Take Back Control? The Power Is in Our Hands

03/08/2016 11:20 | Updated 03 August 2016

Britain has taken the momentous decision to leave the European Union. I'm still reeling from the decision, as are many people across the country, Remain and Leave voters alike.

It is, now, little more than a month on from that fateful day. David Cameron, arguably the most destructive Prime Minister in living memory, has gone; the seemingly perpetual question of Labour leadership has reignited; the pied piper of UKIP has abandoned ship, and the British people find themselves governed by the unelected leader of the most right-wing government the country has seen in post-war times. Was this the vision of democracy Leave campaigners had in mind? Is this their idea of "taking back control"?

The expediency with which the Conservative Party crowned Theresa May, with minimal party friction, seems, certainly to media commentators at least, like a political manoeuvre to be soberly admired and commended for its bloodless efficiency. However, where some observers see political efficacy, I see symptoms of a serious democratic malady at the heart of not just Conservative Party politics, but the British political system itself. The major parties in the UK have a lot less reverence for democracy than many people, especially those inside Westminster, would care to admit.

Theresa May has ascended to Number 10 on the backing of just 199 Conservative Party MPs. Andrea Leadsom, Theresa's rival in the Tory leadership battle, appeared to have been persuaded to stand down by the Conservative Party machine. Tory members, it seems, were denied a chance to express their democratic will owing to the fear they would elect an inexperienced gaffe-prone candidate for Prime Minister.

In the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn became, less than a year ago, the first leader elected under the democratic electoral system introduced by Ed Miliband. For the first time, ordinary Labour members had an equal say on who should lead their party. The victory, however, was strongly opposed by the Labour Party establishment and many MPs. Following a sustained campaign to undermine their leader, the Parliamentary Labour Party staged a failed coup resulting in the current leadership election. A leadership election that is being marred by goalpost-shifting rule changes, absurd legal challenges by wealthy donors, and the open hostility of MPs to the democratic will of their members.

In UKIP, tempers are running high as the party threatens to engulf itself in its own factional leadership battle. The party's millionaire donors and their preferred candidates are currently fighting against the party's internal democracy to try and ensure their nominated players take up the position vacated by Nigel Farage.

The Labour Party is attempting close its members out of its internal democracy; the Conservatives Party continues to deny its members access in the first place, while UKIP has fundamentally confused plutocracy for democracy. Party political democracy is in a dire state.

In fact, the only party currently holding fair, uncontroversial, and truly democratic leadership elections is the Green Party. All Green Party members are invited to cast a vote for whichever candidate they feel will help the party move forward together. Every member is entitled to an equal vote - and there are no premiums for newer members.

While political parties' lack of respect for members and democracy itself is, clearly, a problem, it is merely an indication of a scandal that is endemic to the entire British political system.

Britain's head of state is unelected. The House of Lords is unelected. The House of Commons is the only chamber of the UK Parliament elected by the people. There are 649 MPs, voted for by just 15 million people, representing the entirety of the country. In fact, of the 30 million votes cast in the 2015 General Election, and subsequent by-elections, only half were actually counted. Shockingly, precisely 15,411,611 votes were simply meaningless. More than 15 million Brits wasted their time heading to the ballot box.

The total size of the electorate in 2015 was 46 million, the total number of votes cast for the Conservatives was 11 million. In other words, 76% of the British population didn't vote for the current government.

In 2016, is it acceptable for half of all votes cast to be worthless? Is it acceptable for a party to govern with an absolute majority after being elected by less than 25% of the electorate? To me, these are rhetorical questions, of course; I don't see how such a system can claim democratic credibility.

Perhaps it's no wonder that during the EU referendum campaign it was the "take back control" message that resonated with people. Voters feel powerless. Not least the almost four million people who voted for UKIP or the more than one million people who voted Green, but who have just one MP representing them. Our electoral system isn't up to the task of representing the genuine political differences that exist in Britain.

The last General Election proved that two party politics in the UK is dead, 45% of the electorate didn't cast a vote for either Labour or the Tories; the EU referendum campaign raised awareness of the need for a rigorous and representative democratic system; the referendum ballot itself revealed that, across all age groups, political engagement is likely to increase when every single vote counts. Now is the perfect time to change the system once and for all; it's time to hold the Leave campaigners to their word and fight for the democracy we were promised.

So here's my challenge to Leave campaigners: if you're serious about democracy and giving people back control, then join the campaign for a proportional voting system and for an overhaul of the bloated and anachronistic House of Lords. Let's have a constitutional convention and take this conversation to the country. We are already seeing the start of the truly cross-party campaign we need to deliver the British people a political system that represents their views. The EU referendum gave us a taste of real democracy, but we're still hungry.