Strange things are happening across the political spectrum but they have a common theme. The old political parties are imploding and electorates are playing a major role in their demise. From Brexit to Trump, people are using whatever tools they can find to attack a system that has made them poorer and marginalised them into the bargain. The political elites have become hostages to fortune as years of deceit come back to haunt those who put their own careers and ideology before the wellbeing of those they were supposed to serve.
The Labour Party made the fatal mistake of allowing Jeremy Corbyn to stand for leader and his hard-line supporters are rapidly making the party unelectable. Although the moderate wing still has the most MPs and is considering forming a new party, this is easier said than done and could end up in a legal battle over the name and funds. Whatever happens, Labour is finished as a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future and has already been wiped out in Scotland.
The Lib-Dems flew too close to the sun and got burned by their coalition with the Tories. There can be no future for a party of protest with only one party to protest about. However, the Lib-Dems lack the resources, vision or appeal to replace Labour and have already proposed forming a new, pro-EU, party with others.
UKIP won the battle of the referendum but is now engaged in a bitter leadership contest between nonentities. Nigel Farage has gone and is rumoured to be contemplating the launch of a new party/movement with main sponsor Arron Banks. Farage was plainly ill-at-ease with many in his party and recently described UKIP’s National Executive Committee as “amateurs” and “among the lowest grade of people I have ever met.” However, Nigel Farage is a charismatic anti-establishment figure who could yet play an influential role.
The Conservative Party is holding together due to its ruthless capacity for self-preservation. It is being greatly helped by Jeremy Corbyn and the collapse of the other parties but has significant problems of its own. The prolonged nature of the Brexit process, with a majority of its MPs for Remain, the strong personalities involved and the unremitting pressure from an ongoing monetary crisis all point to extremely difficult times ahead.
Even the highly-disciplined and gradualist SNP is now coming under pressure from its own Militant style movement, the Radical Independence Campaign. The SNP recently gained over one hundred thousand new, pro-independence, members and also moved significantly to the Left to sweep up a large body of disaffected Labour supporters. Two horses that will become increasingly difficult to ride. The 2015 General Election gave it 56 out of 59 Westminster seats but the 2016 Scottish elections saw a drop in support and it lost its overall majority. The splits in the SNP are becoming increasingly fractious including calls for it to ditch the Monarchy and form a republic. At the last count, Scotland required cash support of £307 million per week from the Treasury and, even though Brexit has handed it yet another lever to break up the United Kingdom, the future also looks grim for the SNP.
The political elite may have received an unprecedented mauling but has yet to moderate its beliefs. Professor AC Grayling, Master of New College of the Humanities in London, recently wrote to all 650 MPs urging them not to trigger Article 50 to leave the EU. Professor Grayling justified his call, ‘made on a personal basis,’ on the grounds that the electorate had been lied to, the majority was insufficient for a decision of this magnitude and that MPs, the majority who were for remain, had an overriding duty to act in the national interest. These are valid points and the Brexit campaign may well have exaggerated the benefits of leaving the EU. That said, Remain also exaggerated and was termed ‘Project Fear.’ Prof Grayling went on to suggest that the EU referendum was a manifestation of ‘ochlocracy’ or, in simple terms, mob rule. The implication being that Brexit voters were incapable of understanding the issues, a common belief in the corridors of power.
We are now only allowed to vote for a change of government once every five years and largely ignored in the interim. Although this is plainly unacceptable in an age of instant communication, a large chunk of the electorate is for sale to the highest bidder or susceptible to dog whistle politics. Political parties do not use terms such as ‘saving the environment, the rich must pay more, fairness, or the privileged few’ without good reason. These phrases are all designed to attract votes from people who have an axe to grind or a perception that others are receiving more favourable treatment than them. The political gravy train also provides a moving feast for the media. Co-operative reporters are fed ‘scoops’ to give them copy, whereas critical reporters, such as Nick Robinson during the independence referendum in Scotland, are blacklisted and can even face calls for their dismissal.
Given that the status quo is fading before our eyes, we would appear to have three options; we can either, (1) give ‘intelligent’ people more votes than others, first suggested 1859 by John Stuart Mill in response to Chartists demands for universal voting rights, (2) give up on democracy altogether and elect a president to run the country, or (3) devolve sufficient power to the people to give them a stake, a share and an interest in how their country is run. One possibility for decisions of national importance would be a ‘peoples’ panel’ selected at random to make recommendations to parliament after considering expert evidence and representations from the general public. The sharing of difficult and potentially life-changing decisions would make their implementation a great deal more palatable. As much power as practical should also be devolved so that local decisions are made as close to the people as possible. Mistakes will be made but people would learn from them and from others who were achieving better outcomes.
If you believe that there are insufficient sensible citizens to produce sound decisions, then you will probably wish power to remain with the elite, irrespective of the damage they might yet cause or the debt they will undoubtedly incur. However, as the present system crashes around us it might be wise to think out of the box for once.
Apart from reducing the power of political parties, we must ‘educate’ the electorate by bringing them inside the tent. Not full on Direct Democracy, as in Switzerland, but by keeping decision-making as local and close to the people as possible. An essential element to any reform will be a system that allows competent and principled MPs to perform to the best of their ability rather than having to act as party ciphers to protect their careers.
One of the barriers to reform is the perceived length of time that it might take to modernise a centuries-old system where the vested interests still hold the levers of power. However, such is the contempt for the status quo and the pent up need for reform that any changes will most likely take place a lot faster than normal. We must therefore open our minds to the radical and game-changing measures that will undoubtedly be required whilst maintaining the integrity of our world-famous Parliament. Our starting point is that the status quo is no longer fit for purpose and has been rejected; we therefore require an inclusive political system that works for us rather than against us.