Tag Archives: UK

How the system hurts UK democracy

My article in Global Discourse is temporarily available for free.

Shortly after the UK general election of December 2019 I wrote a policy article for the spring 2020 edition of Global Discourse, setting out what my involvement in politics has taught me about the UK’s flawed democratic system. Now, until the end of November, the article is available free to read as part of Bristol University Press’ Populism and Democracy Collection.

Read my article for free before 30 November 2020 (click the ‘Download PDF’ button on the right-hand side of the article title).

Image of the Global Discourse journal cover page

In the article, I argue why in my view the UK system undermines rather than delivers democratic outcomes. The piece explores the many negative consequences of the system and focuses on that most blatant of all flaws, the first-past-the-post system used for general elections. But it isn’t all grimness: I end with some reflections on how politicians and citizens can work together to overcome the injustice that’s hard-wired into the voting system.

Many of my reflections are informed by the organising and campaigning work I have been doing as an active member and occasional candidate for the Green Party of England and Wales, and a staff member of the political platform Compass, that works across progressive parties and organisations to create the political preconditions for a Good Society.  

Through both, I have had the privilege of experiencing first-hand the potential as well as the complexity of alliance-based politics, which I would describe as a temporary arrangement between two or more political actors to prioritise a joint ‘bigger picture’ objective over immediate narrow party-political objectives. 

Looking at how the first-past-the-post system works and how it disadvantages smaller parties by design and progressive parties as a result of the national political landscape, it’s not difficult to see the potential of ‘progressive alliances’. Collectively, with their respective votes adding up instead of cancelling each other out, progressive parties have a much stronger chance of achieving a House of Commons majority.

Yet, the simplicity of the maths can easily obscure the complexity beneath, the often historical and cultural differences that affect relationships between political parties and their activists, even when their broad political aims are aligned. Mutual understanding, trust and generosity are key ingredients of a genuine alliance and these take time as well as perseverance to build. 

This is where my article turns from despair to hope: by looking at the people and organisations who have shown how to overcome the political tribalism that the UK voting system prescribes, and by arguing that the successful alliance-based politics that they are putting in practice can lead the way to a revival of genuine democracy at a time the country needs it more than ever.

Let’s not be complacent, though. To achieve what is needed, to win, progressives in the UK have a serious challenge to overcome. In the article I put it this way:

“To be successful, the next chapter of progressive collaboration will have to start from an acknowledgement that we all have things to learn. Everyone will have to understand that past behaviours – our own and those of our potential allies – cannot shape how we treat each other in the present and in the future.”

Betrayed by the system: how the UK’s inadequate democratic system thwarts grown-up politics, and how we can begin to change this appears in Global Discourse, vol 10, no 2, 395-399. Global Discourse is a publication by Bristol University Press. Due to its inclusion in the ‘Populism and Democracy Collection’ the article can be read for free until 30 November 2020.

Linking directly to the article is disabled by the publisher. After following a link from this blog, you’ll need to click on the blue button that says Download PDF on the right-hand side of the title. Apologies for that.

Leaders’ debate bingo (advanced)

Here are ten words that I predict will receive very few mentions in this evening’s leaders’ debate on ITV – the only scheduled televised confrontation in the run-up to the UK general elections on 7 May.

Not random words of course, but things that you might reasonably expect the parties represented to care and differ about. Things that voters ought to know in order to make up their mind.

I suggest using them for election debate bingo this evening. In some circles this has become a popular game: listing words or terms that participants are likely to use, and crossing them off as they are said. I thought we could make that game a little bit more interesting for this evening by suggesting ten words that, despite their political relevance, are likely to remain in the margins. Write them onto your bingo form and there will be suspense until the end of the debate – can one of them please mention…?

Screen shot 2015-04-02 at 16.47.441. Food. The horse meat scandal was only a short while ago and that is just one of many aspects of food security and regulation that need to be addressed.

2. Drugs. Past governments have wilfully ignored evidence that the UK policy on drugs is ineffective.

3. Ukraine. Escalation of this conflict will have repercussions all over Europe and the UK cannot afford to remain a bystander.

4. TTIP. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – this deal between the US and the EU would see corporations getting much greater power to get around national legislation.

5. Gender pay gap. The most prominent of a range of gender equality issues that have the UK trailing other European countries.

6. Mental health. The achilles heel of the NHS.

7. Palestine. The re-election of Netanyahu in Israel implies that the road to peace remains long, while the wounds of the latest Gaza war haven’t healed at all.

8. Cycling. Prevention is the easiest way to reduce the cost of the NHS and the public health benefits of cycling are uncontested.

9. Flooding. A constant risk to many areas of the UK with far-reaching economic (as well as human) consequences.

10. Airport expansion. The grotesque PR war between Heathrow and Gatwick distracts from greater strategic questions about the north-south divide and climate change.

Crossed them all? Tweet BINGO to @DialoguebyRemco to claim your prize.