British democracy is facing crisis; it’s time to take back control
What was the vision of democracy of the Leave campaigners? Questioning their idea of “taking control” and the manner in which Theresa May was elected to power, Keith Taylor MEP, Green Party Member of the European Parliament for South East England, calls for a proportional voting system and an overhaul of the House of Lords
A small majority of the British public voted to Leave the European Union and I am still muddled, as are many people across the country – Remain and Leave voters alike.
It is, now, a little more than two months from that fateful day. David Cameron has resigned; the seemingly perpetual question of Labour leadership has reignited; the pied piper of UKIP has abandoned his ship, and the British people find themselves governed by the unelected leader of the most right-wing government, the country has witnessed in post-war times. Was this the vision of democracy, the Leave campaigners had in mind? Is this their idea of “taking back control”?
The expediency with which the Tories crowned Theresa May, with minimal party friction, seems, certainly to media commentators, like a political manoeuvre to be admired and commended for its bloodless efficiency. However, where some observers see political efficacy, I see symptoms of a serious democratic malady at the heart of not just Conservative party politics, but the British political system itself. The major parties in the UK have a lot less reverence for democracy than many people would care to admit.
May ascended to Number 10 on the backing of just 199 Conservative Party MPs. Andrea Leadsom, Theresa’s rival in the Tory leadership battle, was, apparently, persuaded to stand down by the party machine. Tory members, therefore, were denied a chance to express their democratic will, owing to the fear they would elect an inexperienced gaffe-prone Prime Minister.
In the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn became, less than a year ago, the first leader elected under the democratic electoral system introduced by Ed Miliband. For the first time, ordinary Labour members had an equal say on who should lead their party. The victory, however, was strongly opposed by the Labour party establishment and many MPs. Following a sustained campaign to undermine their leader, the parliamentary Labour party staged a failed coup resulting in the current leadership election. A leadership election that is being marred by goalpost-shifting rule changes, absurd legal challenges by wealthy donors, and the open hostility of MPs to the democratic will of their members.
The Labour party is attempting to close its members out of its internal democracy, while the Conservative party continues to deny its members access in the first place. Party political democracy is in a dire state.
While the major political parties’ lack of respect for members and democracy itself is, clearly, a problem, it is merely an indication of a scandal that is endemic to the entire British political system.
Britain’s head of state is unelected. The House of Lords is unelected. The House of Commons is the only chamber of Parliament elected by the British people. Just 15 million people voted for the 649 MPs representing the entirety of the country. Of the 30 million votes cast in the 2015 General Election, and subsequent by-elections, only half actually counted. Shockingly, precisely 15,411,611 Brits wasted their time at the ballot box.
In 2015, 46 million were eligible to vote, but the total number of votes cast for the Conservatives was just 11 million. In other words, 76% of Britons didn’t vote for the current government.
In 2016, is it acceptable for half of all votes cast to be worthless? Is it acceptable for a party to govern with a majority after being elected by less than 25% of the electorate?
During the EU referendum campaign, it was no wonder that “take back control” was the message that resonated with people. Voters feel powerless. Not least the almost four million people who voted for UKIP or the more than one million people who voted for the Green Party in 2015, who all have just one MP representing them. Our electoral system isn’t up to the task of representing the genuine political differences that exist in Britain.
The last UK General Election proved that two party politics is dead, 45% of the electorate didn’t cast a vote for Labour or the Tories; the EU referendum campaign raised awareness of the need for a representative democratic system; the referendum ballot itself revealed that, across all age groups, political engagement is likely to increase, when every single vote counts. Now is the perfect time to change the system once and for all.
So here’s my challenge to Leave campaigners: if you’re serious about democracy and giving people back control, join the campaign for a proportional voting system and an overhaul of the bloated House of Lords. We are already seeing the beginnings of the truly cross-party campaign we need to deliver the British people a political system that represents their views. We need to have a constitutional convention and take this conversation to the people. The referendum gave us a taste of real democracy, but we’re still hungry.