We need to stop pretending that our pathetic attempt at democracy is in any way fit for purpose.
The spectacle of the next Prime Minister of the UK being elected via television gameshow is merely the most ridiculous manifestation of a system of government that has long since given up any pretence of representing the interests of the people that it is supposed to serve.
The truth is that we still live in a feudal state. The only democratic concession that’s been made since medieval times is that we get to vote every few years and this, by a hopelessly crude method of aggregation, decides which cabal of lords and masters will exercise absolute power over us.
The system is so completely useless that, although we get to vote for a local representative the chances of him or her actually getting their hands on any meaningful form of power are as thin as the scrap of paper on which we scratch our “X”.
We are vote-serfs and our elected representatives are nothing more than supplicants who are licensed to petition on our behalf at the court of a tiny remote all-powerful clique that is, at best, ignorant of and more often indifferent to, the variable needs and aspirations of thousands of different communities that they claim to serve.
Our electoral system is so utterly useless that it has never in my lifetime returned a government with a majority of the votes cast.
The closest we came to that was in 1966 when the Labour party got 48% of the vote.
But even that was only 36.4% of the registered electorate.
The current UK government’s party, Conservative & Unionist, is in power thanks to the support of only 29.2% of the registered electorate.
The registered electorate, by the way, is everyone who is eligible to vote and has taken the time to put themselves onto the electoral register.
It excludes those who are so disillusioned by the whole charade that they don’t even bother to add themselves to the list, which means that the proportion of the population that supported the party of government in the 2017 election is even smaller than 29.2%.
The figures for the Scottish Parliament are even more depressing.
The current SNP government is constantly asserting the strength of its mandate and telling us what “the people of Scotland” want but it was voted into power in 2016 with a minority of the votes cast (46.5% constituency; 41.7% list) and, given the meagre turnout of 55.6%, a painfully small minority of the registered electorate (25.9% constituency; 23.2% list).
Our recent attempts at democracy via referendum are equally dismal.
The Scottish independence referendum of 2014 saw the No side (i.e. remain in the UK) win thanks to a minority of the registered electorate (46.8%).
The EU referendum of 2016 was even worse with a win for the Leave side on the back of a minority vote of only 37.5% of the registered electorate.
When you add in those who didn’t bother to register to vote that means we are on the cusp of Brexit thanks to the votes of around a third of the population.
Anyone who invokes “the will of the people” on the back of such results should be prosecuted for criminal mendacity.
Our system of democracy is so hopeless we are forced to live with decisions that are made by tiny groups of people who are put into power by a minority of the population.
The stupidity of the system is exacerbated by party politics.
Getting into power and staying there is the primary goal of politicians who aspire to the top jobs, and the party is the means by which they get to that end.
Party politics reduces democracy to a turf war between rival gangs in which the rest of us are, at best, bystanders but more often collateral damage, bearing the brunt of policies that favour one tribe over another.
The blatant self-serving actions of the current UK government, desperately trying to save the Conservative party from disintegration while the social and economic fabric of the UK teeters on the cliff-edge of Brexit, is the tin lid on decades of post-war charlatanism on the part of our political class.
We can all see that “the mother of parliaments” is a tailor’s dummy in Victorian dress stuffed with mouldy straw; that the “oldest democracy in the world” is a shoddy masquerade, a confidence trick that fools nobody.
Small wonder that party membership and election turnouts have dropped to embarrassingly low levels.
Small wonder that survey after survey show a collapse in respect for all things political.
This is not democracy.
We know what democracy should be.
We know it should be a system of government that helps us to work together to make our lives secure and prosperous.
We know that it should be a system where our vote counts and our representatives work for us, not for a party or a rich benefactor.
We know that it should be a system where our community gets its fair share of resources and is allowed to operate in whatever way works best for us within a common regional, national and international framework.
We know all this and we wonder why we have to suffer the rampant monumental incompetence of a system that leaves our roads full of potholes, children underfed, hospitals understaffed, productive businesses overtaxed, and a planet crying out for care and attention.
So let’s stop wondering. We don’t have to put up with it. We can change it.
The time has long passed to stop complaining, to stop pretending that one tribe is better than another tribe, or being in or out of one union or another is going to make a blind bit of difference.
It doesn’t matter which tribe is in charge of it, or where we put it, or which flag we fly over it: the system doesn’t work and won’t work until we change it.
Government by parliamentary party majority is the fatal flaw in the design and the only practical solution is to replace it with a democratic system of government that does what we need it to do.
If you’re interested in how I think we can Make Democracy Work, click here.