I have written many times concerning what I consider is needed for a system of government to be considered democratic – usually with particular reference to the system of government used in the United Kingdom. The First Past the Post voting system, the lack of independent evaluations of Members of Parliament (MPs) and the lack of accountability outside of a General election all (to my mind) result in a system which is unfair, and weighted towards the privileged few who hold positions of power, influence or who are already part of the political circle.
These factors all contribute to the suppression of viewpoints which stray from the middle-ground, and allow the political parties or other influencers to control not only the debate, but also the topics of debate. This ensures not only that they are expected to voice opinions only on a limited range of subjects, but also that we the voters, can only really choose our representatives based on that very limited range of subjects.
Having suffered through a referendum (2016) and a General Election both of which ostensibly came down to a single issue: Brexit, I had hoped that in fact the pain of these events could lead to a broadening of the discussion. Alas, it would appear that not only do the government not wish to do this, but also that the opposition party Labour do not want to do this.
The Labour Party has always proudly stood behind the fact that its policies are derived from a democratic process including debate at the annual conference, and that therefore all Labour Party members were afforded the chance to vote for the policies for which they want the party to stand. Sounds lovely doesn’t it? Yet now the Labour Party wish to limit the subjects which can be debated at conference, by reinstating an old rule which means that only subjects which are ‘contemporary’ will be discussed. At the same time, the number and make-up of executives in each Constituency Labour Party (CLP) is also being changed, towards fewer executives, and a reduced requirement for representation of LGBTQ+ and so-called ethnic minority (BAME) groups. All of which follows on from a change to the process for electing a party leader, which now requires 20% of Labour MPs to be nominated rather than the 10% that it was previously. The result of these changes? The political direction of the Labour Party is now more under the control of the leadership than before: the membership of the CLPs is reduced and (potentially) less broad, the topics the CLPs raise for debate can be discounted by the leadership as not ‘contemporary’, and the MPs have (if not a veto, then) a very strong grip on who can be chosen as leader.
Does anything about these moves align with your understanding of democracy? Forget whether or not this is aligned with how you believe political parties should operate to gain power, or even how a political party should choose its policies or its leader… leave to one side whether or not you think a party should represent their voters or lead their voters…
Is it democratic?
Well no, it isn’t… it is an active reduction in democracy within the party itself. These moves are authoritarian: designed to strengthen the control over the party’s direction and policies within the current leadership.
So to the question in the title of this piece… can democracy be championed by an authoritarian?
There will be a General Election soon in the UK (possibly in the next few months) and given the performance of the current government, there is a strong possibility that the government will change. Feeling seems to run high that the government of today is not listening to the people, is not holding itself to its own previous commitments, and is essentially just out for itself and for the benefit of its own members and friends and donors… it would seem that people are fed up of being taken for granted by unaccountable idiots.
Imagine then their choice at the next General Election… the current crop of self-serving fools who promise one thing and do another… or an opposition party who claim democratic values whilst undermining them from within..?
Last year at the national conference, the membership of the Labour Party voted to introduce the policy of electoral reform, and although the vote was passed it was not adopted by the party leadership. It was claimed that this wouldn’t be a priority for a first term in government… well I ask you, how can anyone seeing these latest erosions of democracy within the party itself, possibly think that the Labour leadership has any desire to strengthen democracy itself?
It seems clear to me, that the interest of the Labour leadership is in the consolidation of power (at present, within the party itself); and even if this is justifiable in their eyes as being ‘the best approach to be elected’, it shows that deep within themselves, their goal is power, and that the ability to hold on to that power is dominant. Since this is the precise issue I have with the current government, how could I possibly vote for a party which has gone out of its way to display the exact same self-centred nature?
Keir Starmer promised much in this leadership campaign, and then rolled-back on it all (he even said as much publicly). Keir Starmer says that he cannot make unfunded promises for his government, yet Labour can rule out a wealth tax which could pay for additional policies! Keir Starmer says we shouldn’t open up new oil fields, but that if he becomes leader he won’t rescind permission for the new, undeveloped Rosebank oil field.
This is a person and a party that will do anything to win power… isn’t that what we already have? It will start small (it already has)… but how far will their drive for power take them… they’re already breaking democracy in their own party… what’s next?