Democratic Deficit | @teach_well

tgillTarjinder has worked as a class teacher in challenging inner-city primary schools in Birmingham, London and Leicester. Described once as ‘Old School but New School’ and liked it. Any view or opinions presented are solely those of the author.

There is an assumption that some left-wing, middle class people have, which is that they are somehow more capable of knowing what is moral and what is right. That they are ‘informed’ about the world in some value-free, neutral way that means they are better able to identify their own needs and indeed those of others.

To be fair this does not simply afflict members of the middle classes on the left, it is equally true of those on the right. What is often forgotten is that the middle classes did not want the vote so they could establish a fully democratic system; they wanted it so they could gain a share of the power and in most countries were happy to pull up the ladder once they had gained the right to do so. Universal suffrage took much, much longer and, once it arrived, it was not without its opponents from those who had got used to exercising power and enjoyed the privileges it gave them. True democracy was never the goal of either the Tories or the Liberals of the Victorian era. Instead the lower classes were expected to be happy with the benevolent dictatorship of the elite and educated middle class. This was echoed in many countries across Europe.

The emergent democracies of the inter-war period lay in tatters not due to revolutions, but because the enfranchisement of the working class led to a decline in the power of the middle classes in these countries. Both on the left and the right, they spat the dummy out when democracies did not deliver them what they wanted, and they abandoned liberal democracy with ease.

It is easy to forget that if monarchy, tyranny and oligarchy were dictatorships of the elite, then fascism and socialism were dictatorships of the middle classes. There is no causal link between an enfranchised middle class and the maintenance of democratic systems. Totalitarianism is the means of silencing the great majority of people and forcing them to think in the ‘correct’ manner and way. Any dissent has to be crushed. Let’s not kid ourselves that Lenin was nicer about this than Mussolini. He wasn’t.

The notion that the middle classes as a group are inherently democratic or can be trusted to support democracy is a fallacy that was clear in the inter-war and post-war periods. Yet many on the far left would have one believe that, of course, they want to bring about a socialist society through consent. Do they? Well it’s a shame that the majority of people in this country have rejected it. It is even more clear that it is the working classes who were less attracted to communist and far left groupings that have always attracted a richer, more middle class and, amusingly enough, elitist group of people who wish to exercise power for the people not give it to them. The former chose the Labour Party and when they have flocked away from it have tended to go to other parties who, while they may have policies I deeply disagree with, are nevertheless committed to the democratic institutions of this country.

Corbyn won his leadership internally, not through the electorate. His mandate as an MP is no greater than that of the rest of the MP’s in the PLP. Inside the Labour Party he won a majority of the vote to lead the party. That means leading a party which has MPs in parliament that represent the electorate who voted for them.

This consists of millions who could have chosen to sign up to the Labour Party. They didn’t. They don’t need to. They cast their votes during an election and have representation in parliament. A leadership victory in the Labour Party does not mean that they ‘have to’ now agree with the new leader, it is for the new leader to get to grips with them. If he were a committed democrat, indeed if his supporters were, this simple truth would not continue to evade them. Corbyn is a classic middle class socialist who thinks he knows better; who thinks his way is the right way and who thinks that democracy is a means of getting power not a greater good that needs to be respected.

8 thoughts on “Democratic Deficit | @teach_well

  1. Your analysis of the interwar years is flawed. I’m not sure which emergent democracies you refer to in the interwar years, but a cursory glance reveals in Britain increased enfranchisement in this period, a Russia that was never democratic and a German in which support for those parties that supported democracy rising prior to 1928 and only falling once the horrors of the depression started. To suggest it was the loss of power of the middle class that led to the emergence of socialism and fascism is simply wrong (I concede my knowledge of Italy is lacking).

    Essentially- your premise that Corbyn represents a middle class that do not respect democracy may or may not be accurate, but not for the reasons you have posited.

    I am no Corbyn fan, but it is Corbyn’s job to lead the party as he sees fit- that authority has been conferred on him by party members. It is not anti democratic to do that.

    1. I wasn’t aware that there were only 3 nations in Europe in the interwar period!!!

      Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Poland, Lithuania – nowhere did the middle classes stand up for democratic regimes.

      In 700 words I was not going to analyse all the causes that pushed the middle classes to abandoning democratic institutions, nor are they all the same. I was making a short general point to highlight that middle classes can not historically be considered the ‘defenders of democracy’ or are inherently pro-democracy any more than any other group in society.

      As for socialism – that’s my bad – I should have made it clearer referring to either state socialism or communism. The point stands that both regimes were dictatorships of the middle class – a point well made by Orwell in Animal Farm.

      It is not anti-democratic to lead the party but it is to elevate party members higher than the elected representatives of millions of people. It is to push unelected members of the Labour party and given an inordinate amount of influence to groups that are not part of the Labour movement officially such as Stop the War. To suggest internal democracy equates and outweighs the duty to represent the electorate who voted for Labour MPs is anti-democratic.

      There were plenty of TUSC candidates standing in the last election, if there was an appetite for far left politics then why were they not elected? Why did they not get the number of votes that say UKIP did? Labour voters were more likely to swap their vote to them not TUSC.

      The Corbynites exist in a truly bizarre fantasy world where it is assumed that the Labour electorate has no choice but to align with the new leadership. We live in a democratic country – they need do no such thing! They can, and some no doubt will, vote for other parties, they don’t have to shift to Corbyn’s politics at all.

