Tag Archives: democratic reform

Process versus Principle: Why can’t I vote for my beliefs?

“It’s ironic isn’t it?” Phil asked me.

I raised my eyebrow in question.

“We live in an economy designed for choice and yet the choices we make in politics are those nobody wants to take – least of all, the young.”

Phil Badger is standing in the 2015 General Election in Lewisham Deptford, for Democratic Reform. He is a Goldsmith’s Politics graduate who works at the Royal British Legion, and is standing for democracy, social justice, jobs, and affordable housing. He is the candidate I choose.


When I asked Phil to tell me more, I expected the standard argument of every politician – a justification of his own opinion, with reference to a couple of well-known supporters. Instead, Phil answered with a question – “why can’t I vote for what I believe in?”

On the campaign trail residents asked an equivalent question – can they really vote for what they believe in? We found that people often search for the best funded candidate; those people who are backed by the biggest celebrities, and are most likely to win. Yet it is well documented that politicians have lower transaction costs in representing people like-minded people. By electing the elite, and the vested interests, we perpetuate our existing problems, and make the prospect of genuine reform more unlikely. These problems lie at the heart of democracy’s present weakness, and Phil’s identification of them ensures that he prioritises constituents over vested interests.

As Phil said, irony is everywhere in British politics. Whether it be the difference between equality in principle and practice, the sometimes absurd assumptions of the political elite, the difference between our reputation for corruption and the media reports, or simply those actions and policies which contradict one another – if British politics were a mug, it would be overflowing with oxymora. Phillip’s most unique selling points are his ambitions to localise politics, increase transparency and autonomy, and open Parliament enough to provide all people with opportunities to propose ideas. Indeed, Democratic Reform’s manifesto speaks of such decentralisation that we create “modern Greek city state[s].” Furthermore, Phil’s website shows that he practices what he preaches in putting everything online. Arguably, such practices will challenge oxymoronic political language.

We are among those countries with a claim to be the birthplace of modern democracy, and yet only 44% of 18-24 year olds felt inspired to vote in 2010. Voting apathy, a trend that may have been further induced by Russell Brand’s call to boycott the 2015 election, is not an idle concern. Indeed, non-voters have been increasing in number since the mid-nineties.


Since 2003, Freedom House has ranked the UK at a level that cannot improve in political right and/or civil liberties. Yet, combine the pessimism and low voter turnout with the way our electoral system (First Past The Post) works (not to mention recent changes to the registration process, which further reduce the number of registered young voters), and we have an almost inevitable result that 2015 MPs will have no mandate to govern the young.

Of course a Democratic Reformist government would implement Proportional Representation, and massive constitutional reforms designed to bring process and principles in line. Yet even without such reform, global expectations and hopes may be of influence. India’s Aam Aadmi Party was founded in late 2012, and based on an anti-corruption campaign, won 67 out of 70 seats in the 2014 Delhi elections. Likewise, Spain’s Podemos Party is founded up on anti-corruption and inequality. Founded in 2014, this party is already Spain’s second largest party in members.

Imagine if that happened in the UK. Imagine what would happen if the non-voters voted. Imagine what would happen if voters put principles before process. That could happen by voting for Phil. He is passionate about electoral, political, and socio-economic reform. He wants a top-down system to be renegotiated. He wants the young to become active, and he wants to engage in a continual conversation with voters – not just during the election.

Phil’s ability to assess different opportunities, make judgements, and choose the best timing to act, gives me hope that such imaginations could bear fruit. In fact, responses on the campaign trail are quite unusually positive. So perhaps hope is on our side. The question is, will the young act on Phil’s vision for democracy? Or will they act on Russell Brand’s vision for a revolution?

Centralisation Versus Democratic Reform

The air was crisp and the sun had set long before. I could feel the road beneath my feet as it jarred my knees. And with every step I ran further into the country. My breath pooled in the air in front of me as I reflected on the day’s events. As an eighteen year old living in university and suffering from a mild dose of melancholy, I was in no mood to return home the same way I’d just run.

Eventually I did decide to return. But it was cold and there were no street lights, so I had little idea of where I was. Foolishly, I decided to cut across to the coast and work my way back that way. I didn’t realise how far I’d come, and with the cliffs to my left, and sea to my right, I thought home was just around the corner. Alas, it was not.

The sea came in fast, and a storm picked up. I couldn’t turn around. By the time my senses kicked in and I realised what I’d done I’d gone too far. The only way I could go was forwards, and I had to simply hope for the best.

