A New Political Future?

6 months. Its been 6 months since I last published some thoughts on here. Too long. That’s not to say my brain froze up, or my passion died. Rather life decided I needed to focus my attention elsewhere.

Now I can write again.

As many of you will know it could be said we live in interesting times. For the UK our economy is all over the place, with many hunkered down and hoping to ride out the storm. We have one military action, Libya, taking over from another, Afghanistan, in some sort of perverse global conflict relay. Now we have the News of the World (NotW) and News International (NI) crisis. No link needed, this is everywhere.

To be honest I am dancing a jig over this one. I am really hoping the Americans get involved as I have little confidence in our judiciary and political stamina to do what is right here. While I know that there will be many innocent casualties in this episode, not least some of the NotW staff who recently lost their jobs, for me I am hoping for a political and corporate blood bath over this.

For too long the press in the UK, and especially the tabloids but not exclusively, have stopped informing the British public and have sought to do its thinking and make its decisions. Here is a real chance for the British public and especially its electorate to wake up and take control again of our political future. There is a real danger though that short-term political points scoring and blind ideological thinking will prevent this. I sometimes post on the Guardian”Comment is Free” pages and for me it can reflect the sorry state in which our political debating has gotten into. I know there will be fanatics on each side, but I am sure the Daily Mail is the same, if not worse. NI needs to become a symbol of how the British public can think and act for itself. And our MPs need to know this as well.

Now I am not a political person. Ask anyone who has worked with me. When it comes to understanding politics I am as delicate as a bull in a china shop, wearing a blindfold, clown boots and listening to Pantera on an Ipod. While 20 years in various lower levelled retail management can give you a stoney capitalist carapace, deep down I lean slightly to the left I suppose. Yet I haven’t voted yet, other than to spoil papers. Simple reason is I haven’t seen any benefit in any political manifesto since I was 18. And I firmly believe once the buggers get into power they are all as mad as the last lot. The British political system has lost its love/fear relationship with the British electorate it seems to me. I think it needs it back. So I wrote a letter to David Cameron. I didn’t expect an answer and I didn’t get one. Got a nice card though. This is what I suggested.

The first thing was to make voting compulsory. There was a caveat whereby there should be an option for a “No Vote” and the incoming government would be legally obliged to have an independent enquiry into why if the “No Vote” option reached a certain level. They then should be legally obliged to take steps to ensure those issues are resolved. As you can see from this graph, the numbers voting have been dropping steadily and as such we can have a coalition government where the dominant party is on around 35% of the electorate voting. No problems with this if everyone had voted but they hadn’t. That cannot be democratic.

The second was that every MP should have a job description, as should the roles they have within government. These should be freely available on an easy to access website. In addition this needs to be taught at schools in Citizenship lessons; who is your MP, what he does, how you contact him and how you know if he is doing his job and why that is important. There is a rise in “career politicians”, professional politicians, people who have done little else and are looking for staying in it for a long time, or for the big corporate pay out at the end. I haven’t got a problem with that. I haven’t got a problem with the new political class getting professional about it. I  just think that, as their employers, we should know what they do and how they are doing. At least some of that job description needs to be defined by the political party, but it shouldn’t be the majority of it.

Finally the Right of Recall and the Right of Performance Evaluation. We, the electorate, should have a system in place where we can recall our MP if we feel they are not representing our interests, fulfilling their job description or anything else related to their job. We are their employers after all. So we need a mechanism where an MP can be forced to resit a bye election. In addition, there needs to be a mechanism where an MP can be called to task by the electorate without forcing a bye election. Performance Management and Disciplinary Procedures for those managers of you out there. You couldn’t recall Michael Gove for being a crap Secretary of State for Education, but you could for not holding constituency clinics. Imagine if something like 10-25% of an MPs pay or their pay rise was awarded on a yearly evaluation of their work via a constituency committee formed similar to a jury? Why not, Governors have to do similar for Schools.

There are of course some loopholes here, but I am not a professional. I would expect legal types to sow this up tighter than Scrooge’s wallet on the 23rd December. The hope is to not only re-engage the British public in the system, and therefore encourage them to pay attention to their politics, but to hold our MPs to account and make us their first priority. Maybe then we would have serious debates in the House of Commons and not just the stupid school ground shouting, ping-pong politics we now get.

