When Margaret Thatcher decided to attack Britain’s trade unions one of the narratives that infested the British consciousness was that unions had been a good thing but had outgrown themselves, corrupted by leaderships who wielded too much power and who acted against the interests of Britain. It was, of course, a lie. It may have been true that trade unions required improved internal democracies but the Tories’ assault on trade unions was in response to their perceived threat to the attacks that Tories wished to launch on workers rights and protections.
The Tories enacted methods against the unions that had been honed through Britain’s colonial past, literally going to war with members of the British public to clear opposition to intended future attacks against the wider public. The zero hours contracts, plundering of worker’s pension funds, runaway CEO/management salaries and stagnant worker salaries and general precarious work lives have all flourished in the Britain stripped of a unionised population. The truth of those Thatcher years will likely remain shrouded until a full inquiry into the ‘Battle of Orgreave‘ finally occurs.
However, the accusation of organisations, where disproportionate power is in the hands of too few people, rings true in British party politics. Britain has two major national parties, Labour and the Conservatives, and two, three or four other smaller parties of significance (depending on your definition of ‘significance’). Britain is currently being reigned over by a party of a few hundred MPs but led by a dozen or so figures who actually control the reins. In effect, a dozen or so people decide the directions Britain takes and, currently, those dozen or so people are deciding to pursue the policy of ‘brexit’, just as they decided to pursue the policy of Austerity in the previous Parliament.
What the pursuit of ‘brexit’ has proven is that these dozen or so people can push through an agenda, even one where they do not support it, regardless of the ‘will of the people’ (as expressed in the result of the general election in June 2017, where the Tories went to the British electorate seeking a personal endorsement for Theresa May and a mandate for the Tories’ ‘brexit’ and Theresa May was rejected and the Tories’ Parliamentary majority was rescinded). Britain’s democracy has and is fighting back. I suspect the outcome will be a stronger British democracy and a decimated Conservative Party but, in the short term, Britain is held hostage by a dozen or so figures controlling the Conservative Party.
The Labour Party has quite publicly had its own internal battle over democracy; a battle being won, as witnessed by the strengthening of the party membership and the increased commitment by the current leadership to further democratise the party. But the fight is not over and those who would reverse the gains made have fought an ugly campaign. In very much the same way that trade unions had needed to reform their democratic structures in the 1970s and 1980s, Labour needed to reform them in the wake of the expired New Labour experiment. It is to its credit that, despite the nature of the opposition to reform, Labour have persisted.
2018 will likely see the continued pursuit of ‘brexit’ by the Tories, wherever that takes Britain. We will undoubtedly see continued attacks on Labour, in an attempt to offset the Tories’ singular responsibility for the Tories irresponsibility with their referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. Those who enjoy the corrupting lack of democracy within British political parties will persist in their attempts to undermine Labour’s; their greatest fear being a party leading a government that cannot be corrupted by simply corrupting a dozen shadowy figures at its head. Britain needs a general election in 2018 to put an end to the Tories already ruinous response to their ill-conceived referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.
I hope the British public begin to see, in the light provided by the Tories’ disastrous ‘brexit’, that Britain’s democracy, its very political structures, require bolstering. Eventually, we should see the scrapping of the cronyism of the ‘honours’ system and the House of Lords, replaced by a Citizens Assembly, breaking the disproportionate control of power of political parties and taking Britain’s democracy forward into the 21st Century.