1. Foreword

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried

I write this in the aftermath of the 2015 UK general election. An election that the pollsters all predicted would deliver another hung parliament, but rather than it being one of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, would be a Labour government supported by the left leaning Scottish National Party (SNP). The reality surprised many, particularly those supporting Labour. In Scotland, the SNP almost swept the board, taking 56 out of a possible 59 seats with a promise never to work in coalition with the Conservative party. But this success was all in vain, as in England and Wales, the Conservative party managed to gain enough seats to gain an outright majority in the UK parliament. A majority to impose their will not only upon their supporters, but also on a part of the country that had, in the most transparent way possible, completely rejected the Conservatives political ideology.

In truth, the Conservatives have an unopposable mandate to rule. Achieved with less than 25% of the electorate’s votes. Let me repeat that figure in case you missed it. LESS THAN 25% OF THE ELECTORATE.

Here in Australia, on the day before the 2013 election, opposition Liberal Party leader, Tony Abbott, declared no cuts to Health, no cuts to Education, and no cuts to the ABC and SBS. Yet at the first budget his government announced cuts to Health, Education, the ABC and SBS, claiming the situation had now changed, and that these cuts (some cutely relabelled as “efficiency dividends”) were appropriate.

You can understand why comedian and social commentator Russell Brand tells voters not to bother!   Of course, he was just paraphrasing Billy Connolly who famously said “don’t vote – it only encourages them”.   Judging by how quickly politicians will claim a “mandate” to do what they want, even on a vote significantly less than break even, its hard to disagree with that sentiment.

Of course, the nonsense doesn’t stop at elections. With their mandate secure, the government goes its merry way, enacting the policies they have talked about prior to the election (as well as some of the potentially unpopular ones that they chose to not tell the electors about, but now required due to “circumstances having changed” or “the other side didn’t tell us that the numbers were worse than they told us”). But assuming they have majorities where it counts, those policies can be smashed through. There is a pretense of debate in Parliament, where one side prattles on to “hear, hear”  from it supporters, and then the other side objects to the sounds of “hear, hear” from its mob. Neither side is listening to the others perspective. We are right. They are wrong. The vote is cast, the majority party wins, rinse and repeat. And law is enacted.

During this period, the propaganda war is in full flow. Figures are paraded through the media to show how good this legislation will be, usually on figures projected into the future, normally based on best case for themselves, and compared to the figures that they predict their opponents policies would have resulted in (using worst case for them, clearly).   The objective here is not to explain to the voter, but to “communicate”. This means try to make them feel that this is a good thing.   And if that is achieved, the polls go up, and if it isn’t the polls go down. How many times have we heard from politicians that a policy is unpopular not because it is actually a fairly terrible policy, but because “it could have been sold better”?

The media, bless them, are of course a well-established part of the game. The “press lobby” is that group of insider journalists whose role it is to report on political matters. There is largely a love-hate relationship between politicians and journalists, and both sides are aware of it. They need each other. But this is where the hearts and minds of the voters are won, so the game must be played.   The media is a critical aspect of modern politics. We will return to them later.

And before you know it, the next election is on the horizon. Firstly, this requires the government of the day to put forward their “pre-election budget”. A budget that is in the best interests of the nation? Not a bit of it. A budget designed to make you vote for the incumbents. A budget based on politics, not policy. A bribe. Pork barreling. Whatever you want to call it, it is an unashamed political act. And somehow we are led to believe that this is in the best interests of the country, which if you recall, is what we pay them to do.

So the full rigmarole of an election comes into force. Promises are made, the other sides’ promises are rubbished, a few debates are conducted with winners and losers decided (though totally inconsequential to the final outcome), the vote is held and a new winner elected.

If the new winner is the same as the old winner, generally you can expect more of the same. Perhaps amplified. If a small amount of privatization was in the first term, expect lashings in the second. A few benefits cut first time round? Now go for gold. It’s that mandate thing again.

It is generally about this time that the electorate realizes that something is amiss and things aren’t quite as good as they were promised. They’ve also beginning to think that the other lot weren’t quite as bad as they remembered them. Sometimes the incumbent gets a third term, sometimes not. But one thing is sure, when the new lot get in, one of their first tasks is to start to undo all the things that the last lot did.

Now sometimes that makes sense. It is often those policies enacted through that belief in the mandate that are the one step too far, and they truly need to be pulled. But sometimes it is just pure politics. This legislation has to be removed, even though it is doing exactly what the other side said it would to the betterment of the country, because we are right and they are wrong. And we have a mandate. End of discussion.

And so, as a nation, we bounce around from one set of ideologies to the other, all the time the real world is forced to deal with the fallout. Teachers have to teach to another new curriculum, doctors have to treat patients in 8 minutes not 12, businesses working to an expected target losing investment as targets change or subsidies are removed, NGOs might be working flat tack, or have to close down.

And the voters? Well the very wealthy won’t feel a thing. Sure, their investment portfolio and bank balance might be up or down a bit, but on a day-to-day basis, they will still be buying that new Mercedes when they want it.

Generally those who are well off enough might be able to take that second or third foreign holiday, or not. Sure, they will gripe that they may have to buy a less expensive wine when they go out for dinner, or that the second car might need to be used rather than brand new. But all in all, things continue much as before.

But for those at the other end of the scale, the impact can be significant. For some $50 more or less a week can be the difference between a normal lifestyle and living in your car. Do we buy drugs for the sick kid, or do we eat. And lets not even think about the disabled, the homeless, the indigenous, the people on the margins of society, the underclass.

Rinse, and repeat.

If you truly think that this is a perfectly acceptable way to run a country, then I would stop reading right now. I suspect that you are either financially immune to politics, or you are a dyed-in-the-wool party member.

If you don’t, then make the pledge that the system has to change. And be prepared to make it happen, because it can be done.

The rest of this book will look at where the problems stem from. And unlike the constant articles whining about the problem, I actually intend to propose a solution for how we deal with it. A democratic solution.

Moreover I even intend to put forward a mechanism to how we might transition from the current system to a better one. That said, differing electoral systems means that this transition will be easier some countries than in others. But if that transition can be made in one country, then it can be enacted in others.

Recognise that the power does still lie with the people. It may require action outside the ballot box to achieve it, but it won’t require violence.   Non-violent change is not only possible, but is the only long-term sustainable solution.

Our global society is not owned by governments, by monarchs, by the landed gentry, or those who inherited their wealth. It is not owned by companies, by industrialists, by bankers, or pension fund managers. It is owned by us, and it is time we took it back.

About Steve Laing

Political observer, free thinker and problem solver, Steve contends that the current democratic processes have neither kept up to date with globalisation nor modern business practices, resulting in increasing dissatisfaction with modern politics. However, new technology could be used to not only reconfigure our system, but give the electorate even greater representation than was previously the case. For more background information on Steve, please check his LinkedIn profile.

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