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Brexit Britain: a democratic deficit?

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A few days ago I came across a very interesting question on the website ‘Quora’. It read like this: “In the future, will China be a democracy or will it remain a one-party system?” To answer the question requires a critical examination of democracy in the West; in this case the UK, 40 days after the Brexit vote.

However, before I get to Brexit, I’d like to start with a summary of 2015 general election as the first display of what our democracy really is. In 2015, 3.9 million people voted for UKIP, 1.1 million for the Green Party and 1.4 million for SNP. However, the Greens and UKIP got only 1 seat each, whilst the SNP were hailed as “winners of the night” with 50 seats. 300,000 extra votes had meant an extraordinary 49 extra seats.

On the other hand, the Conservative Party which currently has the majority of  seats (330 out of 650) did not win majority of votes. They got only about 37% of the overall vote. In other words, 67% of the electorate did not want them in power yet they have a majority, meaning they can pass any piece of legislation supported by most Conservative MPs.

The Conservative Party which currently has the majority of  seats did not win majority of votes. They got only about 37% of the overall vote

In 2016, in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, the UK prime minister decided to step down. Initially, the next PM was to be elected by the Conservative party members (around 150,000 people), not by another General Election, which as unchallenged as it was by majority of the media outlets, undermines democratic principles by leaving such crucial and decisive call to 0.002% of the population.

However, later on as all of the other candidates dropped out, Theresa May became PM without a single vote from an ordinary citizen. 176 MPs voted in favour her, which propelled her to the top of the leadership race, indicating that 154 Conservative MPs did not support her for the role.

The next PM was to be elected by the Conservative party members, not by another General Election, which undermines democratic principles

On the other end of the political spectrum, in July 2016 the National Executive Committee  of Labour decided that those who had joined the party after January 2016 cannot vote in the leadership contest. The only way for these new members to get the chance to vote was by paying £25 to become a registered supporter.

Now that amount might not seem much, but the very fact that there is a price on one’s ability to vote undermines the principles of democracy. Democracy does not assume intelligence or wealth for the electorate, rather it gives them the right to a vote by the virtue of their existence.

The very fact that there is a price on one’s ability to vote undermines the principles of democracy

In a democracy, there should never be an oppressive call for the rebels to ‘get in line’ with traditional two party systems. The electorate is given the right to elect whoever it wishes. In a healthy democracy, the purpose of the opposition is to provide a critical and pragmatic challenge to the policies which the government proposes. This is because democracy, as opposed to dictatorship, is based on debate and reasoning, not alignment to particular agendas.

In totalitarian regimes, the choice is one candidate, in the UK, realistically, it’s between 2. As Chomsky notes, “in a democracy, the governed have the right to consent, but nothing more than that”. Which unarguably, in case of the West, makes it superior to the Chinese dictatorship.

In a healthy democracy, the purpose of the opposition is to provide a critical and pragmatic challenge to the policies which the government proposes

Western democracy, as he says produces spectators out of the electorate with the one-dimensional function of choosing leaders to govern them and not participants. Now I didn’t answer the original question directly but is it fair to assume that this “democracy”, is actually “democracy”?

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