I am all for democracy. I have a friend, Mik Parkin, who would probably organise the storming of Tory Party HQ if he could get a decent backing song list for it on his Ipod. I want a spread of opinion. I want there to be Left, Right and Centre. But I want the buggers coming after me and my vote, not just saying “This is what Mr Murdoch wants, pick the version you hate least”. I want to be enthralled and attentive at election time. And I want to see my MP full stop. I want to see him addressing the issues and concerns of his electorate. I want him working for me. And you.

I leave you with this song. Don’t know the band or anything important like that, but this track has been putting a smile on my face for the past couple of weeks. I hope you enjoy it.

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5 Responses to A New Political Future?

  1. Paul says:

    Interesting commentary, but there are issues (IMHO. I don’t agree with compulsory voting from a logisitcal standpoint (if we can’t get people to tax their cars, how can we get them to vote), and from a philosophical viewpoint: a forced vote is worse than no vote, and isn’t forcing someone to do something for democracy undemocratic in and of itself? (Open question there!). I agree with a right of recall, but recalled by whom? The voters; the voters who voted for the MP?; simple majority or 2/3 – of all voters or of the turnout? And your point about ministers is most appropriate. The people of Witney, for example, have no real MP. Haven’t for the last six years or so. Their MP is Mr Cameron, and do you think he pays the same attention to his local constituency as my MP with no front bench role? Of course not, and thus it will ever be until the idea of PM, Foreign Secretary et al as being part time jobs for constituency MPs comes to an end.

    Citizenship lessons are important – given the overwhelming number of people who don’t know which way up our flag goes I can’t say I am surprised they don’t understand what an MP is meant to do. But please, introduce them after personal finance lessons (that’s me on my hobbyhorse there!).

    On the newspapers, the British population will read what it wants to read. It read the NotW because it wanted to; it was never forced to, it wasn’t conned into it. A person will complain and object, but people won’t. The vast majority will move on, either buying no paper, or – God forbid – The Mail on Sunday (which I have always regarded as a greater threat that the NotW or any other NI title).

    I wish you well in your campaign for a resurrection in civic pride, an understanding of the obligations of those elected to perform their duties for the benefit of the country – and the obligations of those who vote. Perhaps I am too jaded, but I can’t see any election ever going beyond the ‘which party will I be better off under’ argument that has decided almost every election since 1979!

    Paul

  2. Scott says:

    I agree with Rob’s “obligation to vote” as long as you can choose “none of the above”. Sure there will always be people who break the law, but I am sure this would get the majority of people voting which would be an imrpovement on where we are now.
    This is the first government I can remember where two parties are working together. It may not be to everyones taste and some of the compromises are very bitter, but I quite like the fact that the more radical bits of the Conservative party are tempered by the Lib Dems. Perhaps the start of a new politics or just a temporary blip?
    Newspapers a threat? Don’t really see it. The public pay for their paper and they can freely choose the title they want. I like getting daily paper, but I realise they have a political agenda – there are very few papers left they do not lean one way or the other.
    For a long time I have thought we should vote for who we want to be Prime Minister – not just vote for the party. This would give the person in charge more clout (they could not be chucked out by the party), and we could actually choose. How this would work if the PM was leading a minority party would need some thinking about, but perhaps the whole system needs a good shake.

    Just my thoughts. Oh and politically I don’t follow any party – I have voted at every General Election since I was old enough, and voted for all three of the main parties during that time.

    Scott

  3. neathleanan says:

    Not political huh? 😉
    I could write loads in response however I’ll try and keep it short because I’ve got to get the kids to school.
    Firstly, compulsory voting would be a logistic nightmare and wouldn’t work. Perhaps a legal requirement for employers to provide time to vote would be more carrot and less stick?
    Secondly, politics in our country is very pragmatic and ideals have very little room in there. Perhaps that should be different, however it will not change unless people get involved in the system.
    Thirdly, if you want to change anything, if you want things to be different; either use your vote (says the man in the most secure Tory seat in the country, and doesn’t vote conservative) or stand yourself.
    I have had friends that have done the latter and made a real difference to their local community so our system isn’t a complete loss.
    Unfortunately even at a local level, some politics is riven with corruption. This is shameful but will only continue if the rest of us allow it to by standing on the sidelines.
    Rant over 🙂

