The Perils of Ill-Conceived Democracy

The story of how Labour lost foreshadows the end of democracy.

What recently happened in the UK wasn’t a triumph of the Tories, or a failure of Labour to sell its platform to a broader base–it was rather the direct consequence of Britain’s democracy being built to favor an entrenchment of the status quo. That feature, not only courteous to incumbency, also underlines a crucial issue with modern democracy that far stretches beyond any consideration of it being meddled in by malicious actors–if democracy is supposed to be reflective of the people’s will, does working against their own prosperity count as an anti-democratic gesture, or is the populace allowed to vote themselves into oblivion, as long as it entails a democratic process?

Democracy is a fickle thing to parse out in the 21st century, if only for the fact that it seems like it’s not as commonplace as we’d often like to think. And where the opportunity presents itself for a truly democratic system to work, there’s an unduly amount of red tape barring those who’d be impacted the most to vote in their desired agendas. Some have taken Labour’s loss as a warning call for leftist movements across the world to appeal to moderates in order to gain majority, but if Corbyn’s failure is any instructive, it’s that a purely utilitarian framework for voting while plenty convincing, is not enough for those unwilling to tacitly engage with the electoral system.

One thing to understand about Britain in particular, is that there’s an active frustration regarding the current political system. While it’s easy to square out the logical conclusion of an individual not voting at all to be complicit in the UK’s current political impasse, it appears to be more so reflective of an outstanding desire by Britons to not at all be involved with which that is disruptive, given the already-present uncertainty surrounding Brexit. Similar trends in the US can be observed, wherein despite candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren offering the most ambitious platforms of the Democratic party, there’s an overwhelming desire for stability that’s keeping Joe Biden’s odds in the polls quite sturdy.

The latter observation highlights a feature that is inherent to democracy, especially where it is most frail–the calculus becomes for the status quo to carefully thread the needle between not inconveniencing their electorate so much that they force a reaction, and not spoil them too much such as the platform of more progressive parties on the other end start to seem appealing. In nominal democracies like Algeria’s — which held its most recent elections to much ire — we saw that reach its ultimate logical conclusion where stability correlated pretty majorly with the price of oil, causing the status quo’s imminent demise after the steady influx of social benefits could no longer be sustained due to financial hardship.

As such, the British economy’s current state is one that clearly shows the country is on the verge of revolution, lest its woes are remedied. Economic downturn has meant that the least fortunate are looking for scapegoats to assign blame on, and immigrants happened to fit the bill perfectly as both a deterrent from voting Labour — or any other left-leaning party for that matter — and a pretext under which to perpetuate the erroneous theory that the wealth pie is split further between individuals as opposed to it growing in size when there are more participants in the economy.

These ideas got subsumed into the body of the Conservative Party, and became part of its platform. In essence, what’s keeping the Tories at all alive in the British political game, is their keen awareness of the need to survive, and the ease with which you can weaponize issues of othering and stoke the fires of nationalism, such as the downtrodden are more preoccupied with questions of who to exclude rather than the radical reform needed to see all their needs tended to.

This circles back to a fundamental issue with democracies that is often discussed separately from their social reality–it’s the simple fact that with a coalition being in power, the surrounding sociocultural apparatus is already bent in their favor. The elite would all rather keep a state of recognizable chaos than wade into the yet-to-be-known state of exacted justice. Even state-sponsored affairs like the BBC couldn’t evade scrutiny, but it’s not clear if this is a result of their carelessness, or instead a reaction to the absence of an as-popular patron of the left’s ideas.

Despite all of this looking pretty damning of the Tories and state-owned British enterprise in failing to stem the tide of political sterility, the left’s inability to organize outside a very enclosed online-exclusive ecosystem has hurt the odds of reaching out to whom count most considerably. If social media was the only measure of projecting success, Labour would’ve won by a landslide, but as is the make-up of parliamentary politics where constituency borders matter more than population count, densely-populated metro areas were reddest, while habitants of the most remote crookback bogs were bluest.

Organizing is something the left has historically struggled with, and it’s in the last few years following the disastrous Brexit vote that it would’ve been most opportune for parties on the left to make the case of why xenophobia isn’t the harbinger of prosperity it’s often sold as. Instead, infighting ensued, accusations of antisemitism — that the Tories are no less guilty of — were leveled against Jeremy Corbyn, and the project of a unified front against the Tories across Britain — rural and metropolitan — ultimately failed.

While it’s tempting to front electoral reform to ensure more proportional representation in the UK Parliament, this doesn’t solve the fundamental issue that democracy is the product of those who rule–not just by popular decree, but also through the very system that the ruling coalition uses to promote their own longevity. The essence of democratic reform should be that it provides the people the best of information with which they get to decide their country’s future–it is an indisputable fact at this point that Labour has the superior platform, but because their battle to claim the popular will of the people is an uphill one when faced by the Conservative Party’s institutional advantage, they’ll have to sell the country on more than leftist ideology. Alas, they were not able to.