Under capitalism, or as they call it in the USA, ‘freedom’, democracy means an entitlement to vote every few years to select from a few parties offering more of less the same choices. At the forthcoming general election, that means more cuts and privatisations. Essential to this apparent exercise of ‘choice’ is a mass media owned by the capitalists and heavy constraints on any alternative media such as the Morning Star – still being blanked by the BBC and other mass media despite a well supported Early Day Motion in parliament calling for this boycott to end. This conspiracy against voters is, however, beginning to fray as voters are beginning in ever larger numbers not to vote. As the Scottish Referendum demonstrated, if people are given a genuine opportunity to discuss debate and deliberate, and if their vote means something, they will turn out in large numbers and will care passionately about the result. Does anyone think this will happen at the forthcoming election? Labour will be standing on the basis that they are not as bad as the Tories. This is undeniably true and will induce a number of working class voters to vote for them in those few swing constituencies where their votes will make a difference. We sincerely hope this will happen: the Tories are beyond contempt and we cannot afford another five years of them.
In a few constituencies left wing parties will be standing – in recent years the Communist Party has, for example, stood in Croydon North – but the left does not have the resources to stand everywhere. The big four parties (Tory, Labour, LibDem and UKiP) can afford expensive campaigns, with the Tories in particular flooding the mass media with their message. Even the Greens now have modest resources to call on. The Left, however, lacks even these. The odds are stacked against us, but, just to make sure, we have to put up deposits in every parliamentary constituency for which we stand of £500 and these deposits are lost if we fail to gather 5% of the vote – as invariably happens if a candidate’s party does not benefit from the support of, or at least recognition by, the mass media. Just to make doubly sure small parties are handicapped, the law requiring public property to be made available without charge for election meetings during the election period is routinely and universally flouted. This is a matter that the Communist Party in Croydon has taken up with Croydon Town Hall and with the Electoral Commission to no avail.
For communists, democracy means much more than casting a vote every few years even if real choice were on offer to voters. Discussion, debate and deliberation are essential, together with unbiased information on the critical issues. Furthermore, this process should not be confined to parliamentary and local government elections. Extending it to meaningless votes for Police Commissioners and, following the US practice, dog catchers is not the way forward either. The workplace is where we are currently crying out for more democracy. The TUC has accordingly asked the government’s business departments to bring forward plans for electronic voting in union ballots. This would, of course, run counter to the government’s strategy of seeking to isolate workers with the postal ballot mechanism. Workers with an electronic vote that could be exercised at work would tend to talk to each other before voting.
The government probably has in mind moving in the opposite direction. Not only will they wish to keep postal voting for industrial ballots, they have been threatening to change the law to require an absolute majority of those voting before industrial action can be taken. Meanwhile, they seem content for our MPs to be elected on derisory shares of those entitled to vote. We do not expect an incoming Labour government to do anything about the latter, but we are entitled to expect them to abolish anti-trade union laws this time and allow electronic voting in the workplace.