Todays statement about the lack of £350m for the NHS and the consternation it caused got me thinking about what we should be doing and what really matters. I came up with this... 1.1 INTRODUCTION Break the Link between Protection and Stasis: People have this funny notion that protection means stasis – holding a thing in its exact form. This is wrong. Protection of our greatest institutions is not about stasis or status quo – it is about protecting the principles of the thing. Understanding and using this will enable us to break with history and create some truly innovative, but totally dedicated ideas which revolutionize the way we deliver policy in Great Britain. 1.2 RECOGNIZING WHAT WE HAVE In order to do this, we first need to recognize what we have in its true form – both in terms of its constituent elements and in terms of the service it delivers. To take one example… The NHS. Many will tell you this is a Right. It is not. Millions all over the world would dearly love even a fraction of the health care we have, and they would take it for granted a lot less, and value it a lot more, than we do. It is not a right to have comprehensive, free-at-the-point-of-service healthcare, especially when you take it for granted. It is a Privilege. A privilege we should be prepared to work for. Protecting the NHS is not about maintaining it in its current structure and guise but about protecting its values and principles; and answering the question: How can we provide FATPOS healthcare to the masses? And this is just one that galvanizes public emotion, there are many more. We need to recognize that we have some fantastic institutions and some superb ideas and reflect them in our thinking. 1.3 THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MAINTAINING THE STATUS QUO AND PROTECTING OUR INSTITUTIONS This way of thinking can be applied to any institution, practice or policy - stripping it back to its fundamental principles to understand what the point of them is, and thereby enabling us to think about the best solution free of any constraints. From here we can then look to the future – what we need. Applying a systematic approach to understanding the problems through which we can develop the correct solution and not simply follow the political tradition of throwing money at the problem; at every general election that I can remember each party has promised an increase in funds for the NHS but without a clear plan of how to fix the service. The difference between this money-driven approach and assessing the needs at a fundamental level is the difference between maintaining the status quo and really protecting our institutions. 1.4 THE FUTURE OF OUR INSTITUTIONS Our institutions are at a pivotal moment. In order to achieve more than a cosmetic development of our institutions we need to utilize the technologies at our disposal and start to think about building them into the fabric of our institutions rather than retrofit them to existing structures. Retrofitting rarely works perfectly, by defining our solutions in terms of what we need to deliver and the principles they should uphold we can develop dedicated technology-driven solutions which future-proof our institutions for the next generation. Ideally for the one after that as well. If we free ourselves of carrying historical baggage with us, allow ourselves to think creatively and innovatively and focus on delivering the best solution with the best technology and process we have to hand now and what we can conceive and build, we can develop truly exciting and effective policies which deliver exactly what we need, in the manner we want and that is the envy of the world.
Just one simple foundational proposal on ethics: Politicians should be legally compelled to be observe something like Advertising Standards in the claims they make and facts they cite ("clear, fair, not misleading"). They should be personally liable to legal sanction. One million EU Referendum voters may have been swung by blatant lies, perpetrators of which have landed plum political jobs. No wonder politics as we see it is in existential crisis and failing democracy
The key to a strong political narrative in the UK is to build it into our children and encourage them to actively engage with politics. Not just activism but a genuine understanding of political theory and philosophy. Start by teaching politics in schools (Y10/11), teach all political philosophies unbiased, and how they align to the current political thought and parties - build knowledge and insight across the spectrum. Teach how to establish a new party if none exists for their views and how to get involved in activism and grass-roots politics - underpin it with real, deliberate thought and action. Teach peaceful activism and debate and encourage students to engage with the NUS and establish school political unions – teachers have one. Encourage debate. Advance the voting age to 16 – its their future, let them have a say; but do it once you have brought the impact their decision to reality. Make it real: encourage politicians to engage with schools. Not just turn up and give speeches for photo ops but really engage and chair debates, take part in debates – be challenged by students!
