The 2015 British General Elections from a Dutch perspective.

Submitted by hadrian on Mon, 05/11/2015 - 23:22

First things first, I don't believe that any form of representation should ever be called democracy. Representation in and of itself means the illegitimate expropriation of Authority from the represented. Nevertheless, we must accept the fact that we live within "the system" and can provide a critique within "the system." Make no mistake in reading this article, no representative "democracy" will ever bring us salvation and the best reform would be the abolition of the Governmental apparatus and the creation of social relations based on Mutual Aid.

The British have voted in what should have, by count of votes, have been a very close election. The Tories gained a definite majority with only about 37% of the vote. The Labour party is a close runner-up in votes (just over 30%) but only won about one third of the seats in parliament. Fortunately, UKIP only gained a single seat in spite of having almost 13% of the vote. On the other hand, the SNP managed to get 56 seats with only 4.7% of the vote. For the full results, see the BBC page.

The average Dutch person, and probably most people from the continent, are baffled every election by these eratic results. The difference in thinking about these results arises, of course, from the difference between proportional representation and first-past-the-post. In the former system, used in almost all countries on the continent, seats are assigned in parliament based on the percentage of votes a party has received. In the first-past-the-post system, on the other hand, an electorate into constituencies is divided and in each constituency candidates that stand for election in only that constituency are voted on. The candidate with the largest amount of votes in the constituency automatically gets elected. This means that a party which gets, for example, only 25% of the vote could still get all the seats in parliament if every other party in every constituency has fewer votes. Moreover, a party may not stand for election in all constituencies as they need to find a different member willing to stand election for each and every constituency.

The system of first-past-the-post and constituencies, obviously, has problems. The representation in parliament can become very skewed with regards to the amount of votes. Nevertheless, the system of constituencies has some advantages over the system of proportional representation. The system of proportional representation can allow parliament to consist of people from only a single region in the country. For example, it is theoretically possible for the entire Dutch government to be filled by people from the town of size of British constituencies, roughly 74000 voters, makes halfway decent representation possible. Of course, the fact that there are 650 seats in parliament means that a decision that all agree on will easily be watered down. Nevertheless, the system allows representation based on people and not merely ideas and self-interest. Moreover, if devolution becomes more important parliament could become a coordinating federal body instead of a governing body.

Of course, we are well aware that politicians in the United Kingdom are just as self-centered as those in the Netherlands. The vote for the Tories has been a vote for brutal austerity. One of the major problem that the English system has created is political parties. Political parties create self-interest based on one's position in the party. A member of a party who's critical of some key policy of that party is far less likely to rise to an important position than a member who acquiesces on these policies. This is but one factor that makes representation of the constituency less likely. This is helped by the fact that a representative will last till either hir death or, at least, the next elections. As in any form of democracy, direct accountability is imperative. This is the core difference between representation, where a representative has a certain term-limit and is hard to remove from office, and delegation in which the delegate must constantly legitimize hir actions and can have hir delegation repealed when this is found necessary by those who have delegated hir.

It is here that the British system could, I think, best be reformed. By-elections shouldn't be called only upon special circumstances but be a constant fear of the politician in question. An act that allows a modicum of recall capabilities has already been implemented. However, this bill has been criticized for being a sham. The main problem with the recall bill is the inability of any recall petition to come from the people in the constituency itself. Zac Goldsmith, the Tory MP for for Richmond Park, had actually pushed for this ability as an amendment but it got squashed. In the end, parliament voted for a bill that continued to safeguard their own positions.

Of course, a simple recall ability is not enough. There are plenty of problems with the British system but it is also a system that carries within it the possibility of ameliorative reform. On the other hand, the system of proportional representation makes something like a recall petition almost impossible to carry out. In the Netherlands alone there are roughly 17 million inhabitants. Getting even one per cent of them to sign a recall petition will be a herculean effort at least. Getting ten per cent of a single constituency in the United Kingdom, who have a clear representative tied to them, to sign a recall petition is likely to be a lot easier.

Accountability is the strength of any democracy, oppressive or non-oppressive. Representative democracy will always be oppressive and the systems that are in place, even with a recall petition, will continue to be oppressive. This remains true as long as there is a Government that can make decisions over how we live our lives and then enforce them. In other words, any Government which claims and tries to maintain the monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, will be oppressive. We know, from experience, that the Government of the United Kingdom is happy to use police brutality to get its way. The Tories are already plotting to scrap human rights. This is, of course, in line with the party's interests as it will allow them to repress worker's organizations and other organizations of resistance even further, continuing a long-standing tradition.

The possibility of redress by holding members of parliament carries, within it, a new danger. It can form a legitimation of oppression by giving people the ability to hold some people accountable. Within "the system" there are great advantages to the United Kingdom's method of voting by providing means of self-legitimation as well as giving "the people" a voice. The system of first-past-the-post has the ability to be reformed, over the long stretch, into something akin to a federalist organization of society where decisions are almost only made at the grass-roots level. The road to this society is long and full of traps, dangers, and reactionary politicians. The core of such reform must be a revolutionary intention and strategy: making individuals see their abilities and the strength of self-management.

One thing is for sure, The Tories, UKIP, Labour, and other parties won't bring the change we want to see. Not only are the major parties representatives of different ideas of Capitalism. The Tories represent the "neo-liberal" branch, UKIP the fascist one, and Labour a less speedy change into the "neo-liberal" branch. The British population would do well to build alternative modes of organization free of the Government. This will allow them to experiment with these modes of organization and find solutions that work with their localized problems. Moreover, these organizations can provide alleviation against austerity through mutual aid. The danger of the Tory "Big Society" is that it is, to a large extent, an attempt to channel solidarity in organizations tightly controlled by the State. What we need is solidarity in non-Statist organizations that work free of interference. Not only can such modes of organization provide alleviation against implemented austerity, they can also form centres of resistance against further austerity and further oppression. Of course, centers of resistance are strong in the United Kingdom and protests have a tendency of getting out of hand. We'll see if the Tories can replicate their previous successes. If they do, let's hope it will be the end of oppressive government in the United Kingdom.

 

 

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