Why so surprised? The British electoral process has always been fixed

First Published by Morning Star – Wednesday 18th December 2019

So the 2019 General Election is done, and the neoliberals have won, again. But before we join in with the chorus being led by the 1% attacking Corbyn, let’s take a moment to step back and look at the wider context. It is at times like these that those new to the struggle for a better society may find their faith wavering. And it is important to remember that what we have just witnessed was simply the most recent step in a very long journey.

My own journey has born witness to anti-apartheid, CND, the Miners strike, the poll tax, anti-globalisation, international solidarity, critical mass, anti-war, climate change, 15-May, Occupy, Black Lives Matter, Keep the NHS public, Syriza, #metoo, Podemos, Extinction Rebellion, Corbyn winning the leadership of the Labour party, openly socialist blocs in the US Democratic party, and then over 10 million people voting for a radical socialist manifesto in a British general election. It is worth remembering just how far we have come.

I don’t believe that the failure to win the general election is due to the actions or strategies of the socialists within the Labour party. If there is a failure, then it is more likely to be with those who believed that the 1% would hand back the country if we only ticked the right box on a piece of paper. The system was designed and then modified over a hundred and fifty years specifically to stop socialism from taking hold in this country[i].

The truth is that we are not living in a democracy as the term is commonly understood. Last Thursday, the Conservative party received just under 14 million votes. That equates to 43.6% of the share of total votes. For this the British electoral system assigned them 365 seats in the House of Commons, or 56.15% of the seats. The Labour party, Liberal Democrats and the Green party combined received 14.8 million votes, which equates to 46.5% of the total votes cast. Based on this share those three parties have been allocated 215 seats, which is 33% of the seats in the House of Commons[ii].

The reality is that the British electoral process weighs votes unequally. Some peoples votes are worth more than other peoples votes. For example the Scottish National Party (SNP) had to average 25,883 votes to win each of their 48 constituencies, however the Green party with 865,697 votes nationwide won only 1 constituency[iii]. That is the mathematical equivalent of saying that each SNP vote has the same political value in Parliament as 33 Green party votes. To understand the basic difference between ‘first past the post’ and ‘proportional representation’ one need look no further than this. However, it is slightly more complicated than that.

Just look at two constituencies on the south coast of England separated by just over 60 miles. Affluent Hove, cynically referred to as Kensington-on-Sea and the Isle of Wight, which one Eton-educated chair of Ofsted[iv] described as a ghetto of inbreeding[v]. The Isle of Wight has a population of 141,000 while Hove has only 103,000[vi]. Of these two populations the Isle of Wight has 108,125 registered voters, while Hove has 71,145[vii]. Because both can elect one member of parliament, the vote of a person living in Hove carries the same political power as the votes of nearly 1½ people living in the Isle of Wight.

If that doesn’t surprise you, then I am sure you won’t be shocked to find out that that the median weekly wage on the Isle of Wight is £510, while in Hove it is £630[viii]. And the average house price in the Isle of Wight it is just under £215k while in Hove it is £352k[ix]. Put simply, having more money allows you to live in areas where you have greater individual political power in the electoral process.

But that is only one aspect of the democratic fraud. In the last four weeks of the election campaign the Conservative party received £3.2 million in donations from 29 people and 8 companies. £1 million of that was given by 1 company, Bridgemere UK Plc., while £0.5 million was given by Sir Peter J Wood[x]. Nearly half of the donations to the Conservative party in the last month of the campaign came from 1 company[xi] and 1 man[xii] alone.

Of course there were the more subtle gifts, like the £300,000[xiii] that was donated by the wife of a major arms dealer[xiv], but let us not digress. The fact is that the adverts, the bill boards, the private jets, the PR and marketing all has to be paid for somehow. And who better to pay for it, than those members of the 1% who are most likely to profit from a neoliberal government with both hands firmly around the neck of the 99%. How ever condescending we are about the money floating around the US system, the truth is that the UK system is just as flawed.

But simply having sacks filled with money isn’t enough. You also need to have a strangle hold over the information on which the electorate will use to inform their vote. In the first month of the election campaign the mainstream media appeared to begin a hatchet job on the Labour party like nothing seen before[xv]. However, this wasn’t actually a sudden change in behaviour. From the very first week of a socialist being elected leader of the Labour Party four years earlier, the mainstream media began the project to influence the electorate. And it wasn’t just the Op-Ed pieces either, the news itself was presenting the newly socialist Labour party in negative terms from the off[xvi].

