Just how “democratic” is capitalist democracy? Not very! Howard was returned to office last election with less than 50% of the vote. Thatcher governed Britain for more than a decade — and never got more than 44% of the vote.
Fight for fair electoral rules. Proportional representation, a system where parties are assigned seats based on the size of their vote, is far more democratic than first-past-the-post or preferential voting systems. In New Zealand, the political landscape is being transformed through Mixed-Member Proportional Representation. NZ Labor cannot govern without the support of the left-wing Alliance. Women make up 31.6% of parliament, 35% of cabinet and 44% of the Ministry. Similar change is required in Australia so that the century-long struggle for equal adult suffrage can be won.
Expediency rules, OK? Last November, the Carr Labor Government enacted legislation making it more difficult for smaller parties without big financial backers to register and stand candidates in NSW. In contrast, the minority Bracks Labor Government in Victoria is consolidating support from the independents through plans to introduce proportional representation in elections for the gerrymandered Legislative Council. Clearly the Labor Party will only back democratic reforms which give space to dissident voices when it is forced to. Let’s hold Bracks to his promise — and demand the repeal of Carr’s free kick to the pro-business parties.
Winning reform is not an end in itself. Still, democratic reform is worth fighting for, because it can shift the balance of class power. Just as the Bolshevik Party used the Tsarist Duma to argue the need for socialism, representatives advocating and popularising working class solutions from inside Parliament would be a refreshing change. With this achieved, the goal of workers’ democracy — democracy by which the vast majority directly rule — would be in sight.