Declining Democracy 158

Total membership of political parties in the UK has declined, very steadily and inexorably, from about 3.3 million in 1968 to about 500,000 in 2010. That is even worse than it sounds because of course the population grew substantially in the same period. That is one of the fascinating facts in this report by Democratic Audit.

That is just one of a large number of PDFs that comprise the total report. It is well worth reading and it reinforces the argument, consistently made on this blog, that democracy has failed in this country.

There is one constituent of a genuine democracy that the report does not seek to measure, but which I think could usefully be quantified by political scientists. That is the degree of real choice being offered by the political parties. I am sure that this has very substantially declined as well. There is no real choice on offer nowadays between the various neo-con parties. The differences on the timing and depth of cuts in public services, on continued privatisation of health services, on Trident nuclear weapons, on Afghanistan, on the money men who control the politicians, are miniscule. Only in Scotland do voters have a genuine choice of a different direction, and they take it.

This is a direct consequence of the other trends the Democratic Audit does measure. They show that the parties are more than ever, and constantly more, not avenues for popular participation but the domain of a political class and controlled by a wealthy “elite”. It is no wonder that they all have the same programme of promoting the interests of that elite.

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158 thoughts on “Declining Democracy

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  • Giles

    It doesn’ matter, Craig. It’s the cynicism – or should I say power of acute observation – that attracts me to your writing, rather than the perennial displays of hop in the political system.

  • Giles

    I meant to say hope*. There is, of course, no character in the political system.

  • John Bell

    Craig says: ‘Only in Scotland do voters have a genuine choice of a different direction, and they take it.’

    How true – the Scottish National Party has increased its membership to the point it is now far and away the largest political party in Scotland.
    It has the largest amount of local councillors and it has the largest amount of MSPs.
    And I am certain that after the next series of elections it will have the largest amount of MEPs.
    As for Westminster – now in Scotland there is a formal Labour/Coservative/LibDem alliance fighting for a ‘No’ vote in the Independence Referendum. This will finally draw the scales from the eyes of the habitual Labour Voters who still demonise the Tories, and this will result in the SNP being the largest party from Scotland at Westminster.
    You heard it here first.

  • Chienfou

    Nevermind – you are right. We need to reassess our idea of what democracy in the 21st century means.
    Disatisfaction with “first past the post” elections stems from a misunderstanding about what democracy is. Most people seem to think that whoever they vote for should get elected and they cry foul when it doesn’t happen. They forget that democracy requires it to be that way – anything else would be an autocracy (or an “oligarchy of the like minded”).
    The way “first past the post” works in the UK gives everyone direct access to their MP. Not to tell him/her what to do (it’s not a private autocracy!)but to have your voice heard. In the 21st century you can send emails direct to your MP at the click of a mouse.
    But 21st century technology is enabling completely new forms of power – only some of them can be called democratic. Online petitions and social media are being used to put pressure on companies, institutions and governments every day. Look at the number of Government U turns in the past year – I think the fuel tax was the latest one. Last month a school girl forced her school to overturn a ban on her blogging about the quality of her school dinners. Some will say these are irrelevant and small concessions by a controlling establishment. They might have a point but it’s not as simple as that. At the moment there’s a battle over control of the power that new technology brings and governments don’t seem to have everything their own way. Look at the heavy handed efforts the US government is making to get at anyone who seems to have better grasp on the technology than they do – from Gary McKinnon and Richard O’Dwyer all the way to Julian Assange. These are signs of US government weakness not strength.
    It’s not just technology. There is the influence that celebrities have. A few years ago Joanna Lumley forced the UK government to reverse its policy on residency rights for Gurkhas. Again small stuff but you need to understand how this power works in order to use it for the big stuff – democratically or not.

  • Clydebuilt

    Craig I’m so glad your back blogging.

    yeah the SNP are the largest party in Scotland.
    Are they the only party in power in the western world where the state broadcaster and every news paper bar the Sunday Herald are against them.

    I refer to the BBC’s coverage of Wimbledon as Celebrety Tennis.
    as the spend as much time showing the tennis as they do showing celebs in the R.B.

    Did anyone notice during the Murray Vs. Tsonga game that the camera hardly drifted to the royal box. That was because Nicola Sturgeon (Scotland’s Deputy First Minister (SNP))was there. I didn’t see her once on the BBC’S coverage. Job done so to say.

