Part one of a two part series questioning universal suffrage.
The concept and application of universal suffrage, one person one vote, is actually a relatively recent phenomenon in human history. In this post I will be explaining why I believe universal suffrage has been a factor in the decline of “Western” civilization. I will be referring specifically to the experience of the UK, but I believe the trends are in fact common to most “Western” countries, which have followed a similar course.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF SOCIALISM IN THE UK
With the ‘Representation of the People Act 1918’ all men over 21 in the UK gained the vote (previously voting had been restricted by property ownership constraints). This was followed by the ‘Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928’ when all women over 21 also gained the vote. This paved the way for socialism to gain the upper hand in UK politics. After the Second World War, politics swung heavily to the left with the election of a very socialist Labour government under Clement Attlee.
This government introduced the National Health Service and the Welfare State. A large scheme of council housing began, over a million new homes were built by the government. A huge program of nationalization of industries took place including the railways, telephony, coal mining and steel production to name just a few. There’s no question that in the beginning the living and working conditions of large numbers of people had been improved rapidly. Quite how quickly the free market would have produced the same improvements we’ll never know.
By the 1970s however things were not going so well. High inflation led the government to cap public sector pay increases and trade unions reacted by going on strike. Coal production fell and electricity consumption had to be rationed, leading to a 3 day working week for a time. A Labour government was elected and wages were increased again to placate the unions. However soon even the Labour government could not keep the trade unions happy and there were widespread strikes during the “Winter of Discontent” (1978-1979). Finally the Conservatives were elected under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher, and politics swung heavily to the right, and a large program of denationalization began. Even the Labour government elected later in 1997 was quite right wing in comparison with the Attlee era.
MASS IMMIGRATION AS A FORM OF GERRYMANDERING
Since the 1950s, the UK has experienced fairly high levels of immigration. However, this greatly increased from the “New Labour” period onward (1997 – present). At least in part this was due to a deliberate policy by that left wing government. A secret memo later came to light that that government was deliberately “rubbing the Right’s nose in diversity” by allowing in huge numbers of people from poor countries. Of course, these poor immigrants were expected to become Labour voters, as they would be on low wages and benefit from the more generous state handouts promised by Labour, as well as free education and health care. Thus this immigration policy can be seen as a hugely irresponsible form of gerrymandering by the left – altering the population to increase the left’s vote in the future. Quite how much these immigrants have contributed to the economy is disputed. Of course many are hard working but there is a tendency of the children of immigrants to not be so hard working and many end up on benefits.
A Conservative government was elected in coalition with the Liberal Democrats in 2010, partly thanks to their promise to vastly reduce the rate of immigration, which was causing disquiet among the general population. They have completely failed to deliver this, net migration has continued at very high levels. This situation is in part due to the UK’s membership of the EU, which is heavily dominated by left wing ideals and is also committed to free movement of people.
THE PRESENT DAY
In the present day many UK voters were born and lived in an era of prosperity and they have no recollection of the most problematic days of socialist governments. Many new arrivals from foreign countries near and far are also quite ignorant of this history. Extreme left-wing ideas are once more on the rise and the Labour party have a new leader called Jeremy Corbyn who is ready to promise the earth to gullible voters who believe that money grows on trees. He has quite literally suggested that a government under his leadership would print money and give it to poor people.
Despite the fact that relatively right wing politicians have been in power since 1979, many of the left wing changes brought about by Attlee’s government remain. The welfare state and the free health care service are still intact. Most children receive free education. Students in higher education receive generous loans which often are never repaid. Some welfare reform has been achieved, but very large numbers of people are still dependent on handouts from the state. In addition, increasing life spans have increased the numbers of people living on state pensions. The state is struggling under a huge national debt burden, something like £1.5 trillion. A lot of taxpayers’ money is simply servicing this debt.
All these burdens are being carried by the less than half of the population who are taxpayers. There are only 29.3 million taxpayers out of an official population of 63 million (2011 census). The actual population of the UK may be considerably higher due to illegal immigration. Furthermore, of those taxpayers quite a substantial number are public sector workers. Of course these people provide some value in services, but their wages are paid for by the state through the taxes of those working in the private sector, so in a sense the taxes they pay are merely token. Thus, substantially less than 29.3 million people, maybe as little as 30% of the population, are supporting all the rest to varying degrees (19% of the workforce are employed by the public sector but not all of these will be taxpayers).
The left are also now pushing for another form of gerrymandering, through the further lowering of the voting age to 16 years. Of course, younger people are more likely to be left wing, as they have less experience of the realities of life.
Allowing those who only take from the state to vote is a little bit akin to parents giving their children an equal say in how their household finances should be run, clearly a recipe for disaster. The introduction of universal suffrage has led to the election of left wing governments in the UK whose policies have been based on promises of unrealistic state largess. Even the current “Conservative” government is in fact quite left wing in many ways, in part because they know that they simply could not get elected on a more right wing manifesto.
Furthermore, the left’s hold on politics has deliberately been strengthened by mass immigration and they are trying to strengthen it further by lowering the voting age. It has also been strengthened, crucially, by the sheer numbers of people now dependent on the state financially. Large numbers of immigrants arriving in the country have also increased the vote for the left because the left favours more immigration, and immigrants want to be able to bring more of their relatives and people from their culture here to join them.
Reducing any of these unrealistic expectations is extremely difficult politically because all those dependents of the state have a vote. A return to property ownership based voting rights would not be a fair option, because many hard working people who pay taxes also rent their homes and own no property. In the next post I will examine other possible alternatives.