openDemocracyUK

Election UK: Did we vote for this? Hell, no!

Everyone who can should come to Trafalgar Square with a touch of purple tomorrow, Saturday 8 May, if you like the idea of democracy in Britain.
Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
7 May 2010

I've a piece up on CiF. Here is the original draft. There is a brilliant call for action on similar lines by George Monbiot also on CiF here, building unity. Well done, George!

if you didn't know it already, there’s going to be a swiftly arranged demonstration tomorrow, Saturday 8 May in Trafalgar Square and perhaps elsewhere across the UK too. Details here.

It will be a peaceful claim of right to have a fair voting system and for a second chamber we elect. It is a demonstration of the reasonable and the normal against the irrational and the despicable. For a picture of the mismatch see Guy's recent post. Its colour will be purple - the colour of suffrage, public voice and political equality.

Imagine a country, lets call it Southminster. In Africa. One half of its parliament is decided by a ‘winner takes all’ system in which the winner can be voted for by just 22 per cent of the electorate. This half decides who the Big Chief is who will then enjoy ‘taking it all’. The other half of Southminster’s parliament is a House of Chiefs. Only they are not chiefs, they are friends, cronies and advisors of the Big Chief appointed for life who dress up as Chiefs once a year. They are not paid, but are encouraged to use their role as legislators to become consultants to international corporations. Ha, ha ha! How we would laugh at them pretending to be a democracy!

Arguably it was a democracy when the people believed in it and when the big Chiefs behaved honorably and didn’t lie, flip or steal. They might have stolen from foreigners, but they were otherwise basically honorable, and certainly didn’t torture people or openly steal from us. Even if we didn’t have a constitutional rulebook, nonetheless, much more than other people in other lands, we did play by the rules.

Well, that’s all over. A gentleman’s word used to be his bond, now it is a securitized derivative. Our politics is run by deception - see a revealing article by Adam Boulton of Sky News in Total Politics on how Alistair Campbell “introduced a culture where it was ok to lie” as a matter of course. Illegal wars, torture, rendition, MPs and Peers out for hire “like cabs” to US corporations (which is legal and still carrying on as we speak) this is what our government has been reduced to.

The system has to change. We have to be able to say ‘no’ to a politics that robs us of dignity and self-determination and forces us to squabble over tactical voting.

You might object that the election hasn’t done that. Instead, it has created a situation in which it seems likely that someone who looses ‘takes all’! Almost certainly it will be David Cameron with just on a third of the votes. The idea that Brown, who has got just 29 percent, should even think that he can use the seats this give him to stay on is a travesty of democracy. And a symptom of how bad our system is.

It has to change. There seem to be a huge number of regular supporters of all parties saying even as they vote Tory and Labour that they want proportional representation so that their votes can count. They have grasped that if we let politicians steal our votes through an unfair electoral system it’s a permission for them to go on stealing when they are elected.

One of the issues on which all the leaders, including David Cameron, were forced to agree on was that the House of Lords should be replaced by an elected chamber…. eventually. But as we speak the finally lobbying for dozens more life peerages and access to consultancies to shape our legislation is taking place. Did we vote for this?

Hell, no. So what is being planned is a historic first. Traditionally, the casting and counting of votes is seen to be the democratic process - one that makes demonstrations redundant. The people vote and through our votes we speak. The powerful listen and, if enough of us say so, our government is changed.

But when government has been reduced to choosing between one lot of rascals with another and any third alternative is squeezed, it is time for as many as possible to meet and say ‘enough!’. Be there, to claim our right to a system of government that is open, honest and fair: at 2pm Saturday, in Trafalgar Square, and wear purple wherever you are.

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