‘The Hate rose to its climax. The voice of Goldstein had become an actual sheep’s bleat, and for an instant the face changes into that of a sheep… But in the same moment, drawing a deep sigh of relief from everybody, the hostile figure melted into the face of Big Brother… full of power and mysterious calm’. This, from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was a view of a dystopian Britain ruled by fear; fear of change. While undeniably extreme, replacing Goldstein with Jeremy Corbyn and Big Brother with Theresa May gives you some idea of the media portrayal of the current political situation in the UK.
Now, I am in no way defending Corbyn or the Labour Party by using such an example, they couldn’t administer a fruitcake stall. What I am trying to get at is the nature of the nation we are slowly marching towards. It is a nation, nominally democratic, but where the result is a forgone conclusion; where the ‘free and liberal’ media has an innate and inescapable bias. Indeed, over the past 8 months, dozens of polls have demonstrated that large swathes of the British population believe the media to be biased against Corbyn. A Yougov poll in September last year found 51% of people believed media coverage to be biased in this way.
‘One-Nation Conservatism’: that is how the current Tory party is being described, a party for everybody with a policy for the masses… the only party Britain needs. I believe Mao Zedong believed something quite similar. Of course, I am not comparing May to Mao; there are important and inalienable differences; the last letter of their names for a start. But the principle of the belief in the necessity for only one party is none the less the same. Ultimately, it is the belief that constant, unchallenged and uninterrupted leadership by one group is the solution to national woes and the problems of the people, ’strong and stable’ government is the current popular phrase. But, such a belief is not only the complete antithesis of all liberal thought, but of the very foundations of democracy itself. In a way, it is the belief Orwell warned us against.
This belief is not exclusive to the Conservative party however; rather it is a common ideological position held by every political party, primarily because they exist in a system designed to provide ‘majority government’. As such, the definitive goal of any given political party, no matter what they say in public, is the creation of a ‘one party democracy’; and on the 8th June, if the Local Elections are anything to go by, it is looking quite likely that this aim will finally be achieved.
Of course, this primarily exposes the major weaknesses in the British system of government – representation and democracy – but that is a subject for another day. More immediately, it must lead us to question the current state of our democratic system and its future. There are three questions which we should be asking: 1- What should our system have to operate correctly as a liberal representative democracy? 2- What have we actually got? 3- What is the future of our system?
The answer to question one is the most complex. Were the system to be truly democratic, we should abolish the party-based system, allowing individuals to stand in constituencies without either the necessity of party backing to stand a realistic chance of success or reliance on the image of leader or party. Of course, such a system is fraught with problems; getting unpopular legislation through being just one. In this sense, Britain is not ready or capable of supporting a truly democratic representative system. More realistically, what our system should have is a myriad of parties, all equally viable, fighting in every parliamentary constituency; there should be a dichotomy of options for voters.
The question of what we actually have is a little simpler to answer; a system in crisis. The ‘democratic process’ which has so helpfully defended the two-party system for over a century is now potentially preparing to wipe out opposition to the incumbent government. Rather than a dichotomy of parties, all equally viable setting out multiple plans for Britain, we have a Conservative party surging towards political domination, a Labour party shackled by its own incompetence and ineptitude, what is left of the Liberal Democrats and a host of others, none of whom offer anything close to a credible alternative: we are set up to lose our status as a truly democratic liberal state. The reasons why this situation has arisen are doubtless expansive and subjective; but with things as they are, come June 9th, the face of British politics could be changed for a generation.
This leads us nicely to the third question, that of the future. This is, of course a question of prediction rather than of fact. It is impossible to know what will happen on the 8th of June with any certainty, but if the polls, which generally show the Conservatives with an enormous lead are to be believed, then the slow and seemingly unstoppable march towards a ‘one party state’ will be competed. So what of the future? What of liberal democracy? Or rather, what is liberal democracy? This is the greatest question posed by the current political situation. Is it simply the right to vote, or is it the right to choose? What I mean by this, is that surly, for a liberal representative democracy to function correctly, voters should have the ability to choose between several credible alternatives, not just vote. In our current state of affairs, we all have a vote, but do any of us really have a choice? I fear not. Yes, one can point to the most recent opinion polls for some level of succor, but one should never trust predictions; the only vote that matters is that on the 8th June.
Fundamentally, our system of democracy was created with a cancer at its very heart. It contains the innate potential to collapse at any point into an effective ‘elective autocracy’, or as Quintin Hogg put it in 1978, an ‘elective dictatorship’: all that is required in our ‘two-party’ system is for one party to implode and lose credibility, which is exactly what has occurred. The current situation provides but one viable choice for government and by its very nature disenfranchises the bulk of the population. If we do nothing, not only will we descend into the ‘one party state’ scenario, but more worryingly, a system where having your voice heard depends on what your politics are; where the voice of opposition is muffled beneath the comforting blanket and malevolent face of ‘One Nation Conservatism’.
Reddit this article ↓