In the UK today there is a very narrow set of interests running the mainstream media. The privately owned media is overwhelmingly controlled by a handful of billionaires that directly influence the editorial positions of those outlets by hiring and firing the senior management they want. Add to this the fact that the major corporate advertisers, also get to put pressure on the editorial boards by being the primary revenue streams of those companies and you get a very questionable situation[xvii].

With the media moguls and major advertisers consistently pushing their neoliberal agenda onto the editorial boards, is it any wonder that those same boards then lean towards similarly acquiescent journalists. And like so many other institutions in British society, journalism is disproportionately populated at the highest levels by the sons and daughters of the families wealthy enough to send them to the top fee-paying schools[xviii]. Even if it is not a popular topic of reporting, it certainly is studied at great length by a few people[xix].

But it is not just the privately owned ‘for-profit’ media that has got all guns trained on socialism. Even the state broadcaster, the BBC, has been forced to apologise on multiple occasions for ‘errors’ that benefited the Conservative campaign in this general election[xx]. Accusations of bias have gone so far that on one occasion the corporation was even accused of breaking electoral law[xxi]. But can anyone really be that surprised, after all we know that they did exactly the same thing in the 2017 general election[xxii], and for that matter the 2015 Labour leadership election[xxiii].

No, Thursday wasn’t a failure or even a set back. It was one of the most widespread endorsements of socialism in the UK in decades. It was over 10 million people standing up to the 1% and saying no more. For those of us that have stood on cold wet picket lines and protests with only a handful of other people for decades we must put this into its wider context for those new to the struggle. This was huge.

And it is because we are fighting for a fairer, a more compassionate and above all a sustainable society that the 1% will do everything they can to coerce and co-opt us at every turn. They recognise our desire for a better model of society for what it is, a revolution that will deny them their privilege. A privilege that is built on the suffering and exploitation of the people and the planet.

Last Thursday has to be seen for what it was, the next step towards revolutionising an exploitative and oppressive social model that threatens our civilisation. And we have a responsibility to those that hoped that their votes would be enough, to reassure them that not only are we still moving in the right direction, but we have taken a massive leap forward together.

The biggest mistake we can now make is to let those counter-revolutionaries who walk among us deter us from our objective. What ever the critics tell us over the months and years to come, we must not forget that last Thursday 10 million people went to the ballot box on a cold and wet miserable December day to send a clear message to the country and the world, that not only is another world possible but in ever greater numbers, and on every battlefield that it takes place, we are going to fight for that world together.

i jones, owen – the establishment, 2015 – P5
ii https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election/2019/results
iii https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election/2019/results
iv https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_David_Hoare,_9th_Baronet
v https://www.ibtimes.co.uk/ofsted-chief-sir-david-hoare-quits-after-isle-wight-inbreeding-comments-1577576
vi https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/local-data/constituency-statistics-population-by-age/
vii https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/parliament-and-elections/elections-elections/uk-elections/constituency-data-electorates/
viii https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/economy-business/work-incomes/earnings-by-constituency-2015/
ix https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/social-policy/housing/home-ownership/constituency-data-house-prices/
x https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/media-centre/donations-and-loans-received-political-parties-and-non-party-campaigners-uk-fourth-weekly-pre-poll
xi https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/05647630/officers
xii https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/markets/article-7113265/I-paid-62million-tax-Amazon-cough-Asks-Insurance-tycoon-Sir-Peter-Wood.html
xiii https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/media-centre/donations-and-loans-received-political-parties-and-non-party-campaigners-uk-fourth-weekly-pre-poll
xiv https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tory-leadership-race-arms-deals-saudi-arabia-said-al-yamamah-a8949326.html
xv https://www.theguardian.com/media/2019/dec/01/media-bias-is-a-gift-to-the-conservatives
xvi https://www.mediareform.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/CorbynCoverageUPDATED.pdf
xvii https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/opendemocracyuk/five-reasons-why-we-don-t-have-free-and-independent-press-in-uk-and-what-we-can-do-about/
xviii https://www.suttontrust.com/research-paper/leading-people-2016-education-background/
xix https://www.suttontrust.com/newsarchive/jon-snow-lack-of-media-diversity-is-dangerous/
xx https://www.theguardian.com/media/2019/dec/14/bbc-staff-express-fear-of-public-distrust-after-election-coverage
xxi https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/bbc-laura-kuenssberg-postal-votes-electoral-commission-a9242976.html
xxii https://www.mediareform.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/BBC-NEWSPAPERS-REPORT-FINAL.pdf
xxiii https://www.mediareform.org.uk/featured/stay-go-television-online-news-coverage-labour-party-crisis