Thank you for the opportunity to provide input into future Labour Party policy. In my opinion it is vital to deal with political as well as social issues. The Tories never hesitate to chip away at Labour's powerbase or undermine its support structures whereas Labour has done very little to counter their considerable advantages. This needs to change because our democracy is threatened by concentration of power the hands of a privileged elite. There will of course be strong opposition from those that hold power so this will have to be a decades-long project of gradual reform and improvement. It is vital that changes are carefully planned and implemented in such a way that they cannot easily be reversed. In my opinion the following areas should be prioritized. In this list, Mainstream Media is the number one priority, Business and Party Funding are equal second and Nationalisation is in fourth place. Mainstream media (MSM): - Implement Leveson. - Prohibit ownership by a single owner or company above x% of the shares of any MSM organization. If x% is high (above 5% say,) then no individual or company can own more than y% (where y% is a less than x%, 0.1% say,) in more than one MSM organisation. - Introduce rules requiring boards to include a minimum number of non-executive directors from alternative backgrounds. E.g. charities, trade unions, academia, employees. - Ban board members and owners from interfering with editorial matters. - Introduce mandatory professional accreditation for journalists. Journalists that contravene the charter can be struck off which would prohibit them from working in any MSM organisation. (Journalists perform a vital public service and must be subject to the same standards as other professionals.) Business: There is a strong case for reforming the way publicly owned companies are run. At present fund managers are automatically allowed to exercise the votes of all the shares they manage. This is analogous to the trade union "block vote" which was abolished many years ago. It gives fund managers enormous power and results in large, publicly owned companies being run by a small, privileged elite. It is one reason why directors' pay has risen beyond any reasonable level and continues to rise, even when companies have failed due to bad management (so-called "rewards for failure") and has on many occasions led to poor decisions and heavy losses or bankruptcy. I propose the following changes which will introduce more and better accountability and therefore lead to better decisions: - Prohibit fund managers from exercising the votes of the shares that they hold on behalf of investors. - Allow the owners of those shares to nominate an "approved" organization that can vote on their behalf. - Approved organizations can include charities, pressure groups (e.g. environmental, business, etc.) trade unions, groups promoting the interests of private shareholders, etc. All approved organisations would be authorised by government and would probably need to operate on at least a national level. - Public companies would not be allowed to make charitable or other donations (e.g. to political parties) without majority shareholder approval which would be put to the vote at the AGM. - All employee "perks" should count as pay and taxed accordingly, whether paid as a salary, bonus, share incentives, company cars, free travel, free living accommodation, etc. - The minimum wage paid by a company must be not less than x% (10% say) of the maximum earnings of any other member of the organisation. - Abolish zero hours contracts. Party Funding: It's important to reform party funding to prevent conflicts of interest. Possible options would be: - Companies which make donations to political parties should be prohibited from bidding for government contracts or alternatively (simpler option) companies are prohibited from donating to political parties altogether. - Large donations from private individuals also prohibited (e.g. max donation of £100 per person) wealthy individuals should not be allowed to buy influence. - Donations via third parties should be criminal offence: e.g. you can't give money to an organisation which then donates it to a political party and you can't give money to another individual to donate to a political party. Nationalisation This is already being discussed in terms of the railways, The Post Office and energy companies. In my view the government should _not_ buy out existing shareholders. This will require large amounts of public debt and it would be tempting for future governments to privatise again leading to further windfall profits at the expense of the public purse. Instead "golden shares" should be issued which give the government overall control of all management decisions. Another option (which could be used alongside the golden share) would be to issue a number of new shares annually for a period of years, all to be owned by the government and at zero cost. Over a period of time the private shareholders would be diluted so that the value of their shares would drop, but this would be a gradual decline in value over a number of years. Eventually the government would have a majority shareholding and could, if it so wished, continue to dilute the private shareholders until their shares become almost worthless. This scheme has the following advantages: - It doesn't cost the government anything to nationalise a company. - Private shareholders do not lose all their value immediately, there is a gradual decline over a long period which allows them to adjust their holdings and minimise their losses. This is akin to introducing new taxes on business in a gradual, incremental way to avoid a big shock to the system. The disadvantages are: - Private shareholders will lose out over the long run, which would cause political opposition. Perhaps this can be countered by pointing out the excellent profits that have been made in the past. - There is nothing to stop a new government selling or cancelling the government-owned shares. However people would be dissuaded from buying shares of privatised companies if they knew that their holdings could be diluted without compensation by a future Labour government.
Term limits for all elected posts? A minimum five year break for MPs after any consecutive fifteen years in office?
Clearly, the UK has a dysfunctional political system that no longer works. Here is a simple Five Point Plan for a new democracy; 1) State funding for parties with no donations allowed at all from organisations or companies. A cap on private donations of £500 per private citizen per annum. A list of all donations to be available online. 2) Proportional representation. I am not talking about AV or anything that is a compromise here. We need a proper system of PR. I suggest that STV be adopted at a constituency level. 3) Automatic registration of voters once they reach the right age. This should be reduced to 16. 4) Lords reform. The Second Chamber should be reconstituted every five years, following a general election and made up from members chosen from party lists in the proportion of First Preference votes only (under the proposed STV system) cast in the general election. 5) Relocate parliament away from Westminster to a new purpose-built modern building (or campus of buildings) located somewhere more centrally in the UK. This would clearly require a rethinking of the location of the civil service too. However, moving away from London would be more than just symbolic. It would represent a transfer of resources and infrastructure away from the south-east to elsewhere in the country.
