After reading Christina’s blogpost, I started to think about the dissatisfaction surrounding the election. Does the answer lie in electoral reform or in unruly action, or both? And then I heard about the anti-Tory protests.
Yesterday protests began in London against the newly elected Tory government, who won the general election with a slim majority. Protesters have used smoke bombs, and a number of people have been arrested. Strikingly, the protests were not initially reported in the mainstream UK media. The agitation isn’t only on the streets. My facebook newsfeed is dominated by people lamenting the outcome of the election, with articles like How to Leave the United Kingdom trending. Yet with 37% of the vote, the Conservatives still gained more support than any other party. It seems the nation is divided.
The question everyone seems to be asking is What right do we have to protest a government that we elected? I have read comments on youtube labelling protesters as ‘hypocritical socialists’ who can’t accept the democratic outcome. But was this outcome democratic? As Christina has argued, there are representational flaws in the system of First Past the Post, which allows a party to run the country despite the fact that 63% of voters did not vote for them. But the protests are targeted at the Conservative party and austerity measures, rather than attacking the electoral system. The message is Get the Tories Out rather than Get Proportional Representation In.
Representation through protest
Maybe rather than seeing protest as a means to change political representation, we should view it as political representation in itself. I think it’s unfair to paint the Anti-Tory movement as hypocritical. Millions of people do not have their political views given fair represention in parliament, and this heightens the need for other forms of political representation to be seized: people take to the streets to represent their own interests.
The figures that Christina presented below show how disproportional the seats are to the overall percentage of votes. I think this is most striking in Scotland, where around 50% of the population did not vote SNP and yet will have Scotland almost wholly represented by this party. I don’t think the percentages are even a fair reflection the views of the public, as people’s voting was strongly shaped by the First Past the Post system. People who might have voted Green voted Labour because they had more of a chance of keeping Conservatives out. Votes for the smaller parties are considered ‘wasted votes’, and so the voting percentages to some extent reflect tactical voting rather than true political views.
I do have my reservations about Proportional Representation. PR is more likely to result in a coalition government, and I personally prefer the idea of a one party government that can quickly and effectively get things done. Even if we don’t agree with what they do, this can spark momentum to challenge this. And at least the FPTP system has kept out extreme parties such as UKIP, but will this too result in a backlash, with UKIP supporters seeking other forms of representation? I think these protests highlight the fact that people feel unrepresented by the election, so maybe electoral change is indeed needed.
So what now?
People are angry, people are disillusioned, people feel unrepresented. What’s the answer? Should we accept the outcome of our democratic system? Should we look to reform? Or should we protest? Are the current protests using the wrong approach by attacking the Tories rather than calling for electoral change?
These are questions that I would love to explore more, but for today it’s back to finishing up my term papers! What is striking is that it seems we’re entering an important time for British politics. Badiou would perhaps argue that we shouldn’t try and place a narrative on the meaning or objectives of the protests, but acknowledge them as events in themselves. There is a rupture in society and an opening up of discussion around our politics.