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Political system in meltdown

The meltdown of the UK political order is now self-evident and indisputable. From Scotland, to Clacton to Manchester – the message is more or less uniform. Voters are rejecting the mainstream parties in a big way.

Yesterday, voters in Clacton humiliated the Tories and elected the first-ever Ukip MP. Only a few hundred votes prevented the right-wing, populist Ukip from seizing the Labour seat of Heywood & Middleton, Greater Manchester, in a second by-election.

A few weeks ago, four out of ten Labour supporters in Scotland deserted the party, rejecting the call to vote ‘No’ in the recent independence referendum. Labour in Scotland now fears for its future. In May, Ukip triumphed at the European elections, coming top of the poll – while two-thirds of the electorate stayed at home.

These results express more than a rejection of the established political parties, however. The Tories and Labour are more than that. They have for a century shared the role of guardians of the state and the political and economic system itself.

For a period, there were choices as to how this was achieved. But no longer. The power of transnational corporations and financial markets has turned parliamentary parties into managers pure and simple. Control over the national economy has more or less passed out of their hands.

One of the consequences of this hollowing out of democracy is that turn-out at elections has fallen from 84% in 1951 to 65% in 2010. Where once Labour and the Tories could command well over 80% of the votes, their combined share is likely to be closer to 60% at the 2015 general election.

What is clear to millions of voters is that the present political system is neither democratic nor representative. A corporatocracy is a better way to characterise it. Enter Ukip, an anti-immigrant, xenophobic, homophobic populist party run by a former stockbroker who is an admirer of Vladimir Putin, the Russian autocrat.

Ukip has no plans to reform the political system (if that were at all possible) or policies to meet the economic crisis. But their simplistic anti-establishment policies appeal to some working class Labour supporters whose interests are blatantly ignored by the leadership and narrow-minded Tories who blame the European Union and Polish plumbers for just about everything.

Ultimately, however, our votes count for less and less. The majority feel powerless and are effectively disenfranchised. Vast numbers all over the UK are alienated from a political system which is:

The fall-out from the by-elections is likely to produce a hung parliament next May. The election could well coincide with another global financial crisis and a full-blown recession in the eurozone. Another coalition is in prospect, whose main aim, whatever its composition, will be to save the banks (again) and continue with spending cuts.

Scotland’s referendum showed that, given half a chance, millions will grab at an opportunity to reshape democracy when it affects their lives. Innovative and creative forms of participation are the way we have to go. The break-up of the old two-party system and the constitutional crisis that the Scottish referendum produced, is an opportunity as well as a Ukip-driven danger.

A progressive movement has to challenge not just the mainstream parties but the capitalist state political system, from a democratic standpoint. We have to extend democracy in ways that build on the achievements of the past centuries of struggle, including those against nationalism and fascism.

This has to involve the transfer of political power in a genuine way to ordinary people in their communities and workplaces, removing control of the economy, banks and the land from shareholders and corporations alongside new democratic institutions.

Assemblies for Democracy, which would bring people together to plan for truly democratic constitutions, could be a way forward. They would focus on developing proposals for democratic changes in each part of the UK. Assemblies would also mobilise to put these proposals into practice.    

In 2015, the year of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, we can build on our historical struggles and achievements – those of the Levellers and Diggers of the English Revolution, pioneering trade unionists, the Chartists and the Suffragettes. Let them inspire us to reclaim and remake democracy in the interests of the 99%. It’s the best way to counter the Ukip menace.

A World to Win editors
10 October 2014

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Your Say

Terry Button says:

I absolutely accept this analysis of the situation in the UK, but it occurs to me that there is an international significance, although still indeterminate, which portends deep changes on a world scale. The first and greatest ever capitalist nation state is disintegrating. Others will surely follow.

I am disappointed that you did not include the Bolsheviks among past fighters for democracy. They were the only ones who ever really go it right.