There hasn’t been time for people to properly digest the full meaning of Brexit, but ever since last week’s referendum decision to leave the EU there has been a palpable air of fear and anxiety in Britain. Many of the people I have spoken to who voted Leave have expressed some concerns about where we go from here. The “I voted for it, but I really didn’t think we’d win” confession is not an uncommon statement. Some Remainers have poured scorn on this, branding them as ‘ignorant’ or ‘stupid’, but with the UK’s preferred and usual First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system the protest vote has long been the norm for British voters.
Some are decrying the democratic processes of the referendum, and perhaps it was too close a decision decided by too few people, but in many ways it was the democratic failures of the FPTP system in our general elections which guaranteed the widespread, and ultimately deciding, outpouring of dissatisfaction in British society delivered by the much more democratic referendum system.
I am not a Leaver (although I am certainly not a supporter of the EU trading bloc) and I find UKIP rather disturbing to say the least, but the FPTP system used in the last general election saw the votes of 4 million people who did vote UKIP almost completely ignored. As my own party’s sole MP, Caroline Lucas, put it in the Guardian recently:
Perhaps it’s no wonder that leave’s message to “take back control” stuck. People do feel powerless. Not least the almost 4 million people who voted for Ukip at the last general election who have just one MP representing them. As the one MP for more than a million voters I know all too well how our electoral system isn’t up to the task of representing genuine political differences that exist in Britain.
If the UK’s representative democracy had ever truly represented the opinions of the people whom it claims to represent (glad I’m writing that and not saying it) then we would have a vastly different political landscape today.
Yes, we would have to stomach the opposing, sometimes even unpalatable, ideas of those we disagree with, but at least we would be actively encouraging the kind of visible and relevant political debate and activity which leads to a much deeper and more responsive democracy.
Of course it is worrying that millions of people might fall for the BS of a charismatic charlatan, but I am of the opinion that bad ideas create bad results. We have only to look at the incredibly pathetic results of the BNP trying to work at local council level to see how those who value rhetoric over reality fair in the political climate of the everyday world.
There would have to be genuine accountability and the ability for regions to recall their MP in the face of inactivity or poor performance (poor performance being a failure of duty to their geographic region rather than a failure to tow a party – or ideological – line). There would have to be a written constitution; drafted and implemented to protect the rights of all people to live unmolested by others and which guarantees liberties and freedoms for all. There would have to be the reintroduction of real political power at local levels. And there would also have to be an open and accountable system of public spending, allowing everyone to see (and ultimately decide upon) where monies derived from taxation and other state dealings was being spent; currently just 5% of all public spending is allocated by people or bodies which are publicly accountable for their actions.
All of these will be necessary moves if we are ever to wrestle democracy back from the hands of the elite pariaharchy who currently hold way too much power and shoulder nowhere near enough responsibility.
Personally, as I shall discus in a forthcoming post, I believe that the ultimate aim must be for an even deeper and direct form of democracy (one which is humanist, ecological and economic as well as political) as part of a new radical movement based on the unique problems and possibilities of life in the third millennium CE. But even the first – and in my opinion rather minor – step of introducing Proportional Representation would radically alter the face of democracy in the UK.
A parliament of many smaller parties representing diverse demographic and geographic needs would inevitably lead to greater political (and perhaps, in our gambling based global economy, economic…) uncertainty, but at least it would be better at representing a fluid and diverse nation. So, if we are prepared to believe, as the permaculturalists do, that every problem is a solution, and that every crisis is an opportunity, then an uncertain future may indeed be exactly what we need right now…