It’s time to save democracy

Sandy Martin on our prime ministerial dictatorship and coalitions

For almost 200 years the UK’s democracy has steadily grown, from the Great Reform Act of 1832 right up to the liberalisation of postal voting in 2000. But now the government is deliberately taking us backwards.

Those without photographic ID will be prevented from voting. Postal voting will be more difficult. Unregistered people tend not to be Tory supporters – so automatic registration is out. Constituency boundaries are redrawn on the basis of a depleted register. Trade unions and voluntary organisations are to be separated from politics. The independence of the Electoral Commission is being eroded, enabling gerrymandering and preventing the Tories from being prosecuted for misusing funds.

Johnson’s 80-seat majority rests on 43.6% of the vote in December 2019. So he can ignore all the other parties. Moderate voices in his own party were forced out prior to the general election. First-past-the-post (FPTP) is enabling prime ministerial dictatorship.

With the House of Lords full of prime ministerial appointees, there are precious few checks on the power of the PM. After the illegal prorogation of Parliament in autumn 2019, Speaker Bercow spoke openly about the need for a written Constitution. But without a reformed House of Lords, and with the Supreme Court at threat, there would be no body capable of enforcing it. Moreover, with the BBC and Ofcom stuffed with Johnson’s mates, there will be nobody to shine a spotlight on his behaviour.

All these institutions need reform, but to do that, or any of the things that the Labour Party exists for, we have to start with ensuring a progressive majority in the House of Commons. We could be in government after the next General Election if the Tories lose at least 55 seats. However, even if Labour on its own were to take 55 seats from the Tories, we would still be 68 seats short of an overall majority. It is not defeatist to admit that the best feasible outcome of the next General Election will be a coalition government with Labour as the largest party.

I believe we can and must lead a coalition government after the next General Election to rescue our democracy, and our health service, and our environment. This is not the same as proposing a pre-election progressive alliance. We must maximise our seats first, on the basis of a Labour manifesto.

Tactical voting is necessary if we are to succeed in a FPTP election. Committing to a proportional system for electing the House of Commons would help us achieve the tactical votes we need to take Tory seats. Once we change the electoral system, tactical voting will become redundant, and people can then vote Labour throughout the country and know their vote counts.

There are those that say that achieving PR for Westminster will lead to the Labour Party splitting. Prominent members have left in the past – most notably the ‘Gang of Four’, founding the SDP and helping to ensure 16 more years of Tory rule. Some members will leave whether we change the voting system for Westminster or not.

The fact is that progressive politics in this country is already split. That’s why the Conservatives are usually in government despite not getting an absolute majority in a General Election since 1935. The democratic socialist mainstream of the Labour Party have no intention of leaving it. But we recognise that we have no chance of creating the society we want unless we can work with other progressive parties, not just to carry out our social and economic programmes, but also to rescue the very democracy that makes them possible.

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