The British at the European elections

With elections being waged for the massive talking shop known as the European Parliament, more than in any other country the mood for revolt is rising in the United Kingdom. The petty, venial corruption shown by the Westminster MPs over the past years, recently revealed but by all and sundry plausibly considered part of a much larger pattern of self-enrichment, has greatly increased the skepticism and hostility of the British public towards the established three parties. Indeed, the corrupt reformist policies of Blair c.s. domestically and his petty vassalism towards the United States and its military adventures in the realm of foreign policy, combined with the continued production of futile nonentities on the part of the Tories and Liberal Democrats had already done much to encourage this, but the so-called ‘expenses scandal’ has been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back for many Britons.

The political implications remain to be seen. Many Britons will opt to not vote at all, as has been the norm for European Parliamentary elections, which is both a sign of the petty bourgeois apathy of the overly sheltered and uninformed British population as well as being a sign of the general lack of purpose in voting in elections where outcomes barely make a difference, as the spoils system of the perpetual centrist coalition in the European Parliament makes even voting under the superior system used for its elections exceedingly futile to the politically conscious. The risk is of course that the people who do show up, estimated to be no more than 30% of the electorate, are likely not so much to vote for the left as for the Little England reactionaries of Libertas and UKIP, not to mention the fascist BNP. In this way the elitism of the EU technocrat-parliamentarians will produce its own gravediggers in the form of a resurgence of reactionary populism, but unfortunately they are also likely to dig a mass grave for left-democratic forces along with it.

What then to make of this? Of course attempts by left coalitions such as the well-conceived but awfully named No2EUYes2Democracy to use the opportunity for a left organizational surge must be applauded, but their policy of abstentionism will effectively enhance the power of the right. Moreover, they appear to have little intention to move their organization beyond these elections. It is not necessarily a problem that they do not feel the need to form yet another sectarian party or to produce platforms without the pillars of support that any platform needs to rise above the level of a doormat, but to channel all the left potential that exists in the broader British public as well as with the RMT and then to squander it by closing shop after the elections is pure parliamentarianism, which makes their abstention policy all the more self-defeating. The SLP is also present, but their sectarian basis and the narrow Lassallean antics of their leader Scargill will render them mostly harmless to the establishment.

What is therefore to be agitated for above all is to use the opportunity of the election temperament and the ‘expenses scandal’ to frighten the battered established parties into granting electoral reform. Labour had promised this but, as to be expected, once in office reneged on it; however there has been increasing discussion of the topic in various newspapers, and the Electoral Reform Society has seen a flurry of new activity. Labour’s own government commission recommended keeping the district system, which British voters are very used to for Westminster and abolition of which may easily prove a bridge too far, but replacing the utterly retrograde ‘first-past-the-post’ voting system with a specific variant of Approval Voting, which although favorable to larger parties nonetheless greatly improves the manner of actually counting votes. Also a possibility is introducing STV, as is in use in Ireland, which also gives some benefit to larger parties but allows ranking. There are various good systems that can be compatible with maintaining constituencies, even ones little discussed such as Condorcet’s system, and which one is chosen is rather less important than that the occasion be used to make it finally happen; all the more since it has been an issue since the decline of the Liberal Party.

A referendum on this topic must be held and held soon, using the opportunity of widespread disaffection to force through reforms. In circumstances when progressive forces have little actual power, they can still use their moral force to frighten and cajole the ruling class into reforms, as was proven by the failure of the Chartists that was nonetheless followed by a Reform Bill, although it is to be hoped the distance in time between protest and reform will be less this time. An electoral reform would also enable the progressive forces remaining within New Labour to depart their dying host organism and set out on their own, which will strengthen the political visibility of the British left, necessarily weak as it is, and further enable the death of the right element. Therefore, delaying tactics such as Gordon Brown’s “National Democratic Renewal Council” must be rejected, and the occasion must be used by all left forces, union, MP or otherwise, to call for a swift electoral reform referendum, if necessary to coincide with the general elections in 2010.