Britain: Meaningless Politics Deserve Nothing But Meaningless Riots

There is a huge dispute among the English pundits on how to explain the spread of riots across the English cities last week. The leftist opinion, generally speaking, blames youngsters’  disenfranchisement and deprivation. They are generally seeing the events as a reflection of these kids’ economical and social status; a status, according to them, in which the government is responsible for the poor level that has reached. On the other hand, the rightist sociologists blame the “welfare state”, which they accuse of spoiling this generation and raising them with a kind of education which kept telling them that they can gain things without doing anything. They also attribute the cause of what has happened to the social and economical effects of the welfare state policies. Both sides share the government’s opinion, which sees nothing but pure criminality, that there is nothing “political” in these events but other social, economical or even psychological factors.
Despite all these explanations, these riots are nothing more than meaningless political protests against meaningless politics. According to the philosopher Karl Popper, one of the strongest defenders of the Western democracies, especially the two-party system in both the US and Britain, the definition of democracy is not the “rule by the people”; instead, it is “a system that makes it possibly to get rid of a government without spilling blood”. The meaninglessness of the riots, its violence and arbitrary targets, tells nothing more than the level of meaninglessness that the British democracy has reached, i,e, the lack of validity in all the peaceful tools  to get rid of a government.
The first tool that democracy gives to the people in order to peacefully get rid of their government is elections, a tool that theoretically and practically lost its validity in Britain. In 1948, a new electoral voting system, called “Representation of The People Act 1948” was formed in Britain. This new Act abolished the previous plural voting system in favor of a “first-past-the-post” one, which gives each legible voter one vote only in his constituency. This means, a party wins the majority of the parliament seats, even though it has not won the majority of the votes. In 1951, the Labour party won 48.78% of the votes and the Conservative won 44.27%, but the Conservative had more seats (302) in the parliament than Labour had (295). This system is similar to the system of how the House of Representatives in US is elected. But the major differences are, firstly,  that the House of Representatives has a new term every two years, not five years. Also there is the Senate, which has no equivalent in Britain since there is the House of Lords whose members are not elected, and its role in the decision-making process is artificial. The Senate  is elected regardless of the population of each state, which gives the smaller states the right to block any bills that may benefit the larger states. The last but not least important difference is that the executive  branch of government in the US is elected separately from the Congress elections, not as the government in Britain, which is formed by the winning Party in the House of Commons general elections. These comparisons show that Britain democracy easily can transform into an Oligarchy government, since all it needs is to control a slight majority in 326  out of the 650 constituencies (which means almost 25% of the population) in order to have the majority seats in Parliament, which also gives it the right to form the government. Furthermore, this system provides no equality among the voters, and gives some voters mush more power than others, according to the recently developed Voter Power Index and Voter Equality Index. Thus, based on how this system is built and functions, the first tool of the people to peacefully get rid of their government through elections is hard to get.
This is also easily shown when we measure how responsive the government is to public opinion. In a study “Responsive Government? Public Opinion and Government Policy Preferences in Denmark and Britain” (2005), the authors studied the two systems’ responsiveness to  public opinion in the period between 1970 to 2003, and concluded “that policy responsiveness is higher in proportional democracies (Denmark) than it is in majoritarian democracies (Britain)”.  This is because of “the large parliamentary majorities of the governments in these systems [the majoritarian], which insulate them from voter pressure. Hence, we would expect this effect to be less pronounced when the parliamentary of the government is small”. Thus, the people in UK not only cannot  peacefully get rid of their government through elections, their public opinion also has less power in driving government policy.
The last tool that democracy provides to people in order to peacefully get rid of their government, or at least to pressure it in order to stall it from enacting a specific law, is the effective peaceful protest.  We all remember the mass anti-war in Iraq protest in London whose attendance is estimated to be around 750,000 people.  This huge protest did not stop the government from going forward with its decision to join the war. Nowadays, we are also witnessing other anti-austerity protests, but nobody in the Conservative government is paying attention.
This is not an advocate to the violent riots that are taking place in England, but an attempt to understand it within the frame that is never looked through, the “political” frame. If we accept Popper’s definition of democracy as a system that the people can peacefully get rid of their government, judge it, or at least civilly stop it, then we must conclude that Britain, even though they have a somewhat elected government, is not a democratic country. This political situation added to the on going shrinking middle class in the society, scandals of the media phone-hacking of the people and finally police killing people; all of that make the whole system lose its meaning. Thus, one can expect nothing more than a violent protest that also lacks meaning.

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