by Nick Wright
We face the prospect of a hung parliament.
This could be the fourth election in a row that the Tories fail to win a majority of seats.
The notion of a party winning a majority of votes cast, let alone a majority of those eligible, lies beyond the wildest imaginings of all politicians and commentators.
In purely functional terms this is a debilitating failure of the political system and a crisis of legitimacy for both the parties and their favoured electoral system.
The conditions that created the post war scenario of two massive and broadly equal electoral blocs able to command the overwhelming majority of votes between them has vanished.
In 1951 the two major parties commanded 97 per cent. Today, they poll up to two thirds but, measured against earlier standards of voter loyalty, ‘command’ even less.
In January just about half of that portion of the electorate that intends to vote had made up their minds who to vote for.
Membership of political parties is at an all time low, abstention at an all time high. Disgust at corruption and privilege and disillusion with mainstream politicians is universal.
Opinion polling today puts the Tories slightly ahead with about a third of electors planning to vote for them, slightly less for Labour, the Lib Dems below 10 per cent with the Greens snapping at their heels and UKIP on about 15 per cent.
This, however, imperfectly reflects the mounting fragmentation of opinion which, refracted through Britain’s deeply unrepresentative first-past-the-post electoral system, denies huge blocs of voters any proportionate representation.
There are thirteen parties with elected MPs but there is little correspondence between the level of support and their parliamentary numbers for any of them.
The Greens will be lucky to hold onto Caroline Lucas’s seat in Brighton. In any proportionate voting system they would have up to 50 seats.
This, by coincidence, is about what the Lib Dems got last time – but with 23 per cent of the vote which would have entitled them to 150.
Ukip will be lucky to retain the seats of their their Tory defectors and even luckier to get Farage elected. They would be entitled to nearly 100.
In purely formal terms Britain’s political system is deeply undemocratic.
The defenestration of that unlovely duo, former foreign secretary Jack Straw and Commons intelligence committee chair Malcolm Rifkind, illustrates the truth that this parade of imperialist grotesques is entirely unrepresentative of Britain’s population.
Their private place-seeking almost obscures the deeper corruption of a parliament that acts as the executive arm of bankers and big business bosses whilst scarcely bothering to disguise the fact.
In parliament any measure which has the potential to challenge the practical dictatorship of capital can hardly find a hearing let alone a majority.
In a letter to his lover Inessa Armand, Lenin wrote: “We Social-Democrats always stand for democracy, not “in the name of capitalism, ” but in the name of clearing the path for our movement…”
It may seem paradoxical but the Communist Party must stand up for a voting system in which the people who favour Farage get what they vote for. And that Nick Clegg should get what’s coming to him.
We can take this insight from Lenin – not to suggest that democratic advance is tied up with the development of capitalism – more than a century later our capitalism is at the highest, imperialist, stage in which the concentration of capital comprehensively negates formal democracy – but to mount a challenge to the system in which the interests of the working class are almost completely unrepresented.
It is the failure of official Labour to systematically challenge ruling class hegemony that reflects the almost complete exclusion from public life of the working class.
For Labour this is a form of slow suicide. The stranglehold that the Blairite tendency maintains – the practical expression of which is Ed Balls’ unyielding adherence to Treasury orthodoxy and Tory austerity policies – means that even when Ed Miliband ventures, timidly, to where Labour politicians fear to go the opportunity to build a new relationship with the electorate vanishes.
When the clear options are placed before them the British people decisively reject austerity policies.
This includes formidable numbers of people who think of themselves as Tories, Liberal Democrats, nationalists and even Ukippers.
Most people want energy in public hands. A clear majority want rail nationalised. Opposition to NHS privatisation is almost universal. Two thirds back a publicly owned mail service. Almost no one wants state schools to be run for profit.
And people want a government that will enforce these policies.
Three quarters want government imposed price cap on energy costs, seven out of ten want government control of fares, nearly a half want government control of private sector rents.
The proposal to reduce student fees, like the earlier promise to freeze energy prices and the challenge to Murdoch paid off immediately – both in reconnecting with voters – working class and middle class – and in disrupting the media trope that Miliband lacks leadership qualities.
But they were half measures, lacking follow through and sit uneasily with Labours ‘austerity lite’ stance.
Similarly, the opposition by Miliband to a military adventure against Syria seemed grounded as much in a fear of failure than in a principled opposition to imperial force projection as such.
Welcome though they were these half hearted measures fail to construct a compelling narrative that could convince the British people that a Labour government can be radically different.
As if to confirm this, right wing voices within Labour – and false friends without – now propose a Grand Coalition of Tory and Labour.
The latest Farageiste stratagem is to ramp up the equality issue in a bid to toxify the election debate. This approach is given traction by the dangerously bipartisan approach by Labour to migration.
Set against this Miliband’s modest proposal to sanction employers who pay migrant workers lower rates of pay introduced a mild hint of class politics into the discussion. Policies that tackle low pay, discrimination in employment and the anti-union laws that underpin exploitative patterns of migration and drive down wages for all workers could begin to detoxify the migration issue.
Without a clear appeal to cash-strapped working class voters and those sections of the middle-class that live on a precipice of precariousness Labour cannot win convincingly and cannot govern effectively.
The disconnect between Labour and a section of its natural base is deepening. A situation in which voters clear preference for anti-austerity policies, class position and political loyalties diverge is an electoral danger for Labour and a strategic disaster for the working class movement.
An illustration of this is an Independent on Sunday poll that showed many voters see UKIP to the left of the Conservatives.
This is a very febrile situation. Respondents to this survey were invited to place parties and politicians on a left/right continuum. Labour and Ed Miliband were placed to the left of Clegg and the LibDems – hardly surprising – while the Greens and Russell Brand are positioned to the further left.
Here is the contradiction, or rather, the disconnect. Voters perceive themselves as occupying the middle ground while the policies they want implemented are the property of the left.
In a ‘blind tasting’ poll respondents opted for policies that were most congruent with the Greens and which, on may questions, are closer to Communist Party policies than any other.
Of course it is too much to expect pollsters to include the Communist Party in their opinion surveys,. It is almost worth the Communist Party stumping up the money itself to commission a poll in which electors would be asked to choose from a menu that includes clear anti-capitalist, anti-war, and anti-austerity policies and then guess which party advocates them.