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The decay of British democracy

The parliamentary democracy of which the British establishment is so proud now stands starkly exposed as a sham.

In the 1992 general election it is clearer than ever that there is nothing to choose between the parties, because all of them stand for nothing.

The political programmes of both Tory and Labour parties are exhausted; the Liberal Democrats never really had one in the first place. Without one decent idea among them, the colourless leaders of the major parties are reduced to swapping insults - and insulting the intelligence of the electorate with non-policies like the Citizen's Charter.

Meanwhile, in the real world outside this circus, British society is being reduced to rubble by the worst capitalist slump most people have ever experienced. Unemployment, indebtedness, poverty and a general air of economic insecurity are blighting the lives of millions.

The gap between the problems experienced by ordinary people and the so-called solutions offered by the politicians gets wider all the time. As a result, there is a growing mood of public disaffection with the political system, and alienation from the electoral process.

Cynicism about parliamentary politics has long been an underlying theme of British life. Today it is much more out in the open as the election approaches. The dismissive view that 'whoever wins, the government still gets in' is widespread, especially among younger people, who can see no point of contact between their concerns and the electoral circus.

This is what we mean by the decay of British democracy. It is not as if the British electorate has suddenly been robbed of real power. The authority of the House of Commons has always been illusory. Real power has always been exercised by the unelected elite of capitalist society - big businessmen, bankers, civil service mandarins, judges, police chiefs and generals, all presided over by a cabinet which takes little notice of the wishes of MPs, never mind the will of the people.

What's different today is the growing sense that many people have effectively been disenfranchised, left without even the semblance of choice or representation. The consequences can be seen in falling rates of voter registration, official fears of higher-than-usual abstention rates in the election, and the general feeling that even those who do vote will do so without enthusiasm or belief.

In the special Living Marxism election feature that follows, we look at various aspects of the decay of British democracy:
  • Parties that stand for nothing: why the Tories and Labour are both facing a crisis of confidence.
  • Of marginal interest: how the parties have failed to win the hearts and minds of voters in key marginal seats, north and south.
  • The Scottish dimension: where the prospect of a constitutional crisis best illustrates the breakdown of the British political system.
  • Fear of the masses: a look behind the democratic trappings, to reveal the contempt with which the rulers of Western capitalism regard their voters.
It all adds up to an overwhelming case for pulling down the old parliamentary order altogether, and replacing it with an alternative system: one in which the majority of people can exercise direct control over society themselves, instead of simply choosing between useless, faceless placemen once every four or five years.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 42, April 1992

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