Hollowed Out Democracy – 27 October 2022


Rishi Sunak’s anointing as Prime Minister’s a further hollowing out of democracy. It’s far more than simply the selection process which was tawdry enough. All the main parties are culpable, and the result’s that the public are disengaging from politics. And that’s the real worry for our democracy.

Democracy is about participation, but we’ve gone from Johnson with an electoral mandate, albeit obtained on lies, through Truss in office for just over a month on votes from a few thousand Tory members to Sunak reduced to two hundred or so Tory MPs. No wonder election turnouts are decreasing.

Where’s the democratic legitimacy for his appointment. Tories say it’s the party not the PM who are given the mandate. But even accepting that, the manifesto upon which they were elected, vacuous though it was with “Get Brexit Done”, has vanished. Levelling up, going into history along with The Levellers.

Instead, Sunak will unleash Hunt to impose austerity as we’ve never known it, all brought about by the failed Truss economic experiment. At least in wartime there was a recognition that a “People’s War” required fair shares of misery and that a brighter future for all needed to be provided. From the collective struggle under conscription, rationing and enduring bombing, came the welfare state and the NHS.

But not now. This time it’s the poor who’re to suffer most and the rich who’ll continue to gain. It’ll all be blamed on global factors and the need to ensure market stability. But it’s a political choice even if Truss showed that markets have a role.

They most certainly do, and governments need to be wary. But as governments in the UK have shown before and’s on display in social democracies around the globe markets can be tempered and socially just policies can be delivered.

So, an election there should be but where’s the democracy within parties or the challenge to the markets. Labour has basically signed up for the Hunt/Sunak austerity agenda. Vote for us we’ll do the same, just not be them. As with Biden in the USA that may well be enough, such is the contempt that people now have for the Tories.

What though would change other than the bums on seats? If you can’t challenge the markets or change society, why bother participating at all. Where Labour has Rachel Reeves, the SNP have their updated Growth Commission. Neither inspire folk to get out of bed, let alone go and vote.

Worsening that, both now have a political class that run their party at all levels. Activists booted out or walked of their own volition, internal democracy eroded, and a top-down approach imposed. The Al Jazeera documentary showing the rot in Labour, and the SNP a fan club with the continuing absurdity of a spouse as Chief Executive. The next election may well be conducted by Party leaders in a few TV debates, with little activity on the ground.

Will voting pay the electricity bill or put more food on the table? If folk decide it won’t, then they might not bother. That may well be the view of many, and the outcome might well be a disengagement from democracy. Or worse a lurch to anti-democratic parties, as in Sweden or Italy.

The democratic malaise’s deeper than Sunak’s appointment. Passion and belief, internal party democracy and most of all an alternative are required.