19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
A Superb Lament for the Failure of our Democractic Process,
This review is from: The Vote: How it Was Won, and How it Was Undermined (Hardcover)
A magnificent work that should be required reading for everyone who cares about political democracy in this country – I couldn’t put it down, and I’m not a “far-lefty”, as the previous reviewer puts it, by any means. The first half of the book is an exhaustive history of the struggle for universal suffrage, from the Levellers of the Seventeenth Century to the 1918 Representation of the People Act. The second half charts the way that the wealthy “ruling classes”, who fought tooth-and-nail for centuries to prevent anyone but themselves taking part in the political process, have since 1918 used their wealth and power to sideline the elected government and make it impossible for those elected by the people to change the status quo.
I totally disagree with the previous reviewer that Foot has nothing positive to say about any of the Labour administrations that the UK has had – on the contrary, he carefully charts the good intentions of all Labour governments (with the exception of those led by Tony Blair) and gives ample praise where it is due. What he shows however is that the good intentions of successive Labour administrations between 1924 and 1979 have been thwarted by the “money men”, unelected officials of financial institutions like the stock exchange and the World Bank who have effectively held Labour governments to ransom and more or less blackmailed them into adopting capitalist policies. The inevitable conclusion of this situation is that in order to govern effectively, the Labour Party has had to transform itself into a political party acceptable to big business and the financial institutions - or in other words, to become Tory in all but name. Foot’s conclusion then is that the struggle for universal suffrage has been in vain, because a change in the elected government can produce no radical change in policies and the real power remains exactly where it was when the whole process began in the seventeenth century – with those who have wealth and property. His overarching theme echoes that of the left-wing historian R H Tawney, who argued that it is impossible to have political democracy without economic democracy. The latter, according to Foot’s analysis, can never come through the ballot box but must be won by popular agitation and possibly, ultimately, through revolution.
Yes, Paul Foot was on the extreme left of British politics: He has an agenda in The Vote, the work is tendentious, and he does tend to skip over or ignore historical events that do not sit well with his overall theme. (For example, he blames the problems of the Heath government entirely upon Trade Union agitation and manages to avoid mentioning the Arab-Israeli war of October 1973 and the consequent oil embargo against western nations). However, since the bookshelves of Britain are groaning under the weight of right-wing political histories of the British political process, this book provides some timely and much-needed balance. Read it and weep.