I was forced into a run, and then eventually to swim. But each time I passed a new turn in the cliffs I saw a new stretch of water ahead. Amazingly, I was still managing to pity myself. But I had at least realised my predicament. I remember thinking ‘I could die here… tonight.’ But still, there was little I could do at that point. Returning would have been too far.

So I kept going, until the waves were so fierce that I was being smashed against the rocks with every wave. And it was then that I arrived at a new set of rocks. They lay directly ahead of me. Sharp and jagged teeth jutted out of the ocean bed. My eyes widened in fright. I didn’t want to risk being thrown against them. And beyond them was a new expanse of water yet again. I began to lose hope.

But I couldn’t lose hope. There was too much I had yet to do in life. So I turned to climbing the cliffs. At first it was easy and I wondered why I hadn’t tried it before. But as I reached the top it began to level off. And as it did so there were no more handholds.

Buffeted by the wind and the rain, and with blood dripping down each of my hands I shouted at the top of my lungs “HELP!!” But out there, with the roar of the wind and waves carrying my voice away, my efforts were folly.

The rocks on which I was hanging suddenly came loose under my weight. I felt myself falling back as if in slow motion. There was no time to climb back down; only to jump.

With all my might I leapt up, trying to grasp something onto which I could trust my weight. I was fifty feet in the air, and all I was able to grasp was soil… which came loose in my hands. Thus I fell towards the rocks below.

Looking back on this experience I can’t help but compare it to where politicians stand today: at the top of a cliff with nowhere to go, and no one to help them. Under successive governments over the past few decades, and particularly since Thatcher, the UK government has been centralising power in the hands of those few who stand nearest to the top of the cliff. And all the while the winds have been picking up. For people have been growing more and more disillusioned by politics.

Even as far back as 1986 Members of Cabinet were walking out, complaining about the demise of collective Cabinet Government. And Blair continued the trend. It has worsened relations between central and local government, created a schism between different regions, hurt accountability, and focussed such power at the top that jobs have simply had to be ignored. Worse yet this centralisation has occurred across many states around the world. Just as governments copied each other in piling up their debts, so too did they copy each other in undermining democracy, and making government more conservative.

I was lucky with my experience. When I fell, I fell on the other side of those jagged rocks. So despite losing a shoe and my glasses, I was able to swim on to safety. But our governments may not be so lucky. And so instead of prevaricating and postponing the inevitable, it is time that this trend of centralisation is reversed now with a series of democratic reforms.

Those standing at the top of the political hierarchy today are in the dark. They’re lonely, their hair is fast going grey, and the systems they head are in serious need of democratic reform. What lies before them without this reform is all too likely to be a fifty foot drop and a stormy sea to embrace them. Even if they can get away as I did, the state of the economy today means that being hospitalised again won’t go down well!

In other words centralisation is the antithesis of democracy. And what’s more, the assumption that it is somehow more efficient than a decentralised system is misguided. Centralising tasks that initially belonged to two people into the hands of one is bound to result in prioritisation, and perhaps even neglect. Centralisation in government, by furthering the divide between state and people, results in extreme prioritisation.

The UK has responded to this extreme prioritisation with an explosion in the number of single issue parties and independent candidates. It’s believed that if this centralised way of doing things is the only way then the only solution must be to fragment. But that’s simply not true. There are three options: keep the system as it is; encourage fragmentation; or decentralise and enact democratic reforms.

A certain degree of fragmentation could work, but only if the entire political and electoral system was geared towards this. Many large democracies, such as India, the US and the UK use ‘First Past The Post’ electoral systems, in which fragmented parties effectively stand for the exclusion of those people who don’t have an interest in their ‘issue’. If person X was elected in constituency Y specifically in order to represent those 20% of people who care about issue Z, then who would represent the other 80%? Thus to allow single issue parties to exist, while not harming democracy in any way, decentralisation and democratic reform must be practised.

We have a party system in the UK, because it’s recognised that you need lots of people working together at the national level (more independence at the local level would be preferable) in order to get things done. But on the same principle we should also recognise that there is a limit to what any one person can achieve by themselves. Simply put, if you focus too much power in the hands of the executive then they will start to miss things, even if they don’t mean to. This is why I term what we have at present ‘extreme prioritisation’. It’s creating a system in which the executive is climbing further and further up the cliff-face, and giving themselves much further to fall. The clear alternative is democratic reform, which is far more decentralised, far more inclusive, and thus far more effective.