  • Anne O'Nimmus

    Reduce Craig’s last para to 4 words:
    “Politics has been privatised”
    We have “Farce past the post” and an unelected second chamber.
    Today’s politics is all about tightening the regulatory ankle bracelets on individuals, especially the least among us, while untying any regulatory bonds from the 1%.
    What democracy?

  • guest

    “Guest – Obomber fooled all the right-on liberals who believed that having a black man in the White House would eliminate the world’s ills.”
    Giles, wrong. There were a few that come/came on here who told Craig that Obama would be the same as Bush!. Its so strange, the Respect Party really do hold so many of the same key values as Craig, but Craig is not a member.

  • Rose

    So perhaps the answer is for all of us to move to Scotland and vote like hell for the right things. I’m game. Problem is that large bits of lovely Scotland are owned by the GICS aren’t they? Vast estates and Lord Tom Noddies leasing their landscapes to the poor bloody infantry? I might be wrong.

  • guest

    “Vast estates and Lord Tom Noddies leasing their landscapes to the poor bloody infantry? I might be wrong.”
    Don’t forget, the SNP WILL keep the monarchy. I hear their starting to talk (in a small way) about keeping Trident in Scotland if they win the independence vote!.

  • Mary

    How heartening to hear this doctor speak out. He has resigned from his position as regional director of public health in the SW.
    He said: “What we’re going through now is a systematic downgrading, if not destruction, of civil society in England with a de-layering of structures and organisations and, at the same time, a huge amount of responsibility being handed to the local level, especially to local authorities, at the same time as their budgets are being cut. The abolition of regional development agencies, government offices in the regions and SHAs is all part of the same process.
    “To many people that sounds great, like we’re getting rid of bureaucracy.
    “But this is a very big country and cannot be run by a very much smaller civil service in London and a huge, disparate patchwork quilt of local authorities all pulling in different directions.”
    According to the article, Dr Scally views the creation of the new NHS Commissioning Board, which will oversee the local GP-led commissioning groups, as part of “another worrying trend”: the centralisation of power in the hands of political appointees.

    Health boss resigns to fight NHS reforms Saturday,
    July 07, 2012 Western Morning News

  • Independent Air

    Guest, or is that Alan Campbell again. It is not in the SNPs gift to decide to ‘keep’ the monarchy or Trident, those are matters for the Scottish people to decide after Independence without interference from Westminster, or the London Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat Friends of Bankers, the wasters, crooks and Bliars. You can’t just turn out WMD on day one, time will be allowed for their smooth removal and relocation somewhere on the Thames, or they’ll be returned to their US owners from whom we only rent them, giving the UK warmongers and bullies bragging rights and a chance to polish them now and again, but their targetting is under US control. This isn’t an independent deterrent, it is the US making Scotland target number one in any concievable superpower confrontation, their kit and us daft enough to pay them for the dubious privilege and place ourselves in harm’s way as human shields.

    Keep Blogging Craig, in this alone you are an inspiration, more power to your elbow.

  • Edward

    An interesting and refreshing audit, not because its conclusions are a big surprise, but because it is willing to discuss an issue which threatens the status quo. It could also look at the media’s role, or lack thereof, in democracy.

  • Jives

    Yes,.Andy Murray…the fix is in…Jubilee and Olympic year…the feel good factor must soar…

    Bit like V.Wade in 77,another Jubilee year..

    And another Dunblane narrative gets shunted down the memory-hole…

    Win-win establishment scene.

  • guest

    “Guest, or is that Alan Campbell”
    No, I am not Alan Campbell, I already know about Trident!. As for the “monarchy or Trident” bit, I didn’t know it was on the agenda for the scottish people to get a vote on them as seperate issues from the SNP, Tories, NuLabour, Lib Dems. I will tell you this, if Scotland votes for independence, there will be an election as I understand, the winner will be NuLabour or SNP. Mark my words…It will make no differance as to who wins between the two, there is no more then a tissue paper of differance between them, sadly, you will find this out in time!. sadly, this SNP is NOT the SNP of old.
    Otherwise Independent Air, you have put on a very good post.

