Democracy2015: can it make a difference?
Author: Zoe Stavri
Published on Sep 07, 2012
On Wednesday, a new democracy initiative was launched. Democracy2015 aims to restore British democracy by encouraging non-politicians to stand for office as a reaction to diminishing trust in our Westminster system.
Although it is careful to avoid the phrase “political party”, it’s plan is to field candidates in the 2015 general election and directly compete with the mainstream parties. It is what Democracy2015 stand for that sets them apart from the mainstream parties. They are placing participatory policymaking and transparency centrally and striving to bring people into politics who would not normally participate, with candidates only serving a single term if elected.
Democracy2015 is not the only group to coalesce around an issue and attempt to enter Westminster. There has been a recent spate of new single-issue parties, such as the Pirate Party and the National Health Action Party. Similarly, in 2009 Jury Team presented itself as an umbrella group for independent parliamentary candidates, although it appears to have since disbanded.
Can groups like this make a difference and deliver the change that they hope to? Democracy2015 identify that the present system is stacked in favour of the large parties and career politicians and those currently in office are unlikely to change the status quo. Their approach - and those of the other small parties - suggests that bringing in new people who have not worked in politics before will address these concerns. Yet even Democracy2015’s founder, Andreas Whittam Smith, describes what they are aiming to do as “almost impossible”.
However, this approach underestimates the extent to which it is the system, not people which is the problem. New MPs are still MPs, and must be elected by a first-past-the-post system, where elections are won on the “centre ground” and they must appeal to an electorate who consume media dominated by the narratives of the major parties. Then they must gain an outright majority in the Commons or make deals if they are to be expected to fulfil any of their promises. Even with all this, they will still come up against the machinations of party politics and the whipping system: while Democracy2015 MPs might not take the whip, the other parties have been using this method for years to force block voting and force legislation in the direction they choose. As yet, Democracy 2015 have not addressed how they believe they can get around all this.
Either way, change to this system cannot just come from working within. It requires external engagement and mobilisation from the people.
Regardless of how the political establishment feels about them and their struggles to make headway, the fact that smaller parties continue and the decline in participation in mainstream politics stands as rebuke to the status quo. Democracy2015 may not have all the right answers, but they certainly represent some fairly pointed questions which urgently need to be addressed.