The crisis of British model of Democracy: A landslide without majority vote share

Image courtesy: AP

The smooth and quick transfer of power in UK speaks volume on the great democratic tradition in that country. Election results came out during the day and by the afternoon outgoing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak went to Buckingham Palace to tender his resignation. By the time, he stepped out, Labour leader Keir Starmer was appointed the Prime Minister by the King and within minutes he addresses the nation at the historic entrance of No 10-downing Street. The Prime minister paid tribute to his predecessor Rishi Sunak and acknowledged his contribution to Britain. With-in hours, the Prime Minister announced his cabinet and the transfer of power was completed without any pomp and show. Britain, that way, is a great example unlike United States where the new President takes oath nearly two months after the results are out in November in a great pomp and show though both the forms of governments are based on majoritarianism and revolve around the white power elite of these countries.

The outcome of result might sound music to many who might dance on hearing the word ‘labour’ as in most of the world, the term is almost deleted in the ‘vocabulary’ of political discourse. In the United States, there is no Labour. There is the fight between two parties of white ruling elite dominated by the corporate interest with little interest for the common person. Now, Labour party returned to power after 14 years and with massive majority but are the Conservatives decimated in UK?  Has the Labour anything to do with the left politics? What brought Labour to power in UK?

The fact is that the historical route of Conservative Party does not indicate the growth of ‘left wing’ political forces in Britain. The fact is this landslide to Labour party is more to do with the faulty electoral system that UK has been following termed as First Past the Post System which result in huge gap between the vote share and the number of seat got. FPTP can be useful if there are only two to three parties as well as a high voter turnout. In the absence of it, the mandate can always be haunting though at the end of the day, it does not matter, how much is the vote share, it is the number of seats that matter.

The fact of the matter is that out of 650 seats, Labour Party has won 412 seats which is almost 65% of seats though the vote share was merely 34%. Its rival Conservative Party with 24% vote share acquired 121 seats. Liberals got 71 seats with 12% votes. Another right wing under the name Reformist Party, though, only got 4 seats but with 14% vote share. Led by Nigel Farage, Reformists are being blamed for the route of the Tory government. Conservative, Liberals and Reformists mostly hail from the same variety of political ideology of right wing. Their combine vote share is much powerful than that of Labour. The left leaning groups are mostly independent and Green Party.  Interestingly, Labour could only increase its vote share of about 2% from 2019 when it fought under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn who contested as an independent candidate and won from Islington North constituency by over 7,000 votes defeating the nearest Labour Party rival. Corbyn has been representing this constituency since 1983 and has won for a record 11 times.

Many people might be happy to see return of a ‘Labour’ government after one and a half decade but is it really so. Leave aside the ‘vote share and seat got’ issue, the fact is most of the western electoral system particularly influence by British and American models are already captured by the right-wing capitalist forces. The quality of the ‘western democratic model’ is in its propaganda and comparison with the Russian and Chinese system despite the fact that both the countries are today a power house and rising high economically. Look at the rise of other powerful groups in UK like Liberal Democrats and Reformists both ideologically close to Conservatives but is ‘Labour’ truly dedicated to left or the working classes. The problem with the ‘liberal democracies’ in the world is their hypocrisy on human rights issues. If Labour Party was truly dedicated to the idea as its name suggest then how come powerful leaders like Jeremy Corbyn thrown away from the party. Is it because he was considered more radical and a threat to the Empire and its elite. How is the current leadership of Labour different than the Conservative? The brazen shamelessness of Kier Stramer in refusing to condemn the Israeli brutalities and assault on Gaza shocked all those who filled the Streets of United Kingdom demanding a complete ceasefire in Gaza. It was Kier responsible for humiliating and ousting Jeremy Corbyn and other left leaning leaders from Labour Party. Most of these leaders fought independently won with a handsome margin and defeated their nearest Labour rivals. The poll result suggest that British electorate are swinging between different conservative forces and Labour got acceptability because it threw away radical left forces led by Jeremy Corbyn. So essentially, British political system is highly dominated and controlled by the Conservatives who may not be Conservative Party but also Labour, Liberal and Reformists.

The Crisis of Electoral System

The British model of electoral system or simply FPTP is not reflective of the real verdict of the people. It is basically manipulative of the power elite and therefore most of the time legitimize a ‘minority’ government as ‘majority. All the colonies of the ‘Empire’ has this system which is used by the power elite of those countries using or misusing the contradiction among different groups. The difference between vote share and seat won is too high. The Labour got nearly 34% of total vote polled out of 60% votes that were polled during these elections. Which simply mean 40% people did not vote during the election. Now, in terms of seat, the party got 412 seats out of 650 which is nearly 64%. Under the Proportional Electorate System, Labour with 34% vote share would have just got 221 seats much below the majority mark. Conservatives with 21% vote share would have got 156 instead of 121 which they have at the moment. Liberal with 12% vote share got 71 seats while Reformists with 14% vote share got just 4 seats. Under the Proportionate system, Liberals could have got 78 and Reformists 91. Even a 4 seat Green Party with 7% vote would have got nearly 46 seats.

