openDemocracyUK

Is AV the last hope for British democracy?

If the Prime Minister has his way, British civil society will soon be almost entirely at the mercy of the market. With the contracts signed, our democratic options will be drastically limited. A referendum on the Alternative Voting system may already be too little, too late.
Ivor Cornish
3 May 2011

Is AV too little and far too late?  OurKingdom has been debating in great detail the various pros, cons and mathematics of numerous voting systems, House of Lords reforms, the West Lothian question, Welsh, Cornish, and Scottish independence, written constitutions and home rule for the English. But what will any of this add up to, especially for the English, if Cameron has his way?

The Prime Minister's ambition in the name of a 'Big Society' is to privatise - meaning marketise - virtually the whole of civil society. The only exceptions would be the judiciary and the security services. If he achieves this what will we be asking our MPs to do if the contracts have already been signed?  Many that have been awarded are for more than 20 years.  i.e. four or five Parliamentary life-times.  Cameron may see this as a logical step: after all business already owns most of our utilities while many of our new hospitals are in thirty-year PFI contracts (see Oliver Huitson's overview).

But if this is Cameron's strategy, aided with the connivance of the Lib Dems, then all we will be voting for when we vote for MPs under any system would be a Parliament to police us, to control the military and to fund the judiciary. The first two of these have in recent years already become partly privatized (see the Daily Mail on The Association of Chief Police Officers and the Guardian on the privatisation of war).

Will our democratic options in the future be limited to making a choice between parties who say they will not start wars and those that say they may? Or perhaps between those that say they will encourage the police to be nice to us, and only allow them to use rubber truncheons, or those who want them to employ water cannon and be encouraged to 'shoot to kill'? Presumably the police, if such a scenario unfolds, will be there to ensure we do not upset the royal family, or the multi-nationals that will control most of our lives. Perhaps in the future the police will be empowered to ensure that we consume enough of a particular hamburger so that the company makes enough profit to keep its branded version of what was once our schools or hospitals open.

I find what Cameron's Coalition government is doing to be chilling. We need a civil society that is not dominated and penetrated by the profit motive and governed by corporations that claim not to be political, but to whom our government has contracted out local and central services.

Whether it passes or fails, AV might well in the future be regarded as our last desperate attempt to nudge ourselves towards democracy.

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