Sandy Martin, LCER chair
Sandy Martin writes:
I began my political journey in the early 1970s, while still at school. The Cold War was still cold, the Biafran War beamed pictures of starving children to our TV screens for the first time, industrial unrest was stirred up by Heath’s cack-handed attempts to hobble the Trade Unions, and the first books and documentaries like Rachel Carson’s Silent Planet were beginning to raise awareness of our destructiveness towards our own planet.
Ideologically I toyed with communism, although I always felt it had been betrayed by the Russians, and as I learned more I realised that every system which refuses any effective democratic accountability will always tend towards tyranny and repression. At the same time, my fellow schoolboys were almost all either Conservatives or Liberals, although there were a few mavericks such as Seamus Milne who stood as a Maoist candidate in the school's mock election in 1974.
It did not take much insight for me to realise that I shared a vision of a better world with those who supported Liberal, or Green or even fringe-left views, even if we disagreed about how best to achieve that vision. I could not understand how the forces of reaction and class division had been able to cling on to power so effectively, despite General Elections being fought with a universal franchise since 1929. I understood the impatience of the British voters with the “oh no I didn’t, oh yes you did” bi-polar politics both in Westminster and in the workplace. Above all, I was convinced there was a popular majority for a progressive governance for this country and that only a better voting system would be able to achieve that. I read everything I could about electoral reform, and devised my own system, which I described during my entrance interview to Oxford University.
What has happened since then? I believe the malign influence of multinational media moguls has been largely to blame for the sclerosis – and now deliberate destruction – of democracy in both the UK and the USA. Because we share the English language with such a huge proportion of the developed world, and because our country is probably a more integral cog in the system which apportions wealth around the world than any other apart from the USA, it has always been particularly important to the super-rich to prevent democratic socialism taking hold in Britain.
Make no mistake, there is no route to Socialism which is not democratic – without democracy, revolutionary change just throws up another obscene oligarchy. And there can be no genuine Democracy without a degree of Socialism – if all the important decisions are taken in the boardrooms of companies, if the dividend is the only deciding factor in those decisions, and if the elected bodies have no powers to effect real change, then any so-called democracy is a sham.
As a self-declared Democratic Socialist party, the Labour Party needs to embrace a democracy that works. There are still Labour members, and trade union members, who cling to the supposed effectiveness of First Past the Post for reasons which appear mainly to have been fed to them by the Sun and the Mail. As a democratic party we do need to respond to the wishes of our members, but we also have a historic duty to educate our members, and the electorate as a whole – a duty which was not shirked in the 60s and 70s when we were faced with overt racism and sexism in our Party. Thankfully, the majority of our members – 76% at the last poll – do believe that the time to change the voting system for Parliament has come. LCER has taken up that challenge and I am thrilled to be your Chair this year – the year that we persuade our Party to commit to the democratic renewal of our country.