A Taste of Democracy – Starving for Power: Reflections on the 2019 General Election

It was an election that was dominated by Brexit, which saw Labour uprooted from its heartlands despite a popular policy agenda. The reasons for the loss have been attributed to Jeremy Corbyn’s media-bedraggled personality, Brexit fatigue, and unrealistic expectations of the Labour party, as well as unclear policy among smaller concerns.

Johnson’s message of ‘Get Brexit Done’ resonated with voters, but this cannot be purely attributed to Brexit fatigue. The utopian promise of Brexit to its supporters was to give power back to them: power back to Britain from the dictatorial bogeyman of the EU; of its laws, its capital, and its borders. What was the most remarkable things about the EU referendum was that it worked. For the first time in generations, British people voted for something and it was enacted. The referendum was enfranchising to the disenfranchised, proof that people could take power back and get what they voted for.

So little of the electorate is justly represented by the UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system that the denizens of Labour’s heartlands, many of which were Leave-voting constituencies, rightly wanted the same power which Brexit promised in 2019. By framing the election as about Brexit, the Tories were successfully able to tap in to chronically underrepresented, deprived psyches, ravaged by a decade of austerity. These forgotten communities were sold a lie that Brexit would be their golden ticket, because Brexit meant autonomy.

But what of the means that this lie was sold to them? They are same mouths that turned a mild-mannered, grandfatherly MP in to a dangerous, terror-supporting, anti-Semite. Jeremy Corbyn is unpopular and unelectable, a message so often repeated it became a press mantra. Systematically, the media prop up the powers that be, demonising any democratic reforms, challenging inequality and only supporting the establishment agenda.

Perhaps though, this is the point. The electorate clearly want more direct power, as in the Brexit referendum. They were not persuaded by a manifesto by Labour that promised tangible changes, such as an increased minimum wage, because they were waiting for a promise that had yet to be fulfilled. It was a direct promise, and direct democracy does not like to wait (at least democracy in the minds of the electorate, Cambridge Analytica notwithstanding). It is the promise of immediacy of Brexit that also makes it more tangible than election promises. Promises can be broken, especially when made on the campaign trail. They are also distant. Brexit has been seen to be impending, but also with a clear deadline under the Tories. Who knows when we can get a £10 an hour minimum wage, when we can get back our borders, and £350 million for our NHS by July 2020. Not only were the Tories promising fantasies, but they were promising them the day after tomorrow, especially when yesterdays promises were being delayed time and time again.

It is the taste of democracy that has engendered the voting public to betray working-class heartlands, heartlands starved by the Tories through austerity, and thrown breadcrumbs of false hope towards a brighter Brexit future, where their promises would be fulfilled and their voices would be heard. Their starvation for any form of power would be satiated in the land of milk and honey that Great Britain would become again once it escaped the tyranny of its European masters.

So is this analysis a very tired one offering little hope other than the dogeared narrative of the power-elite puppeteering a hoodwinked proletariat? Partially, I admit this to be the case, but I want it to highlight a distinct appetite in the masses: the appetite for direct democracy. People want more power, and they want the decisions they make to have tangible consequences on society at large. Referenda are powerful tools, tools which the UK populace have discovered to be very effective in changing the political and social fundament of Britain. There have been appetites expressed for a second Brexit referendum as well as a second Scottish Independence referendum. People are aware of the power of these tools and how they can be harnessed to cause a sea change to the future. The people, starving for so long, have tasted power and only want more.

Author: Samuel Lawton

Feature Photo by Miltiadis Fragkidis on Unsplash.