How Truly Representative is our Representative Democracy?

We have long cherished our particular form of democracy and refer to our Parliament as the “Mother of all Parliaments”. We have long emphasised to others, both those we have colonised and more recently those we have not, that our form of representative democracy is the most appropriate model and is the one to be copied throughout the civilised world. So how truly representative of the electorate is it nowadays?
Assembly democracy in one form or another was born in Athens around 5 BC or modern Iraq at the same time, depending on which history you believe, however it is certain that the development of our representative democracy did not fully flower until much later in the early 20th Century when women were fully enfranchised as a result of the WSPU (Suffragists) efforts led by Emmeline Pankhurst, labelled a terrorist at the time, to which her response was tellingly:

“The grievances of those who have got power, the influence of those who have got power commands a great deal of attention; but the wrongs and grievances of those people who have no power at all are apt to be absolutely ignored. That is the history of humanity right from the beginning.”
Emmeline Pankhurst- Freedom or Death Speech- 13th November 1913- Harford Connecticutt

In light of historical fact it is probably presumptuous of us to claim very much in the development of Democracy as it is today. Those accolades belong in other countries and shores that were well ahead of us in full enfranchisement of all their citizens.
So, what of now and the form of democracy, which is ours today?

Voting Patterns

Let us examine first some of the voting patterns which have elected our representative governments of the day.
Voter turnout has steadily declined from a high of over 84% after the Second World War to less than 66% at the last election.
Only 2/3rds of people who have the vote use it.
What is the impact on the level of turnout required then to elect a “representative government?”

In 2010 the Tories received 36% of the vote. Only one person in three actually voted for this government. The last successful individual party was Labour in 2005 with only 35% of the vote. The Lib Dems in 2010 received 23% of the vote, so less than one in four people voted for the party which eventually formed the government with the Tories. Neither of these two parties received sufficient votes to form a government and yet under our representative rules they could go ahead and form a government without the permission of the electorate.
I suppose one could argue that 59% of the total vote represents a first past the post majority but ask voters who voted for either party how they feel about that and I am sure the answers in the majority would be, No! I do not like the policies of the other party in government and would not have voted in this way if I thought that the current government did not truly represent my views and translate those into policy.

Current Political Party Demography

Perhaps more importantly let us examine the demography of the main political parties.

The common factors amongst the dominant Tories in government and most poignant in the cabinet which includes the Liberal Democrats, are the narrow sociological factors drawing this group of people together in a dominant political affiliation.

A Public School Education, this is often glossed over or completely omitted when researching the current cabinet members biographies. Only 7% of people are privileged enough to attend these fee paying schools.

Attendance at a Russell Group University overwhelmingly Oxbridge and particularly graduates in Law. Nearly 37% of Oxbridge places are filled by people from the 7% of privileged fee paying public schools and the average cost of this education is over £150,000.

A limited and narrow upper middle class upbringing.

Mainly white males, with very few women and almost no people from a BME background.

The Labour Party Shadow cabinet is also dominated by people from this narrow stratum of society and this in the party founded by the Working Class in 1900 to give a voice to the Working Classes resulting in a landslide victory to form the government after the Second World War. Post that zenith and after sometime in the political doldrums due to errant leadership and counter productive policies, Tony Blair decided that the gentrification of the Party was the only way for it to be both credible and elected. Sometimes known by the chattering classes disparagingly as “Champagne Socialists.” It’s easy to be a socialist when you can fall back on a privileged upbringing, and who collectively are remarkably similar in values and beliefs to the Tories and The Liberal Democrats, who as a party have also reneged on their core policies just to be in power. Aaaah, that wonderful aphrodisiac, which somehow manages to suppress the highest of political ideals merely for a sniff of House of Commons leather seating, on the right side of the house.

Many of our MP’s nowadays move from these privileged universities, to political research roles and then seamlessly to safe seats without even entering the world of work, save to spend a minimum amount of time in an unpaid internship both engineered through their privileged power networks and supported by Bank of “Mum and Dad”.

Ask anyone who has an interest in politics and wishes to enter the political world in order to be an MP or a Local Councillor what the process is and I suggest it becomes both very difficult and convoluted unless you join a mainstream political party or are willing to invest a huge amount of your own capital to be a successful independent.


It appears that we are only able to elect a group of people from a very narrow group of society who often appear collectively to have no idea of the rigours and obstacles that ordinary people face on a day to day basis in terms of employment, housing, education, travel and bringing up a family. Voter apathy maybe to blame but it begs the question why is the electorate so apathetic and continues to become more apathetic as time goes on. My conclusion, which is based only on anecdotal evidence although I am sure there will be some statistical polls to support this, is lack of trust in our politicians and lack of leadership by the political elite.
Examples of this assail us in the media constantly and are highlighted with scandals of MP’s expenses, Leveson etc, but a couple of individual examples spring to mind which encapsulate this continuing mendacity and lack of veracity from our political leaders over many years.
The infamous Paxman-Howard interview on Newsnight, where the question was posed eleven times in one form or another by Paxman without a reply of any semblance of a direct answer by Howard and of course more recently the Marr- Cameron interview, where when asked if he had spoken to Crosby, his political advisor with interests in the corporate world of tobacco about cigarette packaging, the obfuscating replies moved over time by Cameron from “not lobbied” to “did not intervene” but never answered the question of “Did you speak with Lynton Crosby on this subject?”

The natural conclusion is because of your obfuscation that you (Cameron) probably did.So say so and state clearly that it did not influence your decision.

We may not have a truly representative democracy but it would certainly stick in our throats less if we could have confidence in their leadership and believed what they told us.
The essence of leadership is and always has been authenticity and consistency and the result is trust and confidence even if the governing political party is not truly representative of that most recently patronising descriptive phrase “The Great British Public” whoever that includes.
The lack of representation is not just an issue of elitism but also of authentic and consistent leadership which may well be a leadership principle for all leaders at all levels in all areas of society.

Great Speeches of the 20th Century- Preface 2008
The Life and Death of Democracy- John Keane- Simon and Schuster 2009

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