Obviously easier to say than do - there is no Utopian ideal. However there are steps we can take to improve matters: 1) Reform party funding. Funding should come from the people, not wealthy individuals or corporations. There should be a cap, so that parties need to appeal to a broad populace into to obtain funds (£5,000? £10,000 per head p.a.?). An interim measure to ease a move to this might be for the state to part fund parties, in proportion to the previous election votes, over three elections, reducing by 50% then 75% each election. 2) Stop the "revolving door". In particular those who have held high office should not be able to walk into lucrative roles on leaving public office. One way in which this can be done is for them to receive generous pensions, but bar them from receiving further remuneration. They may still exercise their skills in charities or business or otherwise, but not for gain. 3) Address the lobbying and PR around government. Clearly there are free speech issues, so it is a difficult path to tread. However it is also clear that large amounts of money are able to be brought to bear and this cannot be healthy for the wider public interest. Very strict limits should be imposed. None of these are easy or lead to ideal outcomes. All would lead to new and ingenious methods of circumventing the rules. Nevertheless these would be a significant step towards a parliament that genuinely represented and served the people, as it is intended to do. As manifesto policy they would signal to the electorate that here was a party genuinely detemined to bring about a new politics and act in the public interest. As an aside, although I do not propose it here, personally I would like to go much further and require those elected to public office to give up their personal wealth, thereby demonstrating their desire to act impartially for the common good. Perhaps a step too far at this youthful stage of democratic development.
Many of the problems in our current political process spring from deficiencies in representation. In recent decades, the major political parties have increasingly converged upon a centre ground in an effort to win swing voters, but in doing so have become steadily less representative of large sections of their 'core' support. The professionalization of political parties has also promoted the act of governing above all else - including campaigning, opposing, mobilising - such that now opposition parties are more concerned to play the part of government in waiting than to represent their supporters' interests in all ways possible. The strengthening of the executive as against Parliament - including through supra-national government - has further challenged the representative edifice upon which our political process is premised.
Work to reform democratic politics might start by thinking beyond what currently passes for representation. We could pursue two broad strategies:
1. Delegate democracy. Take steps to ensure that elected representatives are more closely bound to speak up for the interests of those they represent. This would involve moving, to some extent, towards an ethos of delegate democracy. Regular constituency forums - including all citizens, not just members of the relevant party - could help hold MPs to account, if they were backed up by possible sanctions. These could take the form of power to revoke the popular mandate (and, perhaps, to impose political exile on an MP for a specified period), or of frequent elections (perhaps annual Parliaments, as demanded by the Chartists in nineteenth century).
2. Direct democracy. Take steps to counterbalance the power of elected representatives with power exercised directly by ordinary citizens. Citizen panels, selected by lot, could scrutinise the work of representatives at local, regional and national levels. Citizens juries could adjudicate on particular issues in local areas. Lastly, highly popular petitions could trigger referendums on especially contentious policy decisions at the national level.
Such changes would depend on having the kind of active and engaged citizenry which is often felt to be lacking. Yet measures to move beyond representation might themselves help to cultivate such popular engagement in politics, if delivered effectively. We should have faith that, when genuinely entrusted with making difficult and important decisions - and when given the necessary information and resources to make such decisions confidently - ordinary people will grow into an expanded role in the political process.
Issues I have with our current system:
The House of Lords is democratically unaccountable.
…But it’s quite useful having independent experts sitting on the crossbenches scrutinising legislation
Under the current electoral system, lots of people’s votes don’t count because they live in a safe seat or they favour a fringe party. A system of proportional representation would reflect public opinion better.
…But the British like first-past-the-post, as the AV referendum showed (though I realise that other forms of PR have not been tested).
First-past-the-post has some strengths, including a straightforward system, where every citizen has a single accountable representative in Parliament.
…But it enables the UK to be governed with the votes of just over a third of the people who turn out.
The House of Lords becomes a mostly elected second chamber, under proportional representation. This could be on regional lists or a national one. A national one could help ensure adequate representation of minority groups.
Peers would be elected for 15 years with a third elected every five years (to coincide with elections to the Commons). The 20 percent or so crossbenchers stay put (potentially look at giving them fixed terms too).
Because it is elected, it should have greater clout in challenging the government. This could force the government of the day to moderate its policies to reach compromises that better reflect popular opinion. This constitutional knocking of heads together would force a change in the culture of the parties.
People could start voting the way they really want to – going for the best local option for the Commons and their favoured party for the Lords.
Issues with this model:
Lists favour party loyalists rather than independents. That said, the current House of Lords favours party loyalists too, and the proposed system would retain crossbenchers - and thus an element of independence. The Commons could become more independent due to new voting patterns.
