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  • Published in Opinion
Democracy is dying

Image: True Tube

Alastair Stephens looks at how democracy in the UK is dying at the hands of the neoliberal ruling elite

1Neoliberalism is incompatible with democracy. The neoliberal assault of the last thirty years on the economy has been matched with an assault on our democracy.

2Britain is the most centralised country in Europe. All levels of government apart from central government have been disempowered, first by Thatcher and Major, then by Blair. Control over practically everything has been given to central government or unelected quangos.

The exception obviously was devolution, but this was brought in under pressure, to stop nationalism, not extend democracy. The devolved countries have few powers compared to other regions abroad such as the Basque Country, Catalonia, or even German or Australian states.

3Local politics are dying. Turnouts have declined for decades. The average age of councillors has sky rocketed and is now over sixty, less than 10% are under forty. And there is barely anyone to keep an eye on them. Local parties have withered and died. Most are now moribund.

The death of local democracy has meant the death of local media. No real decisions to be taken: no news to report. All you are left with is crime and beautiful babies.

4All power is now held by Westminster and British governments have an extraordinary amount of power, more than any other government in the Western world. It can do practically what it wants as long as it has a majority in parliament: privatise industries, abolish whole layers of government, sweep away rights. There is little restraint on it.

5Political parties have been completely centralised. Conferences, activists, trade unions in Labour’s case, have all been also disempowered. Party leaderships make policy with corporate lobbyists and policy wonks recruited from Oxbridge.

Most voters are far to the left of the mainstream parties wanting policies like renationalisation of the railways and power companies and higher taxes on the rich. This has no reflection in mainstream politics.

6MPs represent monolithic party machines not voters. The expenses scandal showed this. They totally got away with it. Only a handful paid any price. That is because the majority have safe seats, in fact some 400 of them.  Get the nomination and you get to keep the seat as long as you want it.

The selection of MPs is ruthlessly controlled by leaderships, especially in Labour. Left wingers need not apply.

7The First Past the Post system is deeply undemocratic. Most votes in the last election were cast for losing candidates and counted for nothing. It is no surprise that turnout is in long-term decline.

The two big parties won 86% of the seats in parliament with just 67% of the vote. They say FPTP stops minority parties dominating politics, but in 2010 only 23% of voters backed the Tories and 18% voted Labour.

The Green party regularly take 6% in elections in this country conducted using Proportional Representation. They should have forty seats in the Commons. they have just one.

First Past The Post has frozen the party system. We are trapped voting for parties who are electable, but who we no longer support. No wonder so many have given up.

8First Past the Post has frozen local democracy. Most votes are wasted, electing no one. The majority of council seats are also safe and many councils never change hands. Those that do change swing on a tiny number of votes in a few wards. The three parties still have a lock down on local elections. Most councillors are elected from multi-member wards, PR would be easy to introduce, but only in Scotland has this happened. Turnouts are increasingly abysmal.

9The country is signed up to a series of treaties, which restrict the ability of government to change things and mandate more neoliberal deregulation. These range from membership of the European Union to the World Trade Organisation. Their importance should not be exaggerated however. Governments can, and do ignore them when they want to. They don’t however because…

10The people who really run the country now are the big corporations and above all the City of London (despite, the fact that we had to bail them out). Politicians are just their servants. Some are more unwilling, such as the left of Labour, others are all to keen to oblige, as Blair and Brown and their acolytes have shown. The financial system crashed during the Credit Crunch. We gave them a vast bailout with tax payers' money. They carried on exactly as before and then told us, via the politicians, that the state and society has to change fundamentally, to suit their plans. What further proof do we need?

Alastair Stephens

Alastair Stephens

Alastair Stephens has been a socialist his whole adult life and has been active in Unison and the TGWU. He studied Russian at Portsmouth, Middle East Politics at SOAS and writes regularly for the Counterfire website.

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