Monday, 11 May 2015
Democracy in Britain is under siege
General election 2015
Only 24% of the electorate or 11.3 million people voted Conservative, yet we have a majority Conservative government. UKIP got 3.8 million votes, while the Green party got 1.1 million votes, but both ended up with only one MP each. Compare that with SNP who received 1.5 million votes and have 56 MPs. The Liberal Democrats received 2.4 million votes, yet returned eight MPs.
Then we have the roughly 35% of the electorate who did not cast a vote. Are they really apathetic about what way they are governed, or is it they feel disillusioned with British politics and that none of the parties represent what they stand for or believe in? I suggest it is the latter and they in fact did cast a vote on 7th May not to endorse the policies of any of the political parties. Surely all of these facts tell us that our first past the post voting system is unfit for a 21st century democracy.
House of Commons
There are 650 MP's in the House of Commons. Roughly 380 of those are from what is known as "safe seats" meaning that a the same party will get elected regardless of who the candidate is. Therefore the number of candidates that meaningfully go through a general election every five years is 270 and the number of people who actually decide those results is less than half a million.
House of Lords
There are 790 members of the House of Lords and not a single one of them is democratically elected. There are 92 heriditary Lords who are appointed by birth. A further 26 Lords are appointed because of their role in the established Church of England. The remainder are normally appointed by the Prime Minister, often from major party donors. Since 2000 there has been a tokenistic House of Lords Appointments Committee, which seems to merely demonstrate that no-one really knows what is going on when it comes to appointments to the House of Lords.
When we speak of the Crown in relation to British politics we often think of the Queen. However in actuality the Queen has very little if any involvement in British politics. The state is the permanent body of British politics that is the supreme power and overruling body. Its various institutions together have the power to rule over us, whether there is a government or not. While governments are elected every five years, the state remains intact and it is the British state that rules supreme, not parliament. If we want to achieve real democracy, we have to address the issue of the state and its power to rule over us.
Voting in the House of Commons
Once elected our MPs are expected to represent us in parliament and when voting, do so as they believe their constituents would expect them to. However in reality it is not only in elections that our voting system is broken. MPs are free to vote as they choose once elected and have no obligation to consider their constituents at all when voting. In actuality if they even bother to turn up for a vote at all, the majority of MPs vote not on behalf of their constituents, but how their party leader expects them to vote. At present, both government and opposition chief whips who receive additional salaries from the taxpayer, are creatures of the political party rather than an aide to democracy. They have too much power and too much say over what happens to MPs, from the appointment of people to select committees through to MPs' accommodation and they use these powers to either reward or punish MPs according to their loyalty to the respective party. The power of the whip, though unrecognised as a parliamentary post, still rules supreme and inhibits rather than enhances democracy in the House of Commons.
There are many professional lobbyists operating within parliament. Their job is to pressure government ministers into enacting legislation that is in favour of the private companies they represent, regardless of what is best for the people or the country as a whole and are a complete corruption of the political process. They are often helped by MPs who take payments in exchange for influence. The most recent examples are former foreign secretaries Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw were caught by channel 4 Dispatches investigators, offering to use their political influence in return for payments of up to £5,000 per day.
Just before the 2010 general election David Cameron said that lobbying was "the next big scandal waiting to happen. It’s an issue that crosses party lines and has tainted our politics for too long, an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money." yet when he became Prime Minister Cameron did nothing to stop it. In fact since then Cameron has hired corporate lobbyist Lynton Crosby, as a full-time £500,000/year personal adviser. Shortly after Crosby’s arrival at No 10, the government shelved its planned policy of introducing plain packaging on cigarettes. Lynton Crosby also represents the tobacco giant Phillip Morris in a £6m contract.
Political party funding
The majority of Tory party funding comes from wealthy individuals and big business. This is funding that comes with the price. Donors expect government legislation to be enacted in their favour, or a lucrative government contract. The Labour Party are little better, as they too receive donations from many rich businessmen. Since 2010 the Labour Party has received an estimated £600,000 worth of free services from Price Waterhouse Coopers, the accountancy firm. PWC admits that it ‘cultivates relationships with parties to further the interests of the firm and its clients.’ and were severely reprimanded by the Parliamentary Accounts Committee earlier this year for their role in industrial scale tax avoidance. The Tories have received over £10m in donations from private health companies while pursuing a policy of privatising the NHS, returning the favour by awarding £1.5bn of contracts to companies that have donated to their party.
There have been a number of scandals in the past six years since the MPs expenses in 2009. These have included cash for questions, cash for access (twice), cash for honours, cash for influence (twice), Jowellgate, Peter Watt, Michael Brown, Bernie Ecclestone, Werrittygate, Hunt, Rifkind and Straw. Then we have the MPs gaining directorships at private corporations and the revolving door, allowing corporate representatives to obtain roles at Westminster as special advisors. Also the alleged 14 cases where the Metropolitan police terminated investigations that were implicating MPs and establishment figures and the 46 instances where similar cover-ups took place, including allegations of politicians being involved in what is now commonly known as the Westminster paedophile ring and the murder of two young boys.
As the examples above show, Britain has surrendered its position as a democratic society, in favour of a corporate and financial domination of the state and political process. The freedom of the trade and financial industries to operate uninterrupted and unregulated in creating vast amounts of wealth for the few, while the many struggle to make ends meet and the poorest are unable to provide for themselves and their family, has taken precedence over a fair and democratic society in Britain. Our entire political system is in urgent need of reform. In order to achieve both legitimacy and strength in credibility any political reform must be by the people and for the people.
Assemblies for Democracy have already held assemblies in London, Glasgow & Manchester, with a further three being planned in Ireland, Wales & Yorkshire, have already laid some of the groundwork. An Agreement of the People has also made some great achievements including having produced a draft Agreement for editing & discussion. In my opinion these two groups should combine their resources and work together to finalise an agreement of the people document, before moving on to write, debate and produce a written British constitution that will formalise the will of the British people.