Brief Flicker of Election: a Myth in British Democracy
09:47 GMT 30.09.2021 (Updated: 09:58 GMT 30.09.2021)
© AP Photo / Victoria JonesA police officer is stationed outside a polling station at Cubitt Town Infant and Junior School on the Isle of Dogs in London, as people cast their votes in the general election (File)
© AP Photo / Victoria Jones
The withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan represents not only a geopolitical failure, but also the doom of indiscriminately imposing Western-style democratic structures on other countries.
The fact that the export of Western democracy usually turns out to be catastrophic raises another question: is the Western model so flawless that it should be universally accepted? Or rather, is that model functioning so perfectly at home, that it could automatically deliver the bless of whatever it was designed for?
Taking the British parliamentary system—crowned as one of the most historic liberal democracy systems in the West—as an example, from chaotic Brexit drama, the rise of populism to the malfunction of government in responding to Covid-19 pandemic, the media increasingly associates “crisis”, “degradation” or “fallure” with the British democracy, which is not merely a attention-grabbing tactic. A survey conducted by YouGov and Southampton University asked almost 2,000 respondents in the UK whether they agreed with the statement that “politics is dominated by self-seeking politicians protecting the interests of the already rich and powerful in our society”. The result was 72% agree (with 42% strongly agree) and 8% disagree. The British system is problematic, admit it or not.
One of the root causes of this grievance has been ignored for long: the myth of identifying democracy with elections only. As a matter of fact, the two are closely linked, but are not interchangeable concepts. Failure originates in taking means as ends. Researches show that the British democracy, designed to deliver inclusiveness, equality, right to life and liberty, is going backwards on almost all indicators.
An unavoidable consequence of equalizing democracy as electoral results is the negligence of the very thing that each ballot represents for: are voters really given the resource to make independent choices? In the world of technology, data and the rise of “fake news”, it is confusing that in whose interest people’s decision of choosing one person over another is shaped. The fact that people vote in well-designed elections cannot suffocate the discussion on whether they have made decisions in benefit of those rich or powerful enough to buy and collect resources—a fee-paying minority.
Meanwhile, the British electoral system has created a man-made divergence of significance among voters. In the 2019 British general election, 90% of constituencies were considered either Tory’s or Labour’s. Hence, few resources were devoted in those constituencies. By contrast, the 10% battlefield--swing constituencies--grasped rapt attention of both major parties, coming with it floods of money, visits and promises. There is a huge question mark over whether the election incarnates the cornerstones of democracy: equal right and respect for everyone.
A deeper misery is that the right to decide risks disappearing each time when the election is over, and that citizens, if they are lucky enough to choose rulers autonomously, cannot shape the rules. First, there is little accountability of the MP to the voter between elections. Only one third of promises made in the 2017 Conservative manifesto has been fulfilled by far. Second, interest groups can easily influence the representatives without the knowledge of the voter. Third, Westminster and Whitehall are lured to take short-term decisions or support extra expenditure that may create long-term financial and social problems. The most disastrous example is David Cameron and his casual use of the Brexit referendum. Resigning like a boy quitting a video game, he broke the core principle of a responsible government: those who advocate a policy must take responsibility for its results.
The whole thing brings the discussion further to the relationship between a parliamentary democracy and a participatory democracy. In the British system, is the right to choose matched by the power—and the resource—to act? Plenty of researches confirmed that voters believe they are powerless and voiceless, that they increasingly demand for a greater direct say over what their elected representatives do, a more inclusive basis of political understanding and a larger forum to participate in politics. To regard democracy only as a regular electoral procedure is the shallowest conception of modern-day political life.
© REUTERS / Russell Boyce/IllustrationPostal voting papers for the UK general election, which is due to take place June 8, 2017, are seen in this illustration picture taken May 26, 2017
Postal voting papers for the UK general election, which is due to take place June 8, 2017, are seen in this illustration picture taken May 26, 2017
© REUTERS / Russell Boyce/Illustration
It is an alarming sign that 42% of UK voters would prefer it if governments did not “have to worry so much about parliamentary votes”, according to the Hansard Society. Does it suggest the deified electoral system is gradually becoming a negative asset of the British democracy?
It’s high time to yield the plan of selling the Western political model abroad to a sober reflection on what democracy itself is really about.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.