Is our democracy under threat?

A healthy democracy needs more than one political party with a chance of winning. Without this, there is nothing to stop the Government from imposing unjust and unpopular decisions on the people.

Although I disagree profoundly with many of the policies of the Conservative Party, I recognise that their views are held honestly by many politicians, and have known many very decent well meaning (if misguided) Tories, including MPs, Ministers and Local Councillors.

However, there is reason to believe that the principle of multi-party democracy is under threat from the current Conservative Government, which was, remember, voted for by only a quarter of the electorate. (The Conservatives won 36.9% of votes cast, on a turnout of 66.1%. This means that less than a quarter of those eligible to vote supported them).

Andy Beckett’s article in the Guardian (link below), describes how a set of complex policy changes being made by the Coalition Government, and now by the Conservatives, are undermining the ability of the Labour Party to form an effective Opposition, and potential alternative Government. He suggests that this is a systematic attempt to create one party (Conservative) rule in the United Kingdom.

The key changes are:

  • Banning political campaigning or comment by voluntary organisations, like Oxfam or Save the Children,  at election time (changed under the Coalition)
  • Reducing public funding for opposition parties (the so called “Short Money”, changed in the Autumn Statement 2015, with virtually no debate)
  • Creating new Tory peers, to make it more difficult for the House of Lords to vote against Government plans (“Cameron has created more Peers than any other modern Prime Minister”)
  • Changing voter registration procedures to require registration by individuals, rather than households. In itself this is a good thing, but it makes it much less likely that people in temporary, rented housing, students and minority groups will be registered.  (Liverpool has “lost” 14,000 voters on the new Register),
  • Revising constituency boundaries and cutting the number of MPs (based on the new, reduced voter register). This will remove 50 seats, most of them currently held by Labour MPs.
  • Imposing a raft of restrictions on the ability of Trades Unions to represent their members (in the Trades Union Bill 2015-16)
  • Blocking the extension of voting to 16-17 year olds for the EU Referendum (although it is today’s young people who will be most affected by the decision)
  • Introducing “English Votes for English Laws” (since England has a larger Conservative majority).

Since the Guardian article was published, the Government has announced its intention to limit the power of the House of Lords to overturn legislation agreed by the House of Commons. This was the power which blocked the Government’s plans in autumn 2015 to reduce tax credits for working people.

The Guardian article can be found at:

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/dec/14/conservative-power-grab-stay-in-power-permanent?CMP=share_btn_fb

A longer account of this issue can be found in Cameron’s Coup, by Polly Toynbee and David Walker (Guardian Books 2015)

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