Let's not be churlish about this: we don't have democracy. I recently saw an apt description of Britain: a country that had started on the road to democracy, gone so far, then given up. Democracy simply means rule by the people (either direct or representative).
Here are three key questions that expose the current sham of British democracy:
- Can we really say that we have rule by the people when a majority government is elected by the minority?
- Do we have democracy when the minority-elected Government can break promises made in their election campaign and make policy 'on the hoof' without the consent of the people?
- Can our process be described as democratic when there is an ever-growing propensity for our Government to use a Statutory Instrument, which allows new laws to be made or existing ones changed without having to pass a new act through parliament, and thus avoid full scrutiny and debate?
First, and foremost, we need Proportional Representation. If you were to analyse the difference between the proportion of votes and the proportion of elected representatives, by party, you would find the results chilling. For example, the Green Party, with over half a million votes - 1.12% - only got 1 seat - 0.15%. By comparison, the SNP needed less than 28,000 votes to win a seat.
In the 2015 election, 74% of votes were wasted and didn’t count towards the final outcome; in the 2017 election, 68% of votes were wasted.
When the results of the 2015 and 2017 elections culminate in the balance of political power, we see clear evidence that while we are said to operate the principle of one person one vote, some votes count more than others. In 2015 the party with just 37% of the national vote got over half of the seats in Parliament. Then in 2017, it took the collective votes of two parties, after a questionable alliance, to get over half of the seats with just over 43% of all votes.
To take the converse argument, we often hear words such as: “if you don't like what the Government does, you can vote them out”. How can that be the case when well over half of the electorate voted against the party (or parties) that took office but they still ended up with a majority in Parliament?
Secondly we have a political system that allows (and perhaps rewards) deception. For evidence of this, let's look at how a political party attracts votes and what happens when they are in Government. They start with a manifesto, which can best be described as a list of published intentions or policies that can by no stretch of the imagination be said to form a contract. Even after accepting that a manifesto is not binding, the track record of elected governments in fulfilling their manifesto is far from impressive.
One solution is to make the manifesto a binding contract, rather than a declaration of intent, by prohibiting the elected government from implementing something that is not in it, unless subsequently approved by the electorate by majority vote.
Thirdly, the use of Statutory Instruments should be limited to matters of detail associated with implementing an act approved by Parliament, that is consistent with the wishes of electorate after voting through a system of Proportional Representation. Such a requirement would help build the trust of the electorate.
Many politicians now realise they are distrusted and have started to use buzz words such as 'transparency' and 'scrutiny', yet the reality is that current processes achieve the exact opposite. Such distrust is hardly surprising when deals are done behind closed doors and the vaunted promise of 'consultation' simply means testing a pet theory to see if the Government can 'get away with it''. Just consider the examples of deals attempted or completed behind closed doors: TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership); the privatisation of the NHS by stealth, where private companies have taken over the management of hospitals that still proudly display the NHS sign; also the reckless pursuit of fracking although the majority of public opinion is clearly against it.
Adopting Proportional Representation and taking the other steps outlined in this blog would be the start towards true 'government by the people' and would help repair the present sham, which causes public distrust and dismay. Before implementation, the details should be clearly documented in a written constitution.