  4. Thanks for your replies. In response to the key concerns:

    Compulsory voting: There are about 30 countries globally that have compulsory voting. I’ll admit that enforcing it would be difficult but I believe that is more a cultural thing rather than needing a legal approach. The Citizenship Curriculum can encourage discussions over voting and why it is an important part of the democratic process. What is key for complusory voting is the “No Vote” option, allowing all a voice without enforcing a political “least shitty” choice. Philosophically a “No Vote” is no more or less undemocratic than someone just not voting. What would make it undemocratic is if, in an ensuing enquiry, people were legally obliged to divulge why they went “No Vote”. Finally we need to understand how much of the non-voting electorate is down to lack of choice in parties, apathy and missed opportunity. The philosophical question for me is whether a person who deliberately avoids interacting with the democratic political system, despite the options for a no-vote and to have their voice heard, is actually entitled to be a part of that democratic society? Should they not adopt the Freeman movement and remove themselves from the drains on the democratic society altogether? Should a democratic society support people who put themselves outside of democratic processes?

    A study of the countries with compulsory voting would set parameters of non-participation, and allow us to decide at what point should no-votes become a concern. It will also allow us the chance to examine systems and if necessary design new ones to cope. Of course this being the UK and our government it will come in 2 years late and billions over spent. But if the people want it, then this is one of those non-negotiables. There are ways including, as Richard said, enforcing employers to give employees more time off to vote. After all this is once every 4-5 years on average.

    As for the papers, well it is a personal opinion ;-). But it is one developed over years and now enhanced with some academic research. The recent NI issue and the evidence that suggests that whoever the Murdoch new channels supports has a better chance of getting into power, merely indicates that there is too much influence there. Now you chaps are far too sensible to be affected but the rising celebrity cultures, vaccuous consumerism etc have been encouraged again by the papers and in particular the tabloids; but the broadsheets are also at fault. It is also all over the tv channels and in some radio channels as well. It is a phenomena that needs more study, and this is my personal opinion, but I think there is something in it.

    Thanks for your comments 😀

  5. Guy Harris says:

    Just because you don’t vote, doesn’t mean you can’t have an opinion; but that opinion doesn’t count if you don’t vote in a democracy. Even then, individual votes rarely carry any great importance. Therefore, people often feel disenfranchised, because it appears that decisions are made too remotely. The UK is spectacularly badly-suited to enforcing compulsory voting, because citizens ‘enjoy’ a dislocated adminstration system that is a result of our historical love of civil liberty. In many other countries, it would be possible: for example, in Norway, your ‘personal number’ is used for EVERYTHING, from insurance, to NHS, to yor criminal record. This centralisation allows the control necessary to run a compulsory voting system, even though the Norwegians don’t have it. But in the UK? Forget it.

    Churchill said: “Democracy is the worst form of government, apart from all the others.” This is a fair point. I have at times tried to imagine a system of qualified democracy, whereby areas of governance were controlled by qualified voting: you have to prove a certain level of competence to be able to vote on certain areas. This is because it pisses me off that the vote of some numbskull who can’t work out that 2+2=4 (i.e. the left wingers!) should count for as much as someone like myself, who has all the answers to all the financial and economic problems the world faces! (i.e. the right wingers!!) You wouldn’t expect your gardener to have a say in how your doctor should treat you, would you? (Unless you had a massively over-qualified gardener …) The problem with this is the complexity of the system required to handle it; and who would set the curriculum? And so on.

    Unfortunately, I think that, overall, your complaints and solutions are about and for symptoms, rather than addressing the root causes, both of problems and successes. I know that the ‘system’ is chaotic, but that system has grown as a result of tens of billions of smaller and greater interactions, from the ‘wisdom’ of the ages, from the partial or complete implementation of dry ideas or passionate political movements. I am a conservative, from conviction and observation; I share your frustrations, and I think that there are many changes that can be made, but I think the changes required are softer, involve less legislation, and a lot more personal responsibility. For many of the reasons you state, I don’t believe that the macro-political system is capable of delivering the kind of change you (and I) desire. I think it has to come from grass-roots-dynamics, from parent to child, from neighbour to neighbour, friend to friend and friend to enemy; I think that some problems are, counter instinctively, too big to be dealt with by the biggest decision-making bodies we have.

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