It could hinder decisive government and breed inertia.
How would we transition to a new system?
1. A proportional voting system which retains an MP constituency link is essential to a healthy democracy. A system in which one party needs 26,000 votes to elect one MP whilst another requires over 3,000,000 cannot be described as democratic. A proportional voting system would prevent Labour taking for granted safe seats which have been the cause of so much disillusionment and flight of voters to the SNP, UKIP and the Greens and enable Labour to have a consistent say in UK politics and not be relegated through periods of wilderness. The voting system should be changed through a two part referendum such as in New Zealand with Labour supporting a vote for reform.
2. A strong Political education should be a mandatory part of any secondary education. A well informed electorate is essential to hold the government to account and prevent the disenfranchisement of the young.
3. The possibility of Compulsory voter registration and voting should be investigated, enforced with a moderate fine. It is essential that politicians are forced to listen and to be held to account by the poor, young and typically disenfranchised groups, with a clear option for "none of the above" to make clear people's right to support no political party if they wish. Whilst this may appear regressive if carried out within the context of an economic policy organised in the interests of the least advantaged, the positives for our democracy could be gained without anyone losing out.
Today in Britain there is widespread disillusionment with the two main parties. Yet, there is no avenue to vent these views. This has resulted in Tory rule where large sections of society that have been disproportionately hit by cuts, yet do not vote. There must be a reason for this apathy.
Unlike 1945, Britain is no longer divided purely along class lines. What is important to many people may be sexuality, environmentalism, nationalism among many values. In order to cope with these problems, a new electoral system is needed. Not just to reinvigorate the electoral system, but also to make Labour truly represent those in society that are most disadvantaged, through new radical democratic socialist values. Although first past the post has crucial flaws, it has one asset that will prove crucial to a reformed electoral system: a local MP.
Many people use their vote because they value a local representative who can vent local opinions. This is seen through MPs such as Jess Phillips overcoming a huge Liberal Democrat majority through her understanding of local issues and entrenchment within the community. Therefore, within the new electoral system, an effort should be made to incorporate local communities. This should be achieved within devolved governments. With nationalist parties such as Plaid Cymru and the SNP flexing their muscles, it is time for all the nations within Britain to have their own representation. Steps in this direction have been made, but it needs to be more widespread. Individual governments ruling over a variety of issues will allow people to feel that they are better represented than they are currently.
Within the reformed electoral system devolved governments will have power to rule over the majority of domestic issues, such as: - Economic policy - Health policy - Education policy - Industrial policy - Agricultural policy - Transport policy - Justice policy - Environmental policy. This is obviously a huge shift from current devolution efforts, however it is clear to see that each state within Britain has different intentions of how it wants to be governed. Democratically, this can only be achieved through increased devolution. It is key that England signs up for this mode of governance, as it can take lots of power away from a dominant South East. This will give more influence to the vulnerable North and Midlands areas. Therefore, the English Parliament should be located outside of London, possibly in Birmingham or another major city.
Devolution can reinvigorate politics; making it more necessary, relevant and democratic for many sections of society. Nevertheless, there is still a role for the United Kingdom. This will be a focal point for many non-geographically specific decisions. These will include issues such as: - Defence policy - Foreign Policy (including EU and NATO decisions) - Overseas aid. As an arena where the devolved nations can discuss and coordinate trade, environmentalism among many chiefly devolved issues.
This will be decided through a senate elected through proportional representation, with a President representing the Senate. Huge sections of society will be thrown back into the political arena, making every vote equal and allowing minor parties to have a voice. Elections will take place every 6 years, therefore creating time for conscious, long term and stable government decisions. Britain will therefore have a more democratic government that offers stability and radicalism with equal effect.
Facing Britain today is an identity crisis. Can we tackle increasing globalisation and nationalism with the system we have today? Throw in depreciating voting figures and the answer is clearly no. Everyday people are failing to connect with the current system we use today. Hence, we need to propose an alternative electoral style that will revitalise faith in democracy. No longer can electoral reform be frowned upon, but should be embraced as a tool to create a more democratic system that truly represents the diverse array of people currently living within our great nation.
Currently, our MPs (aside from defence ministers etc.) are intended to represent our constituency – however people are increasingly less represented by their local area, and much more by their interests. Giving MPs the responsibility to represent the views of "small to medium business", "students" or even "interests around technology" means that people know who they can go to to have their voice heard within the party (at least a little more). The MPs selected to represent the views of a certain subset of people should preferably have some experience of that industry, making people feel as though they understand the view more thoroughly. This idea of bringing politics and policy to the people at home is vital to making people feel as though their vote counts for something, or at least they're