“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?