    “Norman Lamb MP, ATOS Healthcare & UNUM Insurance”

  • gust

    For old smokers, mix no more than 1 part rolling tobacco with 5 parts half dried common Nettle. This is a tasty and light mixture for lunge and minde. The smallest pinch of tobacco is needed in a mix to satisfy any nicotene craving and the strength of cravings can fade quickly.
    Young nettles are ideal as the base leaf, older flowering leaves can have a noticeable ‘daydreamy’ hit but young ones are transiently subtle. Dry them only until leathery, a couple of hours on a warm device does the trick. Bramble leaves can be added being quite mild yet a little woody and sweet. Rose leaves are similar to bramble except with a hint of rose instead of berry. Rose petals can be soporific, however except for tobacco, these plants are healthy to consume and also perfect for a refreshing Tea. Live well while ye may.

  • DonnyDarko

    I’m not surprised membership in political parties has fallen, after having seen what Labour morphed into under Blair.Pro War and market oriented.No one knows what they stand for anymore.
    Scotland does have an alternative for voters but is not yet democratic. We do vote, but Conservatives rule.Prior to the Scottish Parliament we had 300 years without much of a say at all.
    Trident is expensive and accident prone as the residents around Faslane would tell you. Many unreported stories of Subs being brought back to base in the middle of the night.This so called deterrent is a major threat to the country and we have no defense against it.
    I hope an independent Scotland could send it south, but I wont be holding my breath.

  • oddie

    wouldn’t it be good if we could decide a percentage of the voters required to make an election legal?

    some say the US will have a very low turnout this year. how about u need at least 40% of eligible voters voting for the result to count?

    in australia, where it is mandatory to at least turn up at the polling booths and have your name crossed off – it’s not mandatory to actually vote, plus u can vote informally as i do – there is another challenge to the mandatory aspect of this, and i personally hope the gentleman wins his case.

    american comedian george carlin once said:

    “I firmly believe that if you vote, you have no right to complain. Now some people like to twist that around. They say, ‘If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain,’ but where’s the logic in that? If you vote and you elect dishonest, incompetent politicians, and they get into office and screw everything up, you are responsible for what they have done. You voted them in. You caused the problem. You have no right to complain. I, on the other hand, who did not vote–who did not even leave the house on Election Day–am in no way responsible for what these politicians have done and have every right to complain about the mess that you created.”

  • Diabloandco

    “No they don’t. Craig, I don’t put much faith in your political choices!!!, so far on your blog you have promoted Obama as being the change we need!!!!!!, the Lib Dems as being the change we need!!!!!!. Now its the Murdoch loving SNP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.”

    Hysterical piffle and ordure.

    Murdoch loving SNP?
    Blair? Cameron?

    Glad to see you back Craig – I was a tad anxious.

  • Mary

    ‘Yes,.Andy Murray…the fix is in…Jubilee and Olympic year…the feel good factor must soar…

    Bit like V.Wade in 77,another Jubilee year..

    And another Dunblane narrative gets shunted down the memory-hole…

    Win-win establishment scene.’

    Yes indeed. A grand diversion for the troubled nation. Watch out for the Union Jacks, the military presence and recognition, Cameron and maybe Her Maj in the royal box. All under the capable hands of the mistress of ceremonies Ms Sue Barker and the BBC. The soaring Sun on Sunday have given away Come On Andy paper hats.
    PS Wikipedia have the young Andy at the scene of the Dunblane massacre. His mum used to give Hamilton lifts. The mind boggles.
    And praise God for that £100 million centre court roof.
    What piffle.

  • Mary

    Have heard it all now. Cameron has the Saltire flag flying above No 10. What a dreadful and slippery type he is.

  • Giles

    “A grand diversion for the troubled nation”.

    It’s all coming together now, Mary – Virginia Wade in ’77, 7/7, Dunblane, Hamilton lifts, Andy Murray (known Zionist) – £100m roof to protect Cameron and Her Maj from a massive false-flag dirty bomb?

    The Mind Boggles.

  • Mary

    @ Giles
    He who laughs last, laughs longest and btw, keep up, it’s July 8th today.

  • Fedup

    Why do you think Charlie Kennedy was ousted?
    These bastards can run simulations and know their ballot box stuffing and vote rigging has limits, and despite this there could be upset results emerging, hence the preventative ouster.

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