We’re governed by a anti-democratic elite that governs in the interest of big business and the super-rich
Last week Theresa May called a snap – i.e. sudden, triggered-when-she-knows-she’s-virtually-guaranteed-to-win-it – general election.
Melodramatic pundits will talk about it like it’s some grand exercise in democracy, but it won’t be. Britain isn’t a democracy and never has been.
The fact we’re even having an election under these circumstances is laughably undemocratic. Theresa May is an unelected Prime Minister. She just inherited the job from David Cameron when he resigned after losing the Brexit referendum.
She knew she would have to face a proper public vote eventually – so she’s rigged the process in her favour. She’s waited until she’s massively ahead in the polls, then sprung a last-minute election – having repeatedly said she wasn’t going to do so.
Labour and the other parties now have seven weeks to get their act together. She and the Tories have probably been secretly preparing for months. It’s like a school choosing the date of its own OFSTED inspection.
Our voting system is undemocratic
Meanwhile, we’re still lumbered with a baffling nineteenth century voting system that ignores half the population – First Past the Post.
The UK is split into 650 constituencies. Each one has an MP. On June the 8th, voters will choose who they want to be theirs. They’ll have candidates from several different parties to pick from. The party that gets the most MPs wins the election, and the leader of that party becomes Prime Minister.
Which doesn’t sound too bad on paper. But it’s actually terrible.
For starters, it means that parties can get into government even when most people voted against them.
In 2015, for example, the Conservatives won because they got more MPs elected than anyone else – but they only got 36.9% of the total votes cast (and 63.1% of people voted against them).
Then there’s the fact that more than half the UK’s 650 constituencies don’t matter. They’re ‘safe seats’ – ones where one party always wins, by such huge margins, over so many elections, that there’s virtually no chance of any of the others taking it from them.
More than 200 constituencies have been won by the same party at every election since 1950 – and the needs of the people who live in them get ignored, while the parties focus on winning in constituencies that have a chance of changing hands.
If you’re, say, a Labour supporter in Richmond – a seat that’s been Tory since 1910, and where the sitting MP won by 20,000 more votes than the candidate who came second in 2015 – you may as well not bother voting.
It’s an all-or-nothing system. If a constituency candidate gets the most votes, they win – even if they won 2,000 votes and the person in second place got 1,999. The 1,999 votes count for nothing.
That’s why the system massively favours big, established political parties – predominantly Labour and the Conservatives – and punishes smaller ones like the Greens. If you don’t like the two flavours on the menu, in other words, you’re out of luck.
People power is in short supply
But all of that barely scrapes the surface of what’s wrong with politics as-is. We live in a country that’s fundamentally skewed in favour of the wealthiest – and our woefully undemocratic political system helps perpetuate that.
Democracy means ordinary people governing themselves. The original Greek literally translates as ‘people power’.
In a genuinely democratic country, people wouldn’t just vote for a representative once every few years – they’d directly take part in running every aspect of society.
Here’s the democratic acid test. Look out the window. Pick someone at random, and then ask yourself – how much meaningful say does that person have over the political decisions that affect them, and in shaping the future direction of the society they live in?
Unless you’re sat in Westminster or Canary Wharf, the answer is probably absolutely none.
Britain isn’t a democracy. Instead, we’re ruled by a managerial political elite that uses the power of the state to benefit corporate interests, US foreign policy and the richest people in society.
The majority of MPs and wannabe MPs who’ll stand on June the 8th have views that are basically the same. They believe government exists to run a corporate-dominated capitalist economy as efficiently as possible.
They think taxes should be low, schools and hospitals should be run like businesses, rich entrepreneurs are good, trade unions are bad, and wrenching poverty and inequality aren’t a priority.
It’s a belief system that unites most MPs regardless of which party they’re in – and, for decades, it’s ensured that whichever one gets elected, the richest keep getting richer at everyone else’s expense.
The coup against Corbyn
But in September 2015, one of the few MPs in parliament who doesn’t subscribe to that worldview managed to get elected leader of the Labour Party.
Jeremy Corbyn is a principled democratic socialist. As Labour leader, he’s proposed some mild reforms designed to begin the process of dragging society back in a more equal, democratic direction.
In response, mainstream MPs and political commentators have tried to destroy him.
A mixture of sabotage by high-profile anti-Corbynites inside the Labour Party, and eighteen months of demonisation in the press, have probably fatally damaged his chances of being Prime Minister.
We know his policies are popular. He wants to renationalise the railways, renationalise the NHS, scrap tuition fees, ban zero hours contracts, increase the carers allowance, and restore the nurses’ bursaries that the Tories abolished last year.
But on TV and in the papers, you hear next to nothing about them. Instead, the focus is on discrediting the man himself.
LSE academics found that 75% of press coverage misrepresents Corbyn. They concluded that the media isn’t a watchdog, holding powerful people to account, but an attack dog – ‘blatantly delegitimising political actors that dare to challenge the status quo’.
That’s because political journalists are practically identical to MPs if you look at where they’ve been educated, where they live, what they earn and so on.
They share the same beliefs about how governments and societies should be run – and have deluded themselves into thinking vast inequality, economic policy tailored to the needs of banks and big business, and the monopolisation of power by a tiny Westminster-based elite is compatible with democracy.
Placed up against someone who stands for genuine democratic politics, they’re just as eager to annihilate them as their allies in the House of Commons. And for the last eighteen months, they’ve subjected Corbyn to a propaganda barrage that the most organised, media-savvy, telegenic politician would struggle to withstand.
Which leaves us facing a general election that Labour will almost inevitably lose. It’s been carefully engineered to give Theresa May a landslide victory.
After months of coup-grade bias against Corbyn in the press, the Tories have waited until the polling gap between them and Labour is at its biggest, then called an election with such short notice that even the greatest campaign in history couldn’t prevent the opposition winning.
Obviously we still have to try and win it. At very least, it might win over some new recruits for the much bigger battles ahead.
But when we don’t, we have to have some idea of what to do next.
If Corbyn goes, the Labour establishment might well fix it so that a business-as-usual leader replaces him.
In that scenario, there’s a danger that the thousands of radicals who’ve joined over the last eighteen months won’t just drift away from party politics, but politics altogether.
We need those people, because the best bet for bringing about a genuinely democratic, socialist society is building a massive social movement that starts to transform society outside parliamentary channels.
Unite enough people around radical values, and an alternative way of looking at the world, and you could start to foster the very beginnings of a sort of society within a society.
You could pool resources to provide radical education and mutual aid and subsidised housing to those in need. Over time, you could go further – drawing in more people, pooling more and more resources, until you could even go as far as offering jobs and healthcare outside the elitist, ecocidal mainstream.
Of course, for now, it’s pie in the sky thinking. But if there’s one thing the Corbyn era has taught us – or if it hasn’t already, then the next few weeks certainly will – it’s that, for radicals, the electoral route is a dead end.