Saturday, May 07, 2011

Oligarchy

So the British public have decided to reject AV in yesterday's referendum. This has caused several politicians such as John Reid, to suggest that this destroys the argument for any form of PR full stop... and that this is a ringing endorsement of First Past the Post. The BBC twitter account @BBCBreaking suggested that Britain had chosen to "overwhelmingly reject" AV. Whichever way you look at it, I would suggest that is a distortion of the facts.

I think we need to get a little perspective here. Out of all those eligible to vote in the referendum, only 42% bothered to even show up. While this doesn't help the AV cause... it certainly can not be claimed as a ringing endorsement of FPTP, which if you add the missing numbers only had 28.5% actively voting in favour of it.

Does it also not strike you a bit odd that 32% can be considered a crushing defeat for electoral reform and yet 35% sweeps a party to power? If the referendum has done anything, it has highlighted the anomalies in our political system all the more clearly. 

It is abundantly clear that the only "winner" was apathy (as always seems to be the case these days).

Yet politicians, the media and the public alike will hail the outcome or lick their wounds respectively... and sweep the elephant in the room under a conveniently placed carpet.

One of the reasons I am so actively opposed to FPTP, is that it introduces a form of oligarchy into our democracy... especially as things stand at present. Oligarchy is a form of government whereby the majority are ruled by the whims of a minority, a ruling elite. Oh sure, our electoral process is democratic enough in that you have the right to express your political preference... but when all is said and done, in the current climate whoever wins the day... does so with a minority backing them as first preference. While FPTP is a democratic form... it doesn't fit the politics of the UK for two reasons - diversity and apathy.

With diversity, the vote is split into a spectrum of colours. This currently favours the perceived right because outside of the Conservatives, there is no reputable right wing parties.... so they get the lion's share of votes. The left side is more fragmented... which causes problems for them... as more often than not it is their side that gets split. The trouble is that we have an electoral system that works best for two parties... and yet we have an increasing amount of political parties with varying degrees of respectability vying for our attention all the time.

The second problem is apathy. With 68% of people not committing their views to paper, their views are largely unknown. Proponents of FPTP will be eager to point out that it's their choice and their problem. This of course is true but it does not alter the numbers... or the facts - the vast majority of people who do not participate could easily take out any winning party.

My belief as an independent is that we need to take bilateral action to tackle both problems if we are to have a sensible democracy. Realistically, democracy hinges upon achieving the broadest consensus view.... something FPTP cannot give in our current political landscape. If you favour FPTP you actually favour oligarchy... you are actually saying "I don't care if most people completely disagree with me, if I get enough support I can impose my views on others".  This doesn't sit easy with me... it has an amoral whiff about it. In my view it doesn't marry up well with the idea of loving my neighbour as myself. It does marry up with survival of the fittest and that is perhaps why it leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Long ago on this blog I drew a comparison between the law of God and the "law of the jungle". First Past the Post has a kind of selfishness around it that I find quite distasteful. If we do decide to replace it, we will need to think it through carefully and choose wisely.

As for apathy... what do we do about it? Some would call for compulsory voting to be put in place, but is that really a realistic solution? I don't think so. An authentic democracy can never exist when it undemocratically subjects it's electorate, bullying it to make a decision against their willingness and freedom to choose not to participate... this too is immoral. It is clear to me that only a positive course of action will work. Politicians need to better engage with their constituents and perhaps be prepared to abandon some of their dogmatic views about how the country should be run... and actually let the electorate have a say in manifestos... make them malleable rather than rigid. I know plenty of people (myself included) who find themselves all at sea politically because we are in areas on the socioeconomic scale that have no representation and therefore whatever views we do have... are often seriously compromised when we come to vote.

In conclusion, PR is a part of the answer... but we must never confuse it as being the whole answer... or mistakenly believe it to be a panacea to solve all the problems in UK politics. Even at its best it will only give us a consensus from the minority who participate. It is only with a political renaissance, a reinvigorating of the disenfranchised voter... that we can truly revive democracy.

Then perhaps, at last... we can finally start to take more responsibility for our country and hammer the nails into the coffin of oligarchy and leave it in the grave... where it belongs.

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