The failure of British Democracy

Are Keir Starmer’s right-leaning policies neglecting pressing issues like homelessness and poverty? Why are both Labour and Conservative parties ignoring public support for nationalising key sectors and rejoining the European Single Market?

The failure of British Democracy

Are Keir Starmer’s right-leaning policies neglecting pressing issues like homelessness and poverty? Why are both Labour and Conservative parties ignoring public support for nationalising key sectors and rejoining the European Single Market?

K eir Starmer has high hopes of becoming the next Prime Minister.

However, his claim to deserve the office rests not upon any positive offer of real and meaningful change from a Labour party which he has taken so far to the right that a conservative American Republican senator has hailed the British Labour party as ‘Reaganesque’ in its taxation policies, but rather in the moral, intellectual, and political bankruptcy of a Conservative party whose policies and style Starmer so eagerly apes.

Ronald Reagan, for those too young to remember, was the American president who ushered in an era of tax cuts for the better off combined with the decimation of government programmes to assist the poor and the low-paid. It should be obvious to everyone by now that so-called trickle-down economics have been a historic failure, but it lives on in the guise of ‘growing the economy’. It is beloved by the right because it provides a fig leaf of intellectual cover for the greed and selfishness of the wealthy.

Reagan campaigned on the racist trope of the ‘welfare queen,’ blaming America’s economic woes not on the rich who refused to pay their fair share of taxes, but on poor, often African-American single mothers, who relied on government assistance to feed their families. Then as now, many of those who were so demonised were in fact in low-paid employment, but the poor were blamed for their poverty, not the employers who did not pay a living wage.

The result was a widening of the gap between rich and poor and the mushrooming of shanty towns in American cities as homelessness exploded and the closure of facilities for people with mental health problems saw mentally ill people dumped on the streets with no support.

Reagan’s economic policies were eagerly copied by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party, with similar results. The Tories have sought to change the language so that the poor receive ‘welfare’ or ‘benefits’ – a handout graciously doled out by taxpayers, rather than ‘social security’ a safety net to which all contribute and upon which all can rely in time of need.

The Conservatives have not only changed the language of social security, they have destroyed the concept of social security itself. Over the past couple of decades, we have witnessed the normalisation of food banks and the normalisation of homeless people begging in the streets of our towns and cities. Neither of these things are ‘normal’. A supposedly rich and developed economy in which citizens are routinely forced to beg on the streets or to turn to charitable handouts in order to put food on the table is a society which has failed. There is nothing inevitable about homelessness or food and fuel poverty. They are the direct consequence of decisions made by successive Westminster governments.

Over the past couple of decades, we have witnessed the normalisation of food banks.

Traditionally, after a bruising and brutal period of Conservative misrule, Labour has laid claim to the Buggin’s turn chance of taking over the reins of power by claiming that it will reduce and adjust the size and weight of the boot which the Conservatives have stamped down upon the neck of the poor and the low paid. Certainly no one by now seriously expects that a Labour government is going to get rid of the boot entirely. The Labour Party, like the Tories, has a vested interest in the continuation of the dysfunctional Westminster system and the inequalities which it produces.

However, now we have a Labour Party which insists that it will not raise taxes on the wealthiest, contrary to the assertions made by Anas Sarwar during the contest for Labour’s Scottish branch manager. On 8 February 2021, he said:

“I think we need a progressive tax system where we get the powers we need to do a progressive tax system. I think people can, in that top bracket, pay more.”

Now that his bosses in London have categorically ruled out any tax increases on the wealthiest and will not raise income tax on the highest earners or introduce a one-off wealth tax of 5% on all individual wealth above £500,000, which would only be levied after mortgages and other debt had been taken into account and which could be paid off in instalments over five years. This one-off tax which could raise an estimated £260 billion, which at a stroke would solve the funding issues blighting education and the NHS. But Labour is not going to do anything like this, so we can look forward to Anas Sarwar being pressed by BBC Scotland on how his promises fail to match Labour’s dismal reality.

Yeah, right, of course, that’s never going to happen.

Instead, BBC Scotland is going to continue to foster the impression that the aerated concrete which puts schools and other public buildings at risk of collapse was personally mixed by Nicola Sturgeon and her husband in a murder tent in their garden.

Labour’s claim that it’s not going to raise taxes on the rich but rather will focus on ‘growing the economy’ is simply code for the same discredited trickle-down economics which have caused such societal blight for decades. Labour is no longer promising to adjust the weight and size of the Tory boot on the necks of the poor, Starmer’s Labour party is saying: “Nah, the boot is just fine.”

There is no longer any meaningful choice in British politics.

The distortion of democracy created by Westminster’s first-past-the-post system – which neither Labour nor the Conservatives are willing to change – means that we are all held ransom by a small minority of voters in Conservative-Labour swing seats. This in turn means that even policies which enjoy the widespread support of a clear majority of people across the UK have no chance at all of ever being adopted.

Most people in the UK believe that Brexit was a mistake, but neither Labour nor the Conservatives will seek to minimise the damage and restore British membership of the European Single Market or Customs Union. A major opinion poll published this week found that a clear majority of voters, even Conservative voters, would like to see the nationalisation of the gas, electricity, water and rail companies.

The poll, carried out by Tory donor Lord Ashcroft found that 60% of respondents across the UK backed these companies being brought into public ownership.

60% of respondents across the UK backed companies being brought into public ownership.

Scottish Water and Scotrail are already publicly owned. A majority of both Labour and Conservative voters supported public ownership. However, both Labour and the Conservatives are opposed to the move, so even though it enjoys clear majority support, it’s not going to happen.

When neither of the two big Westminster parties feels the need to respond to the majority opinion, it is a clear sign that the Westminster system has irretrievably failed.

Within this failed constitutional settlement, Scotland will never get what it wants. For the Labour Party, Scotland is simply a prop to lever it into power; for certain Tories, Scotland is little more than a summer estate, a pretty tartan bauble to disguise the truth that Britishness is simply English nationalism with its pants on.

PMP Magazine



Text: This piece was first published in Wee Ginger Dugg and re-published in PMP Magazine on 12 September 2023. | The author writes in a personal capacity.
Cover: Instagram/UK Parliament. (Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)
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