Class warrior calls for better democracy in local elections

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Next May, JON BIGGER will be standing for election as a candidate for Class War, an avowedly anarchistic group. In part, as he explains here, his reasons for doing so are the despair at the way we are all ill-served by our democratic system

As far as I’m concerned, democracy is about participation.

Blowing his own trumpet: Class War candidate Jon Bigger

Blowing his own trumpet: Class War candidate Jon Bigger

By that, I mean people actually doing things in agreement with others. Our system of liberal democracy is something of a misnomer, as it resembles the ancient Roman Republic far more than it does the democracy of ancient Athens. In Athens, the joining of the two words demos (people) and kratos (power) resonated in the hearts of people wanting freedom. As it still does.

This week’s local elections in Croydon seem three thousand years away from people power. It’s likely that fewer than 4 in 10 of those able to vote in the elections across England will use their votes in the local elections. For many, it will be a wasted trip to the polling booth.

The likelihood that you will vote for the candidate(s) that win is pretty slim. Our first-past-the-post system means that most of us vote for a loser and end up being represented by people elected by a minority. They get in simply because they are the largest minority.

Those elected as local councillors may go to the Town Hall intending to fight our corner and change the borough for the better. But it will not be long before they realise that the agency they have within local government is minimal. The good ones might try to buck the trend. The bad ones probably never had any intention of doing anything other than play the game in the first place.

I am frustrated by the choice on offer in this election and the policies of the candidates. It didn’t surprise me, but so many candidates seem to fit the corporate political model even at a local level. Those in the three main parties don’t want to rock the boat. Becoming a councillor can be the first step in a political career, so they toe the line, they look the part and they fit in. As a result we get bland promises and a lack of vision, because to be bold and to run with fresh ideas is a huge risk.

Before election day, they have constrained themselves because they fear their party hierarchy and they fear looking stupid in the media. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to UKIP, whose candidates can’t seem to help looking like bigoted imbeciles.

Westminster has steadily stripped local government of its power. Councils have less to do and less money to do it with. The main parties at a national level dictate local priorities, so we have a situation where candidates and councillors are constantly thinking of the power above them as they attempt to exercise the limited power that they have. The result is a stifling of debate within narrow confines and councils that cannot challenge the status quo.

Imagine being able to participate more. Imagine if that participation yielded results. Local politics should be vibrant and exciting. It should matter because it produces results that affect our communities. It should offer solutions to the problems of society.

Imagine a council doing exactly that. If a council stood up for its residents and told Westminster it was not going to accept budget cuts what would happen? Liverpool City Council recently declared that it wouldn’t be involved with the Government’s workfare scheme, where the unemployed are forced to work for their benefits.

Local government can be something more than just administrative. It can set the agenda. It can pressure and lobby. It can inspire debate about national issues affecting local people. It could (if it chose to) mobilise people to take political action. I would like politics to go much further than this, so that one day we don’t need representatives, because we have direct participation and delegates who do exactly what we want them to or else they are replaced.

Unfortunately, we are far from that ideal and I fear we will suffer the corporate, stifling charade that passes as politics for many years to come. At a local level, that means more banal leaflets about litter and graffiti and more game-players looking to get recognised by their party hierarchies. We deserve better and we should demand it.

Inside Croydon’s recent coverage of the local elections:


Coming to Croydon


Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough: 72,342 average monthly page views (Jan-Mar 2014)

If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at inside.croydon@btinternet.com

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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