Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Reform means nothing in a system built to serve the elites

There has been much talk, recently, of voting reform. At present, MPs have overwhelmingly backed a referendum which would allow voters to decide whether our First Past the Post (FPTP) system should be replaced by an Alternative Vote (AV) system. Supposedly, this will "restore trust" in the political system and revitalise "a fundamental plank of our democracy." In reality, it is little more than a charade.

It is true that there are numerous problems with FPTP. Most obviously, it reduces electoral politics to a two-horse race, in which a third-party vote is a wasted one, and one must choose the lesser of two evils. It is also significant that a large majority of votes may play no part in determining the outcome. For Britain, the outcome of the General Election is entirely dependant on voters in the "swing seats" of Middle England.

However, there are also considerable flaws with AV. As Johann Hari notes, whilst "FPTP could be a system designed to stir apathy" and "leaves us with a tiny, feeble menu of choices," AV is "the one electoral system that is less proportional than FPTP." "There is just as little choice for voters, in reality" and "parties with minority support in the country still get to take power." Clearly, this is no better alternative and with apathy and disenfranchisement only likely to rise it will "restore trust" in nothing.

But what of the option not yet on the table, Proportional Representation (PR)? According to Hari, "the ballots of people on forgotten estates in Tyneside would matter as much as those of Mondeo Man in Middle England" and "we would be more engaged." However, the reality is not as rost as he suggests.

True, the situation of recent years where "Britain took a sharp turn to the right, against the will of the majority" would be "impossible." "The Tories would be locked into compromising with centrist or centre-left parties, or face being locked out of power." However, the difference that this would make is miniscule. Our media is a propaganda system shaped by the pressures of the market, and it reflects the opinions of elite groups to shape those of the general public, rather than the other way around. Big business and big money fund political parties, buying an escape from the pressures of public will. In fact, no matter what voing system is in place, parliamentary democracy can never truly serve the interests of ordinary people. It is a basic reality that in a world of power and capital, democratic institutions quickly grow into elected oligarchies.

Ultimately, we need to face the reality that only grassroots action by ordinary people can rectify the injustices we face today. There is and can be no top-down organisation that serves anybody but those at the top of it, such being the nature of power. If democracy is to work in any form, it can only be that of direct democracy. However, we cannot reform our way to that point. Before we have direct democracy, we need to have direct action.