Crisis of democracy

Why existing democracy around the world is in crisis

If  ‘democracy’ is just about having a vote once every five years to decide who is to ‘represent’ us, then, yes, we live in a democracy of a certain type. If we can more or less speak our minds and write articles critical of what goes on, then again we have to say we live in a democracy and not a dictatorship.

But if real democracy is about the power of the people, about a political and economic system that works for and serves the interests of the majority (see chapter 4 for more about this), then it is plain that what we have is an ill-disguised fraud on the people. Surely, the United Kingdom and its governing institutions cannot really be labelled truly democratic when:

  • • our votes count for less and less because governments put the interests of business, banks and developers above those of the majority
  • • Parliament lives under the shadow of the executive, unable to decide anything of significance
  • • an outdated voting system is designed to reinforce the existing political system
  • • key decisions that determine the way we live are taken in the boardrooms of giant corporations and hedge funds, which are not accountable to anyone
  • • eight people own the same wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population, according to Oxfam
  • • climate change is allowed to get out of control, threatening all forms of life on the planet.

A network of lobby companies advance the interests of giant corporations, pressing governments to agree destructive trade deals like TTIP, TTP and CETA. These deals are made in secret under immense pressure at international level and only subject to parliamentary approval later.

We cannot really be said to live in a democracy where:

  • • important resources and services are in the hands of private corporations and run for profit
  • • the mainstream media is in the hands of a few powerful corporations while the BBC most of the time acts as a mouthpiece for the state
  • • trade unions have few rights to mount effective strikes without facing punitive court action.

Inequality has reached unprecedented levels, with vast numbers relying on food banks and means-tested benefits to scrape a living under the impact of austerity that favours the 1%.  New research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that one in five low-paid men aged 25 to 55 now work part-time. While 95% of top-earning men normally work full-time, 20% of the lowest paid now work part-time. That means wage inequality for men has risen over two decades. What is democratic about that?

We are living through the transition from a so-called liberal democracy to an illiberal democracy or corporatocracy, from a welfare state to a market state. Others suggest that we live in a world of ‘post democracy’ or a ‘hollowed out’ democracy. They all contain aspects of the real state of things where:

  • • new generations are unable to obtain affordable housing because of exorbitant rents and soaring house prices
  • • the National Health Service is starved of resources and plans for its future privatisation, drawn up in secret by overpaid bureaucrats
  • • women, black and minority ethnic communities, migrants and people with disabilities are targets for abuse, discrimination and super-exploitation
  • • the education system is fragmented and is increasingly passing out of local council control into the hands of businesses who run academies
  • • students leave universities tens of thousands of pounds in debt
  • • access to justice is unequal, with only the wealthy able to afford decent legal representation
  • • Britain has the largest prison population in Western Europe (150 per 100,000)
  • • a secret surveillance network can access every call, email and social media activity without anyone ever knowing about it.

Workers, older people, communities, towns, cities, whole regions and countries within the UK are powerless. There is representation – but it is representation without power. Overwhelmingly, for example, people are against fracking and nuclear power. But these policy decisions are made by government, endorsed by Parliament and rammed down people’s throats. Our voices and votes are disregarded and the majority are effectively disenfranchised.

Next:  A political system in turmoil …

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