The real lessons of the Tory victory

There’s much that could be said about the Conservative party’s victory today in Britain’s election. Not least David Cameron has emerged stronger: he now has a small but absolute majority in parliament, compared to his last government, in which he had to share power, a little of it anyway, with his minor coalition partners, the Lib Dems.

According to the rules of the British system, he has won a supposed mandate to carry out all his party’s policies, even though the Tories gained the support of slightly less than 25% of the total electorate, and little more than a third of those who actually voted. That in itself should be enough to discredit the idea that Britain is a democracy in any meaningful sense.

But I want to focus on two issues that this particular election highlighted. Although this refers to the British election, the lessons apply equally to US elections.

The first is a debate that gripped some on the far left after Russell Brand interviewed Labour leader Ed Miliband and subsequently gave Miliband his backing. This was quite a surprise — and disappointment — given that Brand had shaken up British politics over the previous 18 months by arguing that the whole political system was inherently flawed and undemocratic. He had called on people not to vote as a way to show that the system had no popular legitimacy, and invest their energies instead in a different kind of grassroots politics. Britain’s two main parties, Brand and others argued, represented the interests of the big corporations that now dominate Britain and much of the globe.

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