Democracy began with the Greeks when the public would gather to cast votes on decisions that effected their community. This became impractical as the public continued to grow and the number of decisions that needed to be made constantly increased. Representatives of the people were then chosen to discuss and make these decisions in the name of those that they represented. This became the model of our modern day Western democracy and has been in place for centuries. These representatives gathered together under loose ideologies until we found ourselves voting for parties that matched our own rough political alignment more than a specific individual that would best represent our needs.
Within this same period society has changed drastically. From the jobs that we work, the roles that we conform to and the time and distance we can communicate, every facet of who we are and how we act as a community is new and different. The internet has allowed cultures and idea to mix at a far faster rate than when people were restricted to their local villages and towns. We can travel the world to experience other societies in a matter of hours and have a constant barrage of video on our TVs and phones. We are more aware of what is going on, more conscious of what our politicians are doing and as such can apply more scrutiny to their actions.
So we find ourselves with this conflicting system of centuries old politics representing modern day society. Our party system of politics is no longer fit for purpose for many reasons, the primary of which is that people’s thoughts can no longer be pigeonholed as neatly as in the past. For example: mining communities were built around a specific job and lived within a local bubble that was rarely invaded. On the whole, people wanted similar things because their lives were similar and they had little in the way of external references thus the bulk of the community shared the same politics. Now communities are more mixed, working from a large amount of different jobs, travelling to different towns and countries, taking on different jobs and communicating more with people elsewhere while town community bonds themselves crumble. Even the very idea of class has been shaken up beyond the simple working, middle and upper classes.
In most countries, parties tend to be split into left and right wing with a predominant party from each side growing to dominate the field. We see this with Labour and the Conservatives in the UK and Republicans and Democrats in the US. There are other parties but none realistically have a chance at gaining a majority. In the UK we haven’t had a none Labour/Conservative Prime Minister since 1922, and even then it was a two horse race between the Conservatives and the Liberals. These means that we see a constant rotation of power that works something like this:
Conservatives win the election, break all of their promises, screw up something major and anger the masses so said masses vote Labour instead. Labour wins the election, break all of their promises, screw up something major and anger the masses so said masses vote Conservative. Rinse and repeat.
With this system, where is the incentive to serve the people? You can be damn certain that in an election or two your party will be voted into power again regardless of your actions so why not take the country for a ride and line your own pockets? Why keep your promises when you know that the other guy won’t either? Having two equally flawed options to chose between means that there really isn’t a choice for change.
Then there is the core problem of representation of the people versus representation of the party. In the UK, we technically are not voting for a party or for a Prime Minister but for a local representative to carry the voices of the constituency to Parliament. People don’t think like that though and will usually vote on the party that they wish to win. This means that the person who can best represent the needs of the people in that area may not succeed because their party is currently out of favour. It also introduces the issue of where does an MP’s duty to his constituents end and his duty to his party begin. Modern political parties have a line that must be towed and employ ‘Party Whips’ to keep MPs in line with what the party as a whole believes. If an MP believes that their party is making choices that are damaging to their local area then they must choose to be outcast by the party and never achieve the power required to actually make changes or disregard those that they represent in order to maintain good standing. When one must chose between one’s convictions and the ability to follow said convictions through there is no possible victory.
Also, parties create frameworks of power that skew true democracy. Parties are like businesses. They have leaders, assign who is employed and who has power. Ever notice how the House of Commons seems devoid of… well, commoners? Or how the same families and social groups often run for president? The leaders of the parties choose who stands in each area, (in the UK), and thus who has even the remotest chance of becoming an MP. While this should mean that the best man or woman for the job is picked, all too often friendships, business opportunities and money affect the selection. We see the same old ‘boys clubs’ and the like from Eton, Oxford and Cambridge, people who can only imagine what it is like to struggle with money and work long hours of manual labour. How well can they represent people who live such drastically opposing lives? Would the average person vote for this people if they had a more relatable alternative? How well can democracy take place when established powerhouses pull all the strings?
There is also the trouble that comes from having your thinking narrowed down by unmoving political alignments. It restricts a person’s ability to be pragmatic in an environment where pragmatism should be the predominant mindset. Some problems require a right wing approach while others are better suited for left wing solutions. To limit a government by a sense purely right or left ideology is to often try to force a square block into a circular hole.
So what is the alternative? Many push for a change in the voting system from First Past the Post to Proportional Representation to better demonstrate the diverse political make-up of the UK. While better than what we have, it doesn’t really solve the root issues with our system. Only a complete rebuilding of our political institutions can improve things with any justifiable merit. And guess what? This is never going to happen because the ironic thing is that to change the system would need the government’s approval and the people in power are never going to do something that will destroy their strength and influence as catastrophically as that.
While I am in no way an expert on politics, I would like to venture my thoughts on how I feel the system should work. For me, we should be represented by a house of independents, MPs elected by the people for their personal merits and ideals rather than an overarching sense of political allegiance. Without parties controlling who can stand (and have a reasonable chance of winning), it opens the floor for anybody to try and would lead to a wider variety of more diverse candidates. Parliament would be filled with a wealth of opinions with the needs of constituents the number one priority in MPs’ heads. This allows greater debate, wider representation and more nuanced policies.
This does have its negatives such as potentially more disagreements leading to longer times required to decide upon a course of action but we could be sure that the decision made is the best possible. But, of course, it would take a lot more time, experience, knowledge and research than I possess at this time to create a truly workable system. I may not know the perfect solution, but I do know that we certainly need a change. Our outdated parties are failing us and show no sign of ever attempting to modernise. We are seeing increased tensions between the people and governments, with engagement and trust at an all time low. How far can this go before something breaks?