PR is not a solution to the political impasse we face in the UK.
by Phil Hall
There is no gimcrack technical electoral fix to the problem of inequality. When I was a teenager at school, I came across young people who thought proportional representation was the answer to ‘the broken British political system’. Having just come from India, by way of East Africa, something in what these seemingly well meaning people were saying didn’t compute. What were they talking about?
Well, a few of them were socialists of a sort, but they were first world socialists with very little knowledge, or concern for, or understanding of the developing world. These advocates of PR were concerned with having a tad more socialism in the UK. For England. For themselves. That was the sum of their political ambitions.
These were young Panglossians, political romantics, people who believed in gimcrack solutions to the problem of class conflict, people uninterested in really confronting the entrenched economic interests controlling British society, and consequently, its state. They were not rational observers of social reality or even Marxists, they merely hoped.
Now, this was just after Vietnam. This was in the face, teeth and throat of the anticolonial wars in Africa, in Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, of the overthrow of socialism in Chile. These bloodthirsty conflicts were conducted directly and indirectly with the full support and material participation of the British state.
The same state is supposed to throw up its hands in surrender. It is supposed to say to the membership of a future socialialist coalition government:
‘Oh, alright then, You socialiats are in a coalition now, so let accommodate you.’
The slavering beast will not roll over and let its tummy be tickled just because a socialist party gets 30 seats in parliament. These forces in our society that the PR merchants expect to play ball were (and are) the same forces conducting proxy wars, organising coups and arming colonialism. Look around you. They are doing it right now. They were sabotaging and assassinating, and getting rid of the communists in coalition in Italy in 1976. The very same people were undermining Harold Wilson. They were ready to get rid of him and even sent tanks to Heathrow Airport. There are books and films written about this very British almost coup.
So there was and there is something deeply disingenuous about the supporters of PR. They deny the true nature of the array of forces that confront reformists of the capitalist state. Ultimately, that’s all they are. Utopian reformists.
What more evidence you need of the bankruptcy of such gimcrack ideas? When the elected government of London under Ken Livingston opposed the government of Margaret Thatcher with its socially progressive policies, the GLC was abolished! The elected representatives of the people were branded: ‘the enemy within’. This is a state that sent in police shock troops mounted on horseback to attack the miners manning pickets in the 80s. Do you think British armaments companies, investment banks, agribusiness, chemical industry, power companies and mining corporations give a toss about the fact that some little eco-socialist party has gone into coalition with Labour?
We come to the next problem. Small political parties are notorious for having been infiltrated by agents of the state. It is a standard tactic of divide the opposition and rule. Either these little nascent parties are subverted by agent provocateurs who encourage members to break the law. Or, they sit like worms in apples. They nest in the hearts of these parties that aim for radical reform right from the very beginning. They gain influence because they have financial resources, can command venues and have contacts. Doors open for the worms and so they penetrate and rise. The worms are turned.
This is in complete contrast to large political movements and trade unions who are much, much harder to subvert and co-opt.
Most of us are wage slaves. We do what we are told. It is a different kind of slavery from the old kind of slavery. But there is no democracy at work. We have little or no power over our work lives. The same people in command of this system of wage slavery command the political life of this country because they are deeply embedded, because they have the resources to do so, because they have been trained over centuries to do so and because they run the army and the civil service and the law courts and the media, all the estates.
PR is a red herring and a hiding to nothing. The ultra right headed by Giorgia Meloni gets into power in Italy through PR. The Greens in Germany are warmongers who don’t even protest when, with the collusion of their government, the US government blows up a pipeline causing incalculable environmental damage. By their fruits, thee shall know them!
The criticism of people who criticise PR is to name call; to call the people who discount them ‘ultra-leftists’, to imagine that we want, and advocate for, violent revolution. On the contrary, the violence of social, political and economic change comes only when change demanded by the people is resisted. Revolutionaries are not Che Guevaras, in love with bullets and guns and running through the streets. Revolution is when the people decide to govern and form a mass movement. Democracy is a part of that process, but the democratic impetus needs to be backed up by a mass movement. Momentum almost got us there.
The end result of a mass movement is a people’s government of Soviets, not Oliver Twist; a socialist party in coalition with the liberals or the Greens or Labour would just be begging:
‘Please Sir. Can we have some more social equality, Sir?’
To advocate strongly for PR is a counsel of despair. It is to blow smoke up society’s arse and hoodwink progressives into believing a technical change in the voting system solves inequality. PR is something that has been proven time and time again to make absolutely no difference to the essential nature of the capitalist state. PR is not a solution to the political impasse we face in the UK.
An old reminder: Germany had and has a system of proportional representation. At a time when there were 9 million left social democrats and communists in pre-war Germany, the National Socialists, who became the largest party with 196 seats, got into power with without having the overall majority in a Reichstag with 647 seats.
Adolf Hitler was invited to become the Chancellor by Von Papen and Hindenberg, with only 30% of the seats in the German parliament. So much for the votes of 9 million socialists and communists! So much for PR!