Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 54 Number 14, June 15, 2024 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Attempt to Mount Electoral Coup Underscores Why We Need Democratic Renewal

In an interview with Times Radio on June 12, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps warned of delivering Labour a "supermajority" [1]. In a sense, he is correct. What is being attempted by Kier Starmer and the Labour Party is to mount an electoral coup, possibly even of an unprecedented scale. The utter rejection of the Conservative Party is so profound, they could be devastated and potentially even relegated to third place in the coming election. The way the first past the post system works may at the same time deliver Labour total domination of the House of Commons.

Shapps' words are partly tactical, in conditions where the Conservatives are certain to lose the election and have given up on any chance of victory, to salvage their situation as best they can. But it also reflects the deep crisis afflicting the political system and process at this time.

The cartel party system in the present has descended into factional fighting. Functioning political parties in the normal sense of the word cannot even really be said to exist. Although there is nominally a party in power and a party in opposition at the present moment, and it is likely that the current party in power will be replaced by that opposition, the nature of these parties is completely factionalised, while they are as one in their neoliberal essence. Any so-called choice is a fraud: power and party in opposition represent the same thing, the global oligarchic private interests, with a turf war between them. They represent the same anti-social offensive and the same pro-war government. And their method of operating could be described as gangster-style politics.

This is what the electorate as a whole despise about how these cartel parties define and conduct politics, why people are searching for an alternative, and why an increasing number of alternative and independent candidates are standing.

Particularly in recent years, but in fact all the way from the Coalition government that replaced New Labour in 2010 through to the present, the ruling Conservative Party has manifested continual factional infighting, with its succession of short-lived Prime Ministers, many of whom were never actually elected by the population. Particularly since the demise of Theresa May, the Party has seen all kinds of political machinations, including the deliberate manipulation of a constitutional crisis by Boris Johnson. Labour for its part has seen its own factions rise, fall and realign themselves.

The cartel party system of government began with the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 as a feature of the anti-social offensive her government unleashed - a feature of the restructuring of the state and the arrangements of governance - and culminated in the election of Tony Blair in 1997. In this system, parties no longer function as linking the state and decision-making power with the population or the arrangements of civil society. The parties have become part of the state itself and work to exclude people from political power. They directly represent private interests, as part of the politicisation of private interests, and the usurpation of the public authority by those interests.

Not even in principle then do things even operate nowadays as party in power and party in opposition. That was blown away by Blair's electoral coup. Such coups have generally become how parties come to power and maintain the rule of those private interests they represent. Part and parcel of that is that the mode of governance has shifted to open rule by police powers, rather than any form of accommodating different interests via the arrangements of civil society, which belong now to the past. The reality is that the gap between decision making and politicians on the one hand and the people on the other has widened to a gaping chasm.

What is threatened in the current election is the final collapse of any legitimacy to rule and any veneer of accountability. In that respect it is notable that the election has shifted to the battle for second place, with the winners a forgone conclusion. New parties, some of whom represent further factions of the same cartel party system, are now challenging the usual two-party status quo. The worry expressed by Shapps reflects the real possibility of the final collapse of any equilibrium whatsoever. Instead, certain factions of the cartel system come to power absolutely, with no functioning opposition of any size or of any unified form, and all legitimacy is lost.

Given a large majority of parliamentary seats, Labour and Starmer would undoubtedly try to claim a clear mandate to carry out whatever they wish to carry out on behalf of the private interests they represent. A "mandate" is the name given to the conception of the legitimacy to rule. If a party is given a mandate, it is legitimate for them to rule. However, when there is a profound crisis of legitimacy, there is no mandate in such a situation. Rather, it is one illegitimate rule replaced by another, enforced through police powers. The people, even generally speaking the rank and file of the parties themselves, have no say, no input in drafting the manifestos. And they are increasingly seen to be filled with promises that the parties know cannot be fulfilled, and only pay lip-service to the people's genuine and deep concerns. The claim of "mandate" is fraudulent.

In terms of figures, even on an historically high turnout of 80% and Labour winning a share of the vote of 55%, that would equate to less than 45% of the electorate. In actuality, the figures are likely to be significantly lower. In the 1997 election hailed as a landslide for Blair, the turnout was 71.3%, and Labour's share of the vote was 43.2%, meaning that just 30.8% of the electorate voted for that government: nearly 70% of people did not.

Even if this were not the case, the system as it stands mixes up accountability and deciding matters of policy. There are no real mechanisms for accountability other than party-dominated elections. Voting out the Conservatives through voting in Labour is hardly an endorsement of Labour's manifesto. More fundamentally, what role did the electorate play in setting the agenda of debate, determining what are the election issues, or selecting the candidates for election?

Two of the many alternative candidates standing in the General Election 2024

Given all of this, the working class and people must utilise the election to advance their interests and the programme of the working class, and not be diverted. As Workers' Weekly said in its election call: "There are twin aims for the working class and people in this election. One is to fight for the alternative, for the rights of all, for a change in the direction of the economy, for candidates who are anti-war, who are opposed to the cartel party system. The other is to strengthen the fight for empowerment, for democratic renewal of the political system, for an Anti-War Government, which would be a fundamental shift to the participation of the people in fulfilling their desire for peace and the decision-making power." [2] Such an anti-war government is the expression of the modern democratic personality: a form of government founded on the harmonisation of the interests of individuals, collectives and society as a whole. The urgent present need can be summed up as that of building discussion groups and other collective forms in which the participants empower themselves, to point the way to democratic renewal, an ongoing need whatever the results of the General Election.

1. "Why Grant Shapps is warning about a Labour 'supermajority'", Henry Zeffman, BBC News, June 12, 2024.
2. "All Out to Elect Anti-War Candidates and Challenge the Cartel Party System!", Workers' Weekly, June 1, 2024.

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