How credible is the electoral system where party getting 34% votes which also mean 66% votes that were polled did vote against you. Interestingly, a party with 14% vote share get just 4seat while that with 12% vote share 71 seats. Now, how can such a system be justified as ‘democratic’. We all have the same crisis and the result is that the ruling parties and government actually rarely listen to people’s’ voices. The amount of massive street protests that London witnessed in support of Palestine was always looked down upon by the power elite and the media. The governments these days speak through the power elite and opposition leader spoke the language of the prime minister when he openly supported the previous government’s stand on Palestine.

No change in Foreign Policy

Actually, western democracies are liberal to the large extent related to individual freedom, right to faith, criticism of the government and allowing protests in the streets but at the same point of time we need to understand why a leader like Jeremy Corbyn was ousted from Labour? Why he has been a persona non grata for the ‘liberal’ circles. A similar thing happened in United States where Bernie Sanders is despised by the ruling elite. The liberal democracies can’t accept Julian Assange and felt him the biggest threat. It needs to be understood why these democracies do not listen to the voices of protests in the streets.

Broadly, the western democracy will remain pro capitalist and market driven and nothing much is expected to change on the foreign policy matters though the new Prime Minister as already rescinded the Rwanda policy for refugees which is a great step in right direction. The Tory government wanted to privatise the prestigious National Health Services but could not do so. The railway network is already in distress. Will the new government take initiatives to strengthen these services or will it be the same government that was headed by Tony Blair?

The issue of minorities and immigrants are extremely important and resulted in victory of four independent candidates who defeated Labour candidates. The party has to see whether it will follow the ‘right tilt of Tony Blair or really work differently particularly on the issue of Palestine. It needs to understand that the combine vote share of the right-wing parties is much higher than it and if it ignore wider concern of minorities and immigrants then it might loses the support of progressive forces as well as ethnic minorities then Britain might see rise of radical left forces in the coming years. Unlike the United States, Britain still has got space for minorities and immigrants in the political structure. Will Jeremy Corbyn and other leaders emerge more powerful in the coming years or the pressure of capitalist?

Lesson for India

A democracy is successful when its institutions are robust. Britain has a powerful legacy in that regard. The election process is extremely simple and voting opens at 7 am and continue till 10 pm. The parliament still is responsible and debates there are worth watching. Prime Minister’s Question hour with leader of opposition is extremely fascinating but then we can’t have that in India.

The New Parliament has 23 Muslim members (A big country like India has just 24) and over 60% of the members belong to ethnic minorities reflecting Britain’s diversity. One thing need to be clarified. A criticism of the British system does not mean we are better than them. They have a robust system and more over basic curtsies among the political class there remain far superior than us. The swiftness with which the new government took charge with in a day remain remarkable. Everything was done without any chest thumping or ‘victory’ speeches. It is also important to understand the difference of ‘right wing’ or Conservatives in Britain, Europe and India. The Conservatives or Right Wing there are mostly against immigration policies of the government but none of them have ventured inside the personal lives of people. Right wing in India and its neighbours are basically religious fanatics who have issues with your personal choices whether food, faith or marriage. There are no hate speeches and diversity of representation is always a plus point for political parties.

Britain’s elections have big lessons for us and our political class. That elections in vibrant democracies today is on ballot paper and not through EVMs is a reality. Secondly, we did not hear any complaints of electoral malfunctioning or fraud. The counting and declaration process was simple and Prepoll surveys or Exit polls were not hyped. The prime minister did not take time in vacating his official bungalow and gone to submit his resignation to the King when results were just coming in and he conceded his defeat gracefully. The transfer of power was so swift and meticulous that there was no time for any confusion and uncertainty.  Yes, electoral system has issues of representation\ and vibrant democracies find their own solution. Britain will certainly have to look into it as this might become a major issue in the coming days.

Let us hope new government will fulfil the aspirations of the people but expecting a different perspective on Ukraine and Israel will be next to impossible as foreign policy matters in these countries are mostly static and fixed with United States. A change in its Ukraine or Palestine policy will need Jeremy Corbyn at the helm of affair which does not seem a possibility in the near future.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author’s personal views, and do not necessarily represent the views of Sabrangindia.



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