THE BLOG

British Democracy Is Dead

09/05/2013 10:06 BST | Updated 08/07/2013 10:12 BST

What's 23% of nothing? It's nothing, obviously. So what's 23% of 27%? It's more than nothing, clearly, but not a lot more. Actually it's 6%, the proportion of the electorate that voted for UKIP in last week's council elections. Since 73% of electors who could have voted chose not to do so, UKIP managed to win 147 seats by mobilising a relatively small number of supporters.

The Electoral Commission does not collect data from council elections so it's necessary to trawl through the results of 2,362 wards spread across 28 different council websites to understand what the results really mean. But now that the numbers have finally been counted, it seems there's good news and there's bad news to be derived from the historically low turnout.

The good news is, despite the mainstream media's populist narrative, the vast majority of us are not in thrall to a party of xenophobic little Englanders whose collective cognitive bias causes them to blame immigrants and Brussels bureaucrats for the country going to the dogs.

The bad news is that British democracy is dead, at least in its present form. I don't say this because a rightwing party made a little headway in council elections, but because a democracy in which most people neither participate directly in government nor vote for a representative to participate on their behalf is self-evidently not a democracy.

All of the available indicators suggest the 'Westminster system', a model of democracy persisting from a time when representation in parliament meant putting a local man on a horse and sending him off to London, has had its day.

Membership of political parties has dwindled from several million in the 1950s to tens of thousands today. Party leaders hoard all the power so traditional grassroots participation has been rendered impotent and unrewarding. The Caravan Club now has more members than all the political parties combined.

Trust in politicians is at an all time low. Government in the public interest has been utterly degraded by political expediency, misrepresentation, ineptitude and service to vested interests. Parliament is seen as a source of profit rather than an instrument of the common good. That's why the majority of British citizens now turn their backs on the politics business.

When low turnouts are applied to our anachronistic first-past-the-post electoral system, the results can be ridiculously unrepresentative. These elections were a prime example. The Tories won 1,116 seats with the approval of 7% of those who could vote. Labour won 538 seats with 8% approval while the Lib Dems won 352 seats with only 4%. UKIP won 147 seats with 6%.

The UKIP blip is a symptom of an out-of-date political system failing to meet the needs of a modern society. The council elections represented a fearful retreat backwards to a time when life was simpler, rather than the brave step forward we must make to improve our national quality of life for the future.

So how can we move forward? We have to change the system. Rather be restricted to shouting ineffectually at the telly when Question Time is on, ordinary people need to be making decisions on policy and voting directly on legislation. The civil service could be accountable directly to the people rather than to 'taxi-for-hire' political middlemen.

Modern technology means there's no longer any need to centralise power in the Westminster bubble. We don't need professional politicians to represent us in what is really just a straightforward system for organising human affairs to achieve the best life possible. We could do politics ourselves.

The New Model Democracy proposed by my own organisation, Ordinary People, is an alternative model of democracy that could halt this country's long-term decline. But the irony is that if you want a political system that will give us all the chance of a better life, then you're going to have to vote for a candidate who will stand for it. That's the only route to change that the present system allows.