After the election
Why we must break through to a real democracy
The Tory election victory cannot disguise the continuing break-up of the political-state system of rule and will actually hasten it. Over 75% of the UK electorate is unrepresented in any meaningful way while Scotland’s anti-austerity aspirations are blocked.
What appears as a shock result belies a deep-going process of transformation, opening a period of political volatility of rising demands for rights that test and will break the limits of parliamentary democracy. Although turn-out was up slightly, a third of voters stayed at home, feeling that their votes counted for little.
A system that produces a dominant government which has the backing of under a quarter of those entitled to vote is democratic in name only. Safe to say, however, the mainstream parties have no intention of changing this.
Why would they? The skewed voting system is but an expression of one-sided state rule that speaks predominantly for corporate and financial power. The markets are happy with Thursday’s outcome – and that’s what counts in reality.
Demands for voting reform will only intensify the constitutional impasse, therefore, as they will fall on deaf ears. Yet the system is fracturing and fragmenting before our eyes. Dependent for the last 70 years on the two-party, my-turn-your turn arrangement for legitimacy, it can no longer do so. That has been broken by Labour’s demise, perhaps irrevocably.
The historic wipe-out of Labour in Scotland makes it difficult to see them ousting the SNP from working-class constituencies any time soon. This is the pay-back for Ed Miliband’s crass alliance with the Tories to thwart self-determination in the referendum, the patronising, right-wing nature of Labour in Scotland and the party’s identification with the Westminster political elite.
Miliband’s dismissive description of the anti-austerity tide sweeping Scotland as a “wave of nationalism” showed precisely where his party stood in the election – for continuing cuts, for nuclear weapons and for an outdated political union dependent on Westminster.
This more than any demonising of Miliband by the right-wing press cost Labour. While the SNP distinguished themselves from Labour and Tories by being anti-austerity, Labour was identified with the Tories. In England, many inner-city areas had turn-outs of under 60%; in Scotland, some constituencies produced a turn-out of over 80% and a 20-year old student defeated Douglas Alexander, the so-called architect of Labour’s disastrous campaign.
Add in the planned redrawing of constituency boundaries in favour of Tory-voting areas and the rise of Ukip in areas like the North-east – they finished a strong second in 120 seats nationally – and the future is bleak for Labour.
The appeal of the right-wing populist Ukip is to voters betrayed by Labour, which accounts for most of the party’s nearly 4 million votes (giving them just one seat). A million people also voted Green in anti-establishment, anti-austerity defiance.
The fact that Labour is unlikely to be able to form a majority government in the near future, if ever again, is therefore an integral part of the growing constitutional crisis. It calls into question the whole doctrine of parliamentary politics as the only route we can pursue to seek change.
Corporate-driven globalisation has for at least three decades if not longer denied social democratic reformism the space to operate. The Blairites recognised this and created pro-market New Labour. Under Miliband, a halfway-house of total confusion took over.
Although New Labour clearly did not bring down the financial system, the rampant deregulation of the Blair-Brown years left the Bank of England without power while the “investment” arms of the banks went on a leverage spree. So New Labour had a degree of political responsibility for the crash but Miliband and his crew would not and could not accept this.
Vague policies based on creating a “responsible capitalism” through state intervention and regulation had little appeal or substance. Aligning themselves with Tory budget cuts and a public sector pay freeze revealed Labour as a pale imitation of the Tories.
This proved decisive in allowing the reactionary Tories to triumph at the polls. Voters concluded that it was better to vote for the real thing. In England, the Tories’ share of the vote was an astonishing 41% and Labour ended up with almost 100 fewer parliamentary seats than Cameron after its worst election performance since 1987.
Part of the responsibility for the Tory victory should also be laid at the doors of the trade union bureaucracy of the major unions, Unite, Unison and the GMB. They financed the campaign to elect Miliband as Labour leader in exchange for which they abandoned anything but token resistance to Tory cuts and attacks on pensions.
Miliband gave them nothing in exchange – no commitment to repeal the anti-union laws or abandon Tory spending cuts. Yet the union leaders kept their heads down and sustained the illusion that Miliband and Labour was the answer. What a waste of resources. Union members should demand their organisations join others in withdrawing from Labour and spend their money on alternative means of political representation.
The Conservative win reflects the misleading appearance of an improving economy, whose “recovery” is funded by record and increasing levels of public and private debt. Renewed global recession is on the horizon, having been postponed by gargantuan inventions of new credit by the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan among others.
Against this background, austerity will continue and deepen in every part of the UK. Resistance to this is centred in Scotland, where its voters placed their hopes and aspirations in the anti-austerity stance of the SNP.
The SNP is, however, riding the tiger of Scotland’s May 7 Revolution and as a party of business will not be able to resist austerity and spending cuts. And the Tories are planning to cut financial support to Scotland in exchange for further devolution of powers from Westminster as promised after the referendum. Stand by for the green light to the frackers once Scotland’s own elections are out of the way next year.
The outcome of the election brings the questions of democracy and power to the fore in every nation in Britain. Only the Greens raised this issue, otherwise who is in charge and who has the power was never spoken about. That's why Miliband was rightly seen as hollow.
The Tories’ plan for a referendum on the European Union will use nationalism to avoid this question and we should say now that there can be no real democracy so long as corporate and financial power holds sway. It’s not Brussels or London that’s decisive but on whose behalf decisions are made.
To resist austerity and deep spending cuts, the renewal of Trident, the onslaught of fracking, the continuing marketisation of the NHS and the attack on human rights now planned, we cannot depend on others to do our fighting for us in Parliament.
As we cannot even achieve modest reforms through Parliament, then a more direct form of democracy, that provides people with real power, is the way forward. Let’s move beyond a system that is no longer representative to one that gives control over resources and decision making to ordinary people and their communities.
Who will defend people from austerity and who will look to fix this broken system? Who will look to replace the corporatocracy that resumes control at Westminster after the inconvenience of an election? People everywhere in UK can only do it for themselves.
That’s the importance of developing the Assemblies for Democracy into a movement that can help facilitate and inspire a transition to a real democracy. A network of Assemblies throughout the UK can lead to a citizens’ assembly on the constitution, for example, which Occupy Democracy and others are campaigning for.
An unrepresentative Parliament imposing the demands of the financial markets on the 75% who didn’t vote for the government has no authority or real legitimacy. We need to take our democratic achievements into a new era, where social rights like replacing corporations with co-operative ownership are enshrined in a people’s constitution. That’s the big lesson of the 2015 general election.
A World to Win editors
9 May 2015