In 1867, the Second Reform Act was passed. This act was significant in the establishment of the modern British democracy that we sometimes take for granted, but all agree is a beautiful and essential part of the modern Briton’s life. Whilst the Act did not grant universal suffrage (this would not happen, technically, until 1928), it did double the size of the electorate to approximately 1 in 3 men. The Prime Minister who passed it was the 14th Earl of Derby, a Conservative Prime Minister. The Act of 1928 which gave women fully equal voting rights to men was also passed under a Conservative, Stanley Baldwin. Hence, it is written in the Conservatives’ history that they were, although slightly begrudgingly, the party which introduced modern representative democracy into Britain.
92 years after the Stanley Baldwin’s government gave full voting rights to women, his party has changed its tune on democracy. If Derby, Disraeli, and Baldwin were a ballad rock band promoting democracy then Cameron, Osborne, and the modern Conservatives are a death metal band intent on its destruction. The trouble with the rest of this column is where to start talking about this attack on democracy. Most well known are the boundary reforms which will reduce the numbers of constituencies down from 650 to 600. The result of this will be that the executive will have an even greater proportional influence in the legislature and it will be harder to prevent unpopular laws from being passed. As well as this it is likely that the geography of the new constituencies will be favourable to the Conservatives and unfavourable to Labour, making it harder to remove the Conservatives from government. As well as this attack there is the government’s 19% cut to short money. All opposition parties will fight the next election with fewer resources making it harder for their voices to be heard. These cuts will take £1.2 million pounds from the Labour party but will do virtually nothing in regards to reducing the deficit, resulting in very little justification for the cut. There are also the attacks on trade unions which will make it harder for workers to strike when they feel conditions are worsening and, again, reduce another group’s voice in our democratic process. The Trade Union Bill is designed for two things. Firstly to mute the workers by making strike action more difficult, and secondly to reduce funding to the Labour party (we are estimated to lose around £6 million a year). This Bill is so abhorrent that Amnesty International condemn it, and when Amnesty condemns a Bill, you know it should not be passed.
Perhaps it is fitting that the party who begrudgingly introduced full democracy to the UK should be the one to end it. I do not need to tell anyone in Labour to oppose this attack. Corbyn is no doubt abhorred and Rachael Maskell, MP for York Central, has already been seen at rallies against the Trade Union Bill (a rally I was proud to be on). I now make a plea to all Conservative MPs and members, is this really what you want? For one you are willing to stamp all over the legacy of those regarded as some of your finest leaders: Derby and Disraeli for introducing reform, Baldwin for expanding suffrage and even Churchill’s memory is spat on as you look to destroy what he defended from the Nazis. I know for a fact that Conservative MPs, especially David Davis, are describing these reforms as akin to Franco’s Spain rather than Queen Elizabeth’s Britain. Search your consciousness and tell your leaders that this is not what you want. For anyone reading this column: Do not allow Cameron to dismantle our democracy, resist this attack and ask your MPs to vote against the Trade Union Bill and Cameron’s other attempts to dismantle our democracy. The fate of our democracy is hanging on a thread.
Andrew Dennis is the Treasurer of the University of York Labour Club