Local council elections take place in under a week and it's likely to be a sure sign of the public's attitude towards the coalition government's economic and social plan of action. In terms of the political sphere, the differences between the three parties seem to be becoming less clear, particularly as these elections approach. It is evident that the Conservatives do not have a grasp on economic recovery, as was shown recently with a sharp increase in unemployment figures. The Liberal Democrats have alienated the public to such an extent that they are no longer trusted to stand up for their policies, or the people who they represent. Neither is the Labour Party a viable alternative, which has been shown to be the case by their traditional supporters, who either vote for a different party, or do not vote altogether. The question the public has been posing for some time is, 'where is the alternative?'
It has been instilled in us that there are only two solutions to the country's problems; public spending cuts and economic squeezes, or huge, unsustainable budget borrowing. If our politics has become a domain in which there are only two alternatives, there is most definitely something deeply wrong with our democracy. In his most recent Backbench article, 'Our Progress Paradox’, Editor Sam Bright put forward the case that political apathy has resulted from a lack of political education, the view that parliament is by no means representative of the people who they represent, and that political rhetoric has become almost unbearably monotonous, with certain policies becoming indistinguishable between parties. Whilst it is absolutely clear that these issues need to be solved if Britain is to have a fully participating democratic voice, one has the impression that these are not the roots of the problem concerning a lack of political interest.
We have seen, in various polls that it is Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats who take the biggest hit and Nigel Farage's UKIP who make the greatest gain. As far as UKIP are concerned, they are taking vital votes away from the Conservatives over issues such as immigration and future relations with the European Union, and have been rendered as the right-wing protest vote. It seems that there is no such protest vote on the left-wing of the spectrum, and instead, in the most unfortunate cases, those dissatisfied with the Labour Party turn their backs on their voting opportunity altogether.
Although one would think that Natalie Bennett, the new leader of the Green Party, should be making some progress in so far as attaining support from the political left; this has not, so far, been shown to be the case. On the 16th April, YouGov found that only 2% of voters would turn to the Green Party, compared to UKIP’s 11%. A ComRes poll for The Independent on Sunday and the Sunday Mirror from the 14th April also paints a similar picture, whereby the Green Party would achieve 3% of the vote compared to UKIP’s 13%. As far as establishing an alternative on the left, it is clear that there is not an alternative that has captured the attention of the public in such a way as UKIP has done. Unfortunately for UKIP at the moment, they are not seen by the majority of the public to be a realistic and serious political force, and are instead, somewhat stereotypically, viewed as eccentric, exclusive, and dissatisfied right-wingers. Not necessarily the alternative the public have hoped for.
The issue is not that there is not an alternative left-wing party, but that there is not an alternative voice behind it. Many left-wing commentators have recently argued that a new force is needed in British politics; a ‘UKIP of the left’. Although a possible choice, George Galloway’s Respect Party has not gained much popularity either. The largest left-wing force in Britain, the Socialist Workers Party, has recently lost its strength and many members, due to issues concerning internal rape allegations and sexism, which is deeply worrying. This leaves an incredulously large gap on the left hand side of the political spectrum, especially among those who are in search of a left-wing alternative.
However, what may help the situation, and push for an alternative political influence, is a change in the way that the public votes for its government. Proportional representation is a voting system that opens up parliament to more ideas and alternative politics. If the 2010 general election had used proportional representation as its voting system, Parliament would look remarkably different. We would have a more diverse coalition government. Instead of the single seat that the Green Party won, they would have gained six; UKIP would have twenty seats, and the BNP twelve. Although it is a worrying prospect that a more proportional voting system would open Parliament up to more extreme views, it is a price worth paying for true and free democracy that represents everyone. With regards to this, nonetheless, proportional representation would encourage a greater left-wing voice in Parliament.
In these times, people are generally calling for a political alternative, regardless of what side of the political spectrum they are on. The public is frustrated with 'same old' Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat politics. In terms of who can offer that alternative, it is clear that the left is lacking a force that is willing enough to take on both, opposing right-wing parties, and, its own Labour Party. Whether politics needs a new generation of leaders, progressive policies, or an alternative option, or whether our education system needs to be refined to remind people that they live in a society with others, broader participation is necessary in order our democracy to flourish.
By Soila Apparicio