In a nation of 65.5 million people the membership of the Conservative and Unionist Party is a tiny 134,000, a fraction of the well over half a million current members of the Labour Party. Yet the Conservative Party is one of the most successful political parties in Western democracies. Conservative Prime Ministers led UK governments for 57 years of the 20th Century and for 7 of the 21st. It currently has 8,857 councillors in local government – an extraordinary 1 in every 15 party members – out of a total of 20,830 seats; and, despite implementing the most draconian cuts to government expenditure in living memory while simultaneously presiding over the highest wealth inequality in Europe, has just been voted to the government of the UK for the third time in seven years. So how do they do it?
The obvious answer is that its members, which account for only 0.2 per cent of the population – or one in every 500 of us – and those who support them run the country: through the financial institutions of the ever-increasing number of billionaires and property developers that bankroll the Conservative Party; through the media institutions of the tax-avoiding press barons that run its propaganda and give it unlimited and biased coverage in the press, together with its members’ almost total domination of the BBC; through the judiciary of Oxbridge alumni that protect it from prosecution no matter what its crimes while changing the law to accommodate its wars both abroad and at home; through the privately-educated civil service that runs the country for it whatever party is elected to government; through the police, security services and armed forces that protect it from and spy on us; and through the 25 per cent of the electorate or roughly 11 million people that are all that is required to vote it into power every five years.
The only time in recent years that another political party has taken the government of the UK away from the Tories – that being New Labour under Tony Blair and his inner-circle of unelected mandarins – was when it offered a more effective government with the same purpose, objects and values. Appropriately, the Constitution of the Conservative Party lists its purpose, objects and values as ‘to sustain and promote within the Nation the objects and values of the Conservative Party’ – a tautology worthy of the self-preservation society that it is. The purpose of the Conservative Party, in other words, is to promote the aims and values of those who constitute, finance, promote, accommodate, protect and run it – which is to say, the ruling class of the UK.
To describe the electoral and parliamentary system that permits this ruling class to remain in perpetual control of the UK as ‘democratic’ is as ridiculous as the belief that this system will ever permit itself to be voted away through the same electoral process the ruling class has kept in place for 900 years in order to maintain its control over who governs this violently United Kingdom. On the contrary, to participate in this electoral system by voting for this or that political party is to grant your personal acquiescence – as a dutiful subject of Her Majesty – to this spectacle of democracy, and in doing so give democratic legitimacy to a system of government that has maintained and perpetuated the rule of, by and for the few over the past millennia and more, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future unless we change that political system.
When we ask ourselves how and why it is that such a tiny percentage of the population can continue for decade after decade, century after century, to govern the rest of us, keep ownership of the land they’ve stolen from us, charge us whatever they want for living on it, appropriate the wealth produced by us at the point of a gun, and imprison those of us who propose an alternative social contract to this vast and self-perpetuating system of theft and wage slavery – the first and most obvious answer is: because we keep voting for them. The first step in the movement towards overthrowing the capitalist system is to stop voting its political representatives into power. It is only in the vacuum of democratic representation towards which we are moving at an ever-increasing speed that the seed of political revolution will bear fruit.
The fact this suggestion doesn’t sound as absurd, unwelcome and impossible to you as it would have even as recently as ten years ago shows that this seed has already been planted.
Architects for Social Housing
Illustration by Clifford Harper