system any time in the near future (as the failure of the AV Referendum demonstrated).
The only real options we have, therefore, are to:
- Encourage grassroots political organisation and education in our communities, placing a focus on anti-austerity activism and resistance to the Conservative government;
- Participate actively in the democratisation and progressive actions of our trade unions;
- Campaign against the corporate media to stop the ideological pollution of our society;
- And build a comprehensive and anti-discriminatory dialogue between all groups on the Left, realising that, while parties may provide useful forums for discussion, party politics is essentially divisive.
By taking the actions outlined above, we workers will stand ourselves in good stead to create a truly unified and popular movement capable of profoundly changing society and putting a definitive end to Britain’s plutocratic political system in the next elections.