Parliaments were created as a way of communicating the will of the people in the only practical way possible back then. The electorate vote in the representatives politically aligned to their views, who would then pass laws on their behalf in an assembly. The history of the chambers in the Western world dates back to the year 1188, when the The Cortes of León were created in the medieval Kingdom of León.
Given that this concept of representative democracy precedes Gutenberg and the advent of the printing press technology in the mid 15th century as a revolutionary way of giving access to information in a different scale, it’s not an overstatement to say that after the most recent revolution in the sharing of information that the internet represents, parliaments and indirect democracy has become majorly obsolete.
As much as we’re made to believe that voting is democracy in its full form, a democratic society is more closely related to access to information than voting, given that the former can change the system of voting in itself on the public squares, as epitomised by the Indignados movement and its ripple effect in Spain.
Podemos is a Spanish party created three years ago through a manifesto written by several university professors in the field of Political Science, which has implemented a participative method of policy making that radicalizes democracy as we know it. Its members can and are encouraged to take part in policy making through its forums, where they can directly propose laws, vote on the party’s stances in parliament and even on potential alliances. This approach helps overcome the ineffective representation observed in traditional parties between its elected representatives and the membership.
However, the representative revolution is not the only outstanding achievement of the Spanish party. Spain has now four major parties, each of them holding at least 10% of seats in the lower chamber. Even the most conservative polls – which have historically underestimated Podemos’ results – suggest that this Sunday the left-wing coalition Unidos Podemos, lead by the 38 year old professor of Political Science Pablo Iglesias, will overtake the social democratic PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) as the second political force in Spain. This will make Podemos the first party in the West to truly bring bipartisan politics to an end.
Innovation, modernization, and fearlessness were not as endemic in the British left. As in the U.S., young people trusted a socialist from a different generation, Jeremy Corbyn, to revert austerity and neoliberal policies implemented by the Tories over the last six years. Nearly 200,000 new members, mostly youngsters, flocked to the traditional Labour party between May last year and January 2016, in a bid to push the party away from the center and avoid a right-leaning leader by voting Corbyn in. Consequently, more liberal and forward thinking parties, like the Greens, have been abandoned by this crucial part of the electorate.
The left’s failure to keep the UK in the European Union is closely related to that gamble of a movement that could have inaugurated a party larger than Labour in membership. An opportunity to renew the political scene and break away from bipartisan politics was wasted and Labour’s new members ended up trapped in the hands of a very conservative Parliamentary Labour Party.
Many claim that Corbyn, potentially due to his anti-EU views, failed to argue the case of the Remain camp defended by most of its membership. Yesterday, the Labour leader called for Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to be immediately invoked, which would trigger Britain’s formal exit of the EU.
The vote to leave is another evidence of the British electorate’s disenfranchisement, and the lack of political vibrancy that a country needs to call itself democratic. The consequences for British economy and the impact, especially for the lives of young Britons, are difficult to predict but will certainly be felt for generations to come.
The focus of Labour members of parliament is on challenging the leadership of Corbyn, but it’s crucial that the new members of Labour concentrate on creating a scenario where bipartisan politics come to an end, following the example that we should see materialized in Spain this Sunday.