Sunday, 9 September 2012

A thought Experiment -5 ways to make government more democratic.

It’s obvious that our democracy does not work. Political parties, elites and corporations have way too much power and control, and have fatally distorted the entire basis of our political system. Meanwhile our elected MPs have very little power and are under intense pressure to conform to party ideology.  Yet I am absolutely sure, even in these late times, that there exist plenty of sensible honest people who would be able and proud to take on the job of representing their part of the country in parliament. So without tearing up the whole system or trying to achieve mass voting for decision making (although that gets closer to real democracy) here is a simple list of things that I think would revolutionise the way things run., or in fact make them run more as intended.

The basis of representative democracy is that we choose representatives, as MPs, to do a job for us - but we are increasingly pushed into electing the party and the PM, which is quite wrong, it’s impossible to vote, with one vote, for both the best person and the preferred party ethos and elect a PM of choice, so why don’t we let our representatives do their job and really properly represent us?

1 – Remove the party name from election voting papers. They were added some years ago because people couldn’t remember which candidate was which, but have had the undesirable effect of moving people’s decisions from the individual candidate to party allegiance. Removing them will encourage voters to look more closely at the local candidate’s values. 

2 – Remove the automatic elevation of the election winning party’s leader into Prime Minister. Have the election first, then on day 1 of parliament’s opening allow the sitting MPs to do their work, and represent us in electing a PM from within their own number, the office to be held for a period of one year but with no bar on re-election. Often it will be the leader of the biggest party, and once chosen the PM will hold the role for the entire parliament exactly as happens now, but not always. I realise people may argue that doing so means they don’t get to vote for the PM – but they don’t anyhow! At least this would give every representative a say.

3 – Once elected the PM then suggests a cabinet to form the government, his suggested cabinet members, along with people sponsored from the floor of the commons if they so wish, should then also be subject to a parliamentary vote. Their position to be reviewed after a year, just as the PM’s is. The point of this is to remove the whip’s and the party’s powers over MP’s career and promotion prospects, which would no longer be at the whim of the PM or party grandees but lie entirely with our elected representatives, as it should. It also prevents the PM surrounding himself with like minded ‘yes men’. It could also mean that trusted and able MPs from other parties end up being voted into the cabinet. Good.

4 – Only local people should have a say in choosing their parliamentary candidate. While anyone could put themselves forward and ask for local party support there should be no outside party interference in the local choice of candidate, with a presumption of residence in or adjacent to the constituency.

5 – House of Lords reform. Set a suitable membership, let’s say 500 for convenience and dissociate it from the honours system.  Allow members of the (not just Lords but anybody) second house to retire or be removed if they don’t attend at least 50% of the time. Keep present members but when the number drops below the set membership fill the vacancies with people selected by a majority vote of the commons. Often they will be ex commons members and sometimes may be 'lords' as now, but that doesn't matter.  Such a move creates no sudden revolution nor any immediate change to the existing HOL but causes a gradual and ongoing change of membership and a gradual change from 'lords' made by the PM to appointees made by our MPs. The HOL stays free to act as a second chamber and retain the specialists and wiser heads to scrutinise legislation, which it can be very good at. But it prevents the population going overboard and voting lower and upper house in the same direction and having two houses like the USA vying for control and votes. Plus it prevents the government of the day making up new peers to dominate the HOL because they would have to wait for vacancies and get the Commons to agree all new people. So it would be slow moving change and completely out of step with short term voter and government sentiments. Now I fully understand that such an idea isn’t fully democratic, yet in another sense it is much more so than now as again it puts our directly elected representatives in charge, but in such a way and with an inertia that prevents control in the short term. After all our justice system, of which we were once very proud, relied on 12 good men and true – and they were not elected by anyone – but it worked.

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