Our democratic deficit

I can’t help feeling that our democracy, a democracy that many people have fought for over the years, is gradually becoming unfit for purpose – certainly unfit for the functioning of a modern 21st century state. How many voters, for example, feel disconnected from politics, particularly from what’s happening in Westminster? How many of us feel that national politics is a drama being acted out in the national press, a drama that directly affects our lives but one that we have little or no say in? Are such feelings the symptoms of a healthy democracy? Rishi Sunak has recently been appointed our third Prime Minister of the year. The previous one was selected by just 0.3% of the UK electorate (the members of the Conservative Party) whilst Sunak was selected by an even smaller number (Conservative MPs). Surely we deserve more of a say in our national leader than this.

Now I know that in theory at least, UK voters do not directly elect their Prime Minister – that at a General Election we vote to elect an MP, not the PM. But we all know that in practice this is not the case. You only have to listen to ordinary people being interviewed during an election to know that they are voting for their choice of Prime Minister. The 2019 General Election was as much about the election of Boris Johnson and the rejection of Jeremy Corbyn as it was the election of our local MP. Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge this and devise a new way of electing our representatives.

From my perspective the obvious solution is to become a Republic, with a directly elected head of state. This would both get rid of the Monarchy (a residual symbol of inherited power and class privilege) and allow voters to directly select who they wanted as national leader. We could still retain the role of PM of course, but this person would be no more than the leader of the largest party or governing coalition in the House of Commons. Though whilst I’m on the subject perhaps we should change the name of the assembly of MPs. ‘Commons’ is also reflective of the class system, whilst the ‘upper chamber’, the House of Lords, needs to be thrown into the political recycling bin and become elected in some manner.

However, the problems with our democracy are not confined the election of a Prime Minister. In my constituency, West Dorset, at the last General Election our MP was elected with the support of 55% of the electorate. In the scale of things a large majority – but what about the other 45%? Who represents them in Parliament? No matter how hard he tries it is impossible for our MP, Chris Loder, to represent the views and interests of all his constituents. To do so would require him to simultaneously hold and argue opposing viewpoints. I can quite honestly state that I do not feel that my views are being represented in Westminster by my MP. To give a concrete (though quite trivial) example, during a recent debate in the Commons on BBC local radio, Chris Loder said: “My constituents are clear that their priorities when they pay their licence fee are local programmes and local news.” Really? I’m in no doubt that some of his constituents hold this view – but all of them?

Perhaps, then, it is time to rethink how democracy works in this country. To this end it was reassuring to read that the Labour Party overwhelming endorsed proportional representation at their recent annual conference. Adopting a form of PR would not, on its own, resolve all the issues of our democratic deficit – but it would be a great start. Unfortunately, up to now, the Parliamentary Labour Party has been firmly against, and I suspect that all the time Keir Starmer believes that they have a chance of an overall majority at the next election they will remain so. However, if we want people to become active participants in democracy their position needs to change. We need to find a way of ensuring that as many perspectives as possible are not only represented in Parliament, but are involved in the decision and policy making process.

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