It can not have escaped anyone’s notice that the UK recently held an election. Or did they?
Yes the process was run and votes were cast. Votes were counted and MPs duly took their places in Parliament. So superficially ‘democracy’ was seen to be done. And yet I disagree. Call me nuts if you like, but save that for the end of this article if you would be so kind.
1. First past the post is not democracy.
I voted and my vote counted for nothing. Why? Because I live in a place with a historic majority of Conservative voters. Without fail a Torrie wins. I therefore face a choice, join them or waste my vote. I chose to vote and effectively wasted my time. I voted for policies I believe were better than others presented. I would prefer to vote on issues not for a person.
The solution is clearly and obviously proportional representation and direct elector votes on key issues
2. Representational democracy is not democracy
No matter who I vote for I am in fact voting for a party. The party runs a whip system and the whip ensures that in the majority of cases MPs vote with their party. Unless you are a party activist are they voting for your interests? Doubtful, highly doubtful.
The solution is mandatory free votes on major issues and direct voting by the people on major decisions of national importance (defined by a democratic constitution).
3. Who voted in the Prime Minister?
It’s a trick question. Everyone and in effect only one constituency. The place where the elected Prime Minister is elected (Witney). Why is this? Can we not separate out who we believe is the best statesman from what we believe is the better choice of party? Apparently not. The two are glued together.
The solution is two votes. One for your choice of party and one for your choice of Prime Minister.
4. Constitutional Monarchy is not Democracy
How many rights does a citizen of the UK have? Do they have the right to protect their own home for example? To not be locked up by the State? You may believe that UK citizens have intrinsic rights. They do not.
There are many ways the State and agencies of the State can intervene in citizen’s lives. They can bug you, break into your home, arrest you, send you to jail, hold you in a cell, confiscate your property and so on.
One simple test. Try refusing to pay your Council Tax or Poll Tax as it is known. The courts will send bailiffs, you will be charged, you will be found guilty and most likely you will end up in jail or with a suspended sentence. In other words you do not have the right to refuse to pay, no matter what your case. There are very few mitigating circumstances.
Solution – a proper Constitution and Bill of Rights for all UK citizens
5. Europe is not a democracy
Clearly the European Union is a large organisation. It has elections, it has laws galore, it takes and spends vast amounts of money. However consider this: does a citizen of the UK have a vote in the EU? They do not. They can only vote for a representative to attend the EU and ‘represent their views’. Worse UK citizens have never had the right to ‘opt in’ or ‘opt out’ of the EU. For reasons best explained by the UK’s past leaders (i.e. paper thin reasons) the UK has yet to have any form of democratic vote given to its citizens which says definitively ‘opt in’ or ‘opt out’ . And yet the influences of Europe are seen daily and are unavoidable. Some good and some bad.
Solution – a mandatory EU ‘opt in’ or ‘opt out’ referendum each Parliament for UK citizens
6. Parliament is not democratic
They say they are. Politicians will point at all kinds of historic votes and decisions to prove their point. The problem is that politicians are trained to misdirect and essentially achieve their own ends. Often for their own career aims, sometimes lining their own pockets either in service as MPs or soon after leaving Parliament and joining companies who patronise the parties. It really is that opaque.
Parliament is a an extension of the party system. It is a club. They dine together. Many of its members went to school together. They play out debates, but mostly they do deals. Deals that have nothing to do with the ‘will of the people’. The people in reality are the last consideration of MPs.
Consider this. When were ‘the people’ ever consulted about whether the UK should send its people to war? And when did one of the two major parties ever refuse to vote for joining a war?
And yet history shows quite clearly that the case for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was at best debatable. At worst illegal and irrelevant to the interests of the UK’s citizens. Yet Parliament agreed all on their own to fight both and send military personnel to serve (bravely) and inevitably many lost their lives. Is that a democracy in action? I say without a public vote it is not.
Add to this example – the budgets, EU, National Health service decisions, education system changes, charges for University fees, housing plans, HS2, immigration, deficit reduction, major law changes, military cuts etc. Not one of these major issues has been offered to the people for a direct vote or a binding consultation.
Solution – all major decisions to be subject to binding and direct votes by registered voters. Parliament to be a debating and administration service based on that mandate, not on it’s own mandate.
7. One vote every five years is not democracy
Sure there is a tradition and there are reasons why Parliaments stand for a given term. Currently this is a fixed five-year term. Fixed by law. Why is this fixed by law? Because it suits the party who won last time. Were the people consulted and asked how much democracy they would like? I think you can probably guess.
What is more concerning is the illusion that one vote every five years is anything like a democracy. Who says it is? Yes the politicians do, because they have a guaranteed job for five years (pretty much). Is this a good thing for the voting population? I say it is highly doubtful, because a lot can happen in five years. A lot of manifesto pledges can be broken or forgotten and the world can change substantially.
Solution – a mandatory election for Parliament every three years or when a government can not withstand a vote of no confidence in Parliament if this is sooner.
8. The role of monarch is not democratic
The monarch still holds substantial powers in the UK. In theory they could refuse a whole list of Parliament’s policies or refuse to support a government. That they choose not to do so is more a historic detail than a legal requirement. In effect, our Head of State is still the Queen. In fact the military and police serve the Queen. The Prime Minister runs the country with the Queen’s consent.
Now I have no issue with the current Queen or the line of succession. My point is simply this – it is not a genuine democratic system to have a Head of State who is born to that right and can (in theory and in law) hold sway over the whole country.
Solution – a clear democratic constitution that stipulates the Head of State as being elected directly by the people. A custodian role for the Royal Family as guardians of that same constitution for and on behalf of the people.
9. The party system is not democratic
In the UK we have two electable parties who can realistically form a government. Labour and the Conservatives. For many reasons the Liberal Democrats and various other parties are neither supported strongly enough nor well enough funded.
Funding being the key term. Money talks and voters vote for fear or greed in the main. Money is needed to fund the parties. Donations are the backbone of the party system (as in other countries). The issue this causes is that those providing the funding expect to be well treated as a result.
The most obvious example is the honours list which sees rich business people awarded medals and titles for being successful. Why is this? Have they served the country so well that they deserve these honours. They may have failed or sacked thousands of people. They may (as in Bankers) have presided over abject failure and systemic abuse of laws and systems. Yet year in year out they are rewarded for service. How convenient.
Another example is taxation and grants. Why is it that successive UK governments have been so weak on changing and simplifying corporate tax laws to benefit the state? Does this have anything to do with the funding those parties gain by relaxing taxation? You decide. I’m pretty clear in my mind that it is an indirect form of corruption on a huge scale.
It is no small thing to overlook what is good for the country in preference for what is good for a political party. It leads to short-term thinking. It leads to not resolving the major issues (national debt anyone? It’s not a vote winner, put a PR lid on it) It leads to campaigning as a marketing activity only carried out in marginal seats. It can lead to massive cover ups. (child abusers, expense abusers, MPs taking cash for advice / questions / votes).
Solution – proportional representation and direct elector votes so that the people can vote for who and what they believe in, instead of essentially for one of two parties and their party interests (and ideologies).
10. The UK is not democratic
Scotland held a referendum. They said ‘no’ to independence from the UK. A curious thing given that they then voted for the Scottish National Party in virtually all seats in Scotland at the following election.
Wales has a National Assembly and no doubt they too will ask for a referendum in due course.
If you live in England, tough luck. You have no referendums of any kind, not even whispered about. You are essentially at the mercy of the Scots (and possibly the Welsh and Northern Irish)
Why? Because there are far too many Scottish MPs in the UK Parliament. Why do they have so many votes when the English population dwarfs that of Scotland? Another historic legacy which has yet to be addressed in a sensible manner.
Given that your elected representative almost certainly will (at best) represent a fraction of your views in Parliament, they will also be voting in line with Party policy and voting tactically to ensure that the Scots do not sway a decision.
There is also the argument that fear of a Labour and Scottish alliance led to the Conservatives winning the last election. While probably too simplistic, it will not have helped Labour’s cause. It also decimated the Liberal Democrats in all probability (not they did not deserve a humbling for lying about tuition fees).
Solution – the Act of Union to be updated such that the Head of State does indeed govern the whole of the UK without any ambiguity. And if Scotland or Wales are offered a future referendum a constitutional right in law for England to vote on its future as well. (England might wish to divorce itself from both Wales and Scotland for example).
So in summary. Yes the UK prides itself on being a democracy. I say at best it is a partial and flawed representational democracy. There are ample ways in which improvements can and arguably should be made. Do I think this will happen in my lifetime? Frankly no. Because the other home truth is that the rich and powerful will never let these reforms happen. They are very happy with their own station and frankly do not care about reform one jot. On the other hand I firmly believe it is the right of every law-abiding UK citizen to expect better democracy. I also believe that allowing the rich to become exponentially richer is unethical, corrupt and ultimately destructive for any society.
If the 1% influence (or buy) changes that favour only themselves, then surely the 99% have the right to secure their own interests too? I say that the 1% are given the privilege of protection and civil obedience by the 99% and therefore the 1% owe society a huge debt for that security. If they do not voluntarily wake up and smell the coffee of their own responsibilities, one day they may not wake up at all.
Sean Yeager Adventures