Part One – the Problem
Britain is no longer a democracy, it is a plutocracy. The AV referendum was stolen from us in a system where wealth equals influence. I do not believe that the 10 million plus people who voted “No” were able to make a fully informed decision, nor do I believe that First-Past-The-Post is an electoral system in any way superior to the Alternate Vote. The result was illegitimate and I do not recognise it.
Among the lessons that we can learn from the past few weeks is that given sufficient funding, the British electorate can be persuaded to vote for absolutely anything – even against their own self-interests. We may look smugly across the Atlantic to where the Tea Party leads ignorant sheep to their slaughter, but we should be aware that it will just as easily happen here. A less kind term for our political system would be the “corporate dictatorship”, where the rich can have our democratic rights bought and sold in accordance with their own interests. The media for the most part is the communications wing of this dictatorship, and the Tory party is its public face.
I have no doubt that if the abolition of slavery was a modern-day issue, a referendum on it would be lost. Moral and even evidence-based arguments hold no sway against the well-funded defenders of the status-quo. Reactionaries will always be ruthless and without scruples in defending their own unjust privileges. Even presenting outright lies as fact is not below them – as so clearly proven just this week.
In a system where true power derives from money, their can never be any hope of improving the lot of the downtrodden and the oppressed. All that trickles down from the tables of the rich are insincere platitudes and the divide-and-rule philosophy of competition, where we struggle away our life energy to become fractionally better of whilst leaving our comrades behind. Nothing outside their own control can touch the ensconced comfort of the ruling elite.
Change through the ballot box is change through the grudging consent of our betters. Policy even marginally radical will be struck down before the campaign starts – slandered into oblivion by an obedient corporate press. The tabloid propaganda sheets keep the working classes from their salvation through poisonous lies – their justification being a twisted and disfigured interpretation of “free speech”.
It is no surprise then that the Tory party has always opposed electoral reform. They opposed AV. They opposed Scottish and Welsh devolution. They opposed lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. They opposed votes for women. They opposed universal male suffrage. They opposed extending the franchise beyond the rich and the land-owners. They have opposed every limitation in the power of the House of Lords. Their origins lie in the defence of the Divine right of Kings. Each an every reform has threatened their own power; their ability to dominate over those who do not consent.
And so the Tories opposed AV. Dressed up in a faux concern for the constitution, or any higher principles, they ruthlessly fought for their own illegitimate power. The rich and powerful donors stepped forward, and the Tory press gleefully peddled lie after lie in their cause. The result demonstrates that rational debate and facts are no match for superior funding. In this they were graciously aided by the Labour tribalists who, like the Animal Farm pigs, perhaps see themselves as an alternate nobility.
I look ahead to 2015 and see an action replay. A ten-point poll lead only exists at the whim of a favourable press. As the campaign period dawns, editor after editor will fall in line behind the Tory juggernaut.Scotlandmay well have gone its own way. Money will trump morality and a Tory majority will be returned. The pretext will be the government of the many – the reality is that of the few. First-past-the-post is an integral part of this corporate dictatorship. It is to their eternal shame that Labour, in pursuit of short-term gain, failed to see this.
Part Two – Solutions
The vested interests will argue that the question of electoral reform is now settled. It is not. The referendum was stolen from us, and the need for reform is thus greater than ever. Our entire political system must be reformed, and the Labour Party itself must be changed into a vehicle for that reform.
The defenders of the status quo argue that constitutional reform is not an important issue – that the economy, education, housing, healthcare, all come first. What they try to hide is that reform is an obvious prerequisite to anything meaningful being done about all of these. Our system works to silence those it lets down, it entrenches conservatism and maintains privilege.
First our electoral system needs to be changed – to one which is fully proportional. AV may be an imperfect step in this direction, but FPTP is thoroughly broken. There can be no moral defence for a government (Labour or Conservative) holding 100% of political on less than 40% of often lukewarm public support. I favour the Additional Member System (AMS) – used in their eternal wisdom by the German people – or its variant Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) used in Zealand. Coalitions and compromises are a good thing and they are needed. Decisions should always reflect the needs of many, and be to the benefit of most. It is no coincidence that the most blind ideologues of all extremes are united in their hatred of coalition government.
The AV referendum has convinced me that campaign finance reform is essential. There can be no equal platform of views in an election where funding is differential. The role of the salesman is to push the unwanted onto the unwilling – and it is in politics that they find a natural home. The argument that is intellectually poor should never triumph over that which is materially poor, and so there must be restrictions on election spending. Good ideas and policies will sell themselves without the need for the PR-man’s expensive gloss.
The media must be reined in. For policy to be bought and sold through commercial “news” providers like mere cars or branded cereals cannot be healthy for democracy. Editorials that push propaganda for their side should be openly censored for their bias. The slander of rival parties, policies or candidates should be punished by high financial penalties. Reporting can content itself with pure journalism and the publishing of empirical fact. Equal coverage must be given to all candidates within a circulation or broadcasting area. Critique and opinion pieces can be evidence-based and must allow for full right-of-reply. Furthermore, monopolies over broadcasting and journalism must be broken up. At present too much power and influence resides in the hands of too few individuals.
With election funding made equal for all candidates, election publicity must be further regulated. Leaflets, billboards and posters must all comply with stricter electoral commission rules. All claims must be fact-based and provable. Negative campaigning would be prohibited. Complaints procedures would heavily favour the offended party.
The adoption of AMS/MMP for Westminster elections would retain a constituency link for MPs. For election to these constituency seats a residency quota must be added. I favour a minimum 5-years non-consecutive residence within the constituency or in a neighbouring constituency. I the case of the Labour Party, candidate selection should be entrusted entirely to local CLPs. This would end the parachuting in of favoured sons from central office, and give Britain MPs will actual roots and interests in the welfare of their electors.
I favour the replacing of the House of Lords with an independent scrutinising body. Neither party appointees or elected politicians can be trusted to objectively scrutinise legislation and an alternative must be found. I admit that I do not yet know of a perfect alternative.
Ultimately Britain must become a republic. The emotional arguments for monarchy are many, but they are factually and morally bankrupt. As an institution the monarchy is the lynchpin of all power and privilege that is both unearned and undemocratic. It has no place in a Britain ruled by the merit of individuals and of ideas.
I will be the first to admit that my proposals are far-reaching and unlikely to be implemented. Those they disadvantage are powerful and influential. Those they benefit as yet have no voice. I will be very lucky indeed to see any of the above implemented in my lifetime, let alone all. As I see it now, the only hope for any democratic reform is for the Labour Party to finally put short-term partisan advantage aside in favour of the best interests of the British people.