Gareth Beynon questions the legitimacy of Britain’s low intensity parliamentary democracy.

cash ballotWhat are we left with then, after the centuries long struggle for democracy in Britain? We have real gains which we should celebrate, to be sure. The forms of persecution faced by the corresponding societies in the 1790s, for example, would not be possible today as a result of successive mass movements demanding freedom of expression. Yet we are also faced with a crisis of parliamentary democracy. Trust in Parliament and Governments is at an unprecedented low, and with good reason. Unpopular wars have been waged against the will of the majority of the population while the ConDem’s austerity programme which attacks the living standards of the working class to protect the interests of the super-wealthy majority continues unabated. While turnout at elections has fallen sharply, democratic slogans, for example on mass anti-war demonstrations, have abounded.

Our low intensity democracy sees General Elections every four or five years, where coverage is dominated by the three main parties and the first past the post electoral system favours the establishment parties which all exist within the post-Thatcherite consensus of neoliberalism at home and imperialism overseas. Out with this day of democracy, occurring roughly twice a decade, we are expected to leave decision making to the elites, that is, the overwhelmingly upper class elected representatives, the state bureaucracy and big business lobbyists, as exemplified by the cash for access scandal. This is patently not what the Levellers, corresponding societies or Chartists had in mind. Their vision was for a democracy which had the active involvement of ordinary people, where representatives were genuinely accountable to the electorate.

This vision is shared by the revolutionaries in Egypt and Tunisia. The continued occupation of Tahrir Square represents a rejection of the low intensity democracy, closely managed by the military, which has been offered by the remnants of the ancient regime. In Tunisia mass demonstrations broke out only weeks after the elections demanding a faster rate of reform. A deeply held belief exists that the government must reflect the will of the people and immediately put into practice reforms promised before the elections. This mood is not limited to the Arab world. In Spain the Indignados raised the slogan of ‘real democracy now’ and the Occupy movement in the US has raised an ideological challenge to the dominance of politics by the wealthy. There are many debates and discussions still to be had as to what forms any new democratic institutions should take, but the popular feeling for some form of renewal is unmistakable.

The time is right then to defend the right to protest as student activists are dragged before the courts for having the temerity to demonstrate against government policy, to challenge the anti-union laws as the affront to the right to free assembly that they are and to defend the civil rights of minority ethnic and religious communities facing harassment from the state in the name of counter-terrorism or law and order. These democratic elements have been implicit in the trade union, anti-war and anti-austerity movements over the last decade or more. It is impossible to discuss the independence referendum without reference to democratic deficit. In the context of the Arab Spring democracy can and should be brought increasingly to the fore. We must remember that the gains our side has made on the democratic front have been the result of militant mass movements. If we wish to move forward to a more democratic society we must remember this lesson and adapt the strategies of our predecessors to our current situation.

From International Socialist Group site