IS DEMOCRACY AN ILLUSION IN THE UK?
Democracy is an emotive term which for many people implies the freedom of the individual to participate in those decisions which affect his or her life. We live in a very stratified society. One would assume, therefore, that such a situation would result in different social groups having very different values and voting patterns. It can be claimed for example, that support for parties inclined to the left or right of the political spectrum are the means by which members of society express their class interests and class based aspirations and antagonisms. But do members of society truly express their antagonisms and aspirations or are people’s real concerns neutralised via cultural hegemony and socialisation?
Many sociologists claim that yes, the concerns of the working or ‘ordinary classes’ whether manual or white collar, are most certainly neutralised. It is not at all true that "we are all middle class now." With the exception of those belonging to the ruling, or elite class, all other 'classes' are members of the subject class irrespective of the category with which they identify. People are socialised to submit to ruling class ideology by societal institutions such as the media and education system. The major political Parties are 'all the same' because they all support ruling class ideology. The Conservative Party is historically the Party of the landed gentry. It would be impossible for the Conservative Party to win an election were it not for the votes of the 'ordinary people'. Since political parties rely for their support on both middle and working class voters and both constitute the masses, they must, at least ostensibly, reflect the interests of both classes in their programmes. In this way, there is an overlapping whereby class-conflict is contained within an institutional framework ensuring social stability. The sociologist, Seymour Lipset, perceives these compromises as essential for stable democracy. Lipset has argued that working class Tories and white collar socialists are not merely ‘deviants from class loyalties or patterns,’ but basic requirements for the maintenance of the political system. 'Cross class voting is important' because it is 'functional' for maintaining the established order. The act of voting is a functional concession for society similar to the function of welfare provision in that both prevent insurrection thus freeing the ruling elite and the State to proceed with the business of running the intricacies of foreign affairs and capitalism.
Data does indeed reveal that it is indisputably the case that there are no significant differences between the major political parties in the UK. Despite the perceived division into 'left and right', their basic policies are essentially similar. Referring to Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative Parties, the sociologist, Bob Jessop claims that they have "a common commitment to free enterprise, the managed economy, the welfare state, the parliamentary system and the total social structure. Actual differences in policy and practice are marginal in comparison to this fundamental agreement on the foundations of society."
We could well ask that if there is little difference between the major political parties, what is the point of elections? Well, elections are a device to divert and pacify the masses. The majority of people are unschooled in socio-economics and politics. The sociologists, T.R. Dye and L.H. Zeigler, stipulate that the ‘excitement and razzmatazz’ which is particularly evident in American elections [ but will eventually be emulated in the UK] serve as "Roman circuses to entertain and distract the masses from the true nature of elite rule." Elections create the illusion that power rests with the majority. This causes people to think that they are actively participating in the decision-making process. "Elections are primarily a symbolic exercise that help tie the masses to the established order."
Major political Parties are well funded by banks, business, taxes, unions,' interested parties' and private donations. A tremendous amount of wheeling and dealing takes place. The smaller parties will not have anywhere near the amount of money required for campaigns and advertising or enough publicity to get their stances more widely accepted instead of ridiculed. This fact, coupled with the fact that the majority of people have been socialised since childhood to accept a common commitment to the existing social structure, ensures that most people will deduce that minor parties 'can't be very good' and have little chance of winning anyway; therefore, they will vote for a major party.
As aforementioned, the sociologist, Seymour Lipset, perceives political compromises such as cross-class voting as absolutely essential for democracy. A system in which the support of different parties corresponds too closely to basic social divisions, for example, conservatism versus radicalism, "cannot continue on a democratic basis". In other words, you can be anything you like as long as it is conservative, at least with a small 'c'. One must think within a parliamentary political framework and in keeping with the values of free enterprise and the entire ideology of the existing social structure.
To equate such an idea as democratic however, is contradictory since it is the enabling of differing political ideologies to have a chance that constitute democracy. The institutionalisation of social class conflict caused by culturally induced ‘value consensus’ creates a very superficial and contrived type of representative democracy. Who exactly is it representing? Stratification and conditioned value consensus precipitate false, uninformed political understanding for the electorate and the inevitability of voting for their own and most other people's oppression. Furthermore, if the ideologies of the major political parties are pretty similar there is no point in them being separate. We cannot simply say, “Our country’s main political Parties' ideologies are virtually all the same so that means our society is democratic.” It doesn’t make any sense. The State is totalitarian if the only Parties capable of winning an election are virtually ‘all the same.’ The major Parties might as well unite under the same banner and call themselves The United Supporters of The Established Order. Once any one of those Parties gets into power it will make whatever decisions and laws it likes despite the fact that there have been no referendums on major issues that concern us all or that it made entirely different promises to the electorate beforehand. They have already made their plans whilst in opposition. The fact that people can oust one of those similar Parties at election time and replace it with the other is not democracy - that indeed is the illusion.