Two seismic referendums and a leadership crisis are symptoms of a dying system of elite-controlled pseudo-democracy, writes JOE GILL
Brexit, and the unprecedented leadership crisis of both main parties, is a result of the unreformed Westminster system, as areas of the country and working-class voters peel away from the established parties.
This started with the Scottish referendum — after decades of having their views ignored Scotland supported the SNP and abandoned the Labour-Tory duopoly. They narrowly voted against leaving the union.
Next Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership against the party’s parliamentary elite.
Then voters backed Brexit, rejecting the Westminster consensus, as a kick against policies that have left much of the country worse off.
Now Labour sees a revolt by the PLP against the members’ choice 10 months ago — again, the choice of voters outside of Westminster goes against the interests and views of Westminster insiders.
The PLP seems to have forgotten about democracy and think they can decide who leads them — and presumably bypass the membership entirely, since they can’t be relied on to make the right choice.
It’s ludicrous to blame Corbyn for Brexit — that was due to decades of neglect and a rejection of globalised, deregulated labour markets, which Labour helped bring in with insufficient concern for the impact on poorer communities. Besides, 70 per cent of Labour supporters voted for Remain, so Corbyn did his job. Cameron didn’t.
Because our political system is closed and unaccountable — safe seats, minority governments under first past the post, power concentrated in Whitehall instead of regions having control of resources — we end up with referendum as a means of protest.
For Labour the problem is, even if Corbyn is not an ideal “leader,” he was duly elected in a landslide. The endlessly repeated trope that Corbyn is “unelectable” is a code for saying that the Westminster elite does not believe that someone with his views has the right to be elected in Britain’s bourgeois oligarchic democracy.
Essentially, as with the general who came out and said Corbyn was not fit to govern due to his foreign policy views, the elite believes in a limited form of democracy in which the people are given a choice to vote for parties and leaders who more or less agree on how the economy should work — free market corporate-welfare — and where Britain stands in the world — military power supporting Western-dominated world order.
Moreover, Corbyn believes that the grassroots party has sovereignty, not 172 MPs. In that belief, he is with the tide of history, toward more democracy and people power. But of course, each time the people get closer to taking control away from political and economic elites, the elite fights back. The bigger the threat, the more they fight.
As a country, we need to move beyond the idea of a parliamentary dictatorship, our 18th-century system which has hardly served the country well for the last three decades or so. For most of the 20th century when the two big parties dominated the political scene, representing coalitions of the major social classes in the country, it worked well enough.
David Cameron said the other day that sovereignty lies with the people, hence Brexit, but constitutionally, sovereignty lies with the Queen in Parliament. It’s archaic and it needs to change.
Brexit, the Scots referendum and Corbyn are the symptoms of a moribund system moving toward a system of popular sovereignty. But the people and the country are not used to this and so malignant results like all this racism and xenophobia and the Labour Party civil war are the result.
Parliamentary sovereignty was designed to prevent the masses having a direct say in politics. It is a pre-democratic system, with large elements of oligarchy and feudalism. It needs to be done away with.
Constitutional and electoral reform, and the desperate need for a federal rather than centralised system of democracy and resource distribution, are essential to renew the system. But the party elites are incapable of bringing this about — in most cases, they want to keep the status quo.
After the bourgeois-democratic revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries and the spreading ideas of democracy around the world, the limits of this liberal representative model have been reached.
For much of the 20th century, the left believed that socialism — in the form of a communist one-party system, or a social democratic majority under liberal democracy, could deliver. However, both systems — communist and social-democratic — viewed power as centralised. The leaders of the working class would look after the new collectively run economy with limited or no democratic input from the masses.
Since the collapse of communism and decline of traditional social democracy, new models have emerged of participative democracy, as seen in Latin America and to some extent in the new horizontal movements in Europe that seek to harness mass participation in the development of policy and constitutional arrangements.
Instead of elected dictatorships and neoliberal oligarchy, people want to have a direct say over government, not just voting in unaccountable career politicians every five years.
In the internet age, this is perfectly possible. Of course, some will say that ordinary people have neither the time, inclination nor knowledge to, say, directly vote on laws and put forward laws to Parliament based on petition. That’s a convenient line, but it doesn’t wash. Give people the tools, and they will get involved. Such experiments have already begun in the wave of new left governments in Latin America.
The only question is how do we get there, how long does it take and how much resistance will there be from the powers that be. The Arab spring showed that the counterrevolution is as bloody as ever. The dangers are real, as we can see in the resistance to Corbyn and what he represents: death to the old system of elite rule.
Perhaps, as in the 17th century, when England’s short-lived commonwealth was the first of its kind in the modern era, Britain can once again lead the way toward a new form of popular direct democracy.
The people are sovereign. In this, Corbyn’s is the way of the future.