      1. I agree with much of this. I’m just not sure the points are aligned!

        Of course there weren’t three countries in Europe in this period- though my point still stands. The middle class did not ‘give up’ on democracy because they were opposed to it- but rather because events mugged them of the ability to defend it. I’m not saying they were natural defenders of the system, but to say they simply had not wanted it is not fair.

        You also seem to be suggesting that most of Saint Jeremy’s support is middle class- and I would agree a great deal comes from those elites who have simply retreated to their comfort zones. But the young support Corbyn a great deal because they see him as an authentic voice in a world were vested interest prevent the formation of a utopia. They are naive, but they don’t represent a class.

        As for the narrative about believing everyone should agree with Corbyn- quite. Saint Jeremy almost has his own cult- if you do not worship at his shrine you are deemed to be a recusant. I would disagree with you again however, but only because you have been too kind in calling it bizarre. I think it is moronic.

  2. Second repeat of ‘the left is undemocratic and the same as the fascists’, this week! If you read Allan Bloom or the people that laud Leo Strauss you will find that they think this not only of the left as we would define it in the UK, but liberals, the Obama Government and so on. So you are playing with pretty incendiary stuff here. One of the main pushers of these ideas is Thomas Lifson who has claimed that Trump’s deportation plans for Mexicans and Muslims are workable.
    The analysis of the rise of fascism here is pretty dangerous, Le Pen and her fascist party did very well in France, the fascist parties in Poland led a march of 40 000 on November the 11, Jobbik a fascist party are very strong in Hungary, this is an not abstract or mere historical subject. If you are attempting to put Corbyn in that same camp then I’m afraid that all reasoning has left the building.

    1. Corbyn is no fascist and neither is it suggested that he is.

      He is of the far left who are no more democratic than the far right! That much history has demonstrated quite clearly. I don’t believe they are committed to democracy. I believe that old far left socialists such as himself still cling to the notion that a socialist state and that winning a democratic election is a means to an end.

      At the moment the difference lays not so much between left and right but the moderates and the extremists in many countries.

      Unlike Syriza or Podemos even Corbynites have no plans, no policies, simply some form of utopian existence. He acts as though he is above party politics and not bound by it. He also believes that he is right, and it is for the party, members and electorate to align themselves to him. When politicians place ideological purity above the electorate it is time to start questioning. We have not retained democracy in this country by being complacent. We have retained it by calling a spade a spade – more to the point, calling the far right and left what they are and highlighting their anti-democratic rhetoric.

  3. Hmm. After all the historical assertion, which is so much exposition, the last 2 paragraphs give a critique which could be applied to absolutely any leader under our current parliamentary/party system.

    I think it’s difficult given you so clearly dislike Corbyn being leader, to go down the line of “how dare he think he knows better” given it’s implicit within disagreement to think you know better. You must think you know better than the majority of Labour members to think he shouldn’t be leader. Such is political discussion. Indeed believing that “democracy is a means to get power” could much more easily be applied to Corbyn’s opponents in the leadership election, whose main line of opposition was his electability, not his ideas.

    “His mandate as an MP is no greater than that of the rest of the MP’s in the PLP. Inside the Labour Party he won a majority of the vote to lead the party. That means leading a party which has MPs in parliament that represent the electorate who voted for them.”
    Numerous problems here. Firstly this applies as much to David Cameron, who is only voted in by the people of Witney and the Conservative internal party, not by the wider electorat; and the same applies to any other leader or Minister.

    Next, the main way to figure out what people think is to ask them – so allow them to vote for leader. When Labour did this, people chose Corbyn. It’s hard to see what information there is for members of the PLP to decide their electorate *don’t* want Corbyn in charge and act as such.

    Finally there’s this tension of “A leadership victory in the Labour Party does not mean that they ‘have to’ now agree with the new leader” but immediately followed by “it is for the new leader to get to grips with them. If he were a committed democrat, indeed if his supporters were, this simple truth would not continue to evade them.” Here the phrase ‘get to grips’ is vague, but certainly it’s hard to see why this especially applies to Corbyn and his supporters, but not to the PLP.

    It seems you want a case of whatever members of the PLP do which receives accusations of disloyalty is justified because of their electoral mandate (even if their electorate want them to do something completely different); whatever Corbyn does which irritates you is unjustified (even if lead by the best information available off what the Labour electorate want) because he thinks he is right (but surely someone making political/moral decisions of necessity should think that they are right?)

    Would be rather simpler if the content was more forthrightly, I don’t like Corbyn’s political outlook because I have a different one.

    1. I think you assume that the starting point is I dislike him, then I am finding reasons to criticise him. I think it’s fairer to say that I my dislike is growing with attitude being displayed, his true colours coming out and what I see as one disaster after another.

      You are also assuming there I think there is one correct way and I know it. To the contrary, I know they have to be innovative. I went to see Varoufakis speak to understand the ideas behind QE better. I think there are still questions over the exact details of what it will be used for but I think it could have been a good policy. Yet it is already been run into the ground, between ‘shake the money tree of the Bank of England’ comment and McDonnell brandishing the little red book. Who is really going to take such a plan seriously?

      There is nothing vague about getting to grips with the Labour electorate or indeed the non-voters he thinks he can win round – here’s a start:

      Unbiased against Corbyn and seeking to find out where it went wrong for Labour – it’s grim reading if you think Corbyn can win by refusing to compromise, threatening the right of his party and trying to secure the votes of non-voters to win. The democratic deficit between the Labour electorate and the party is glaring and only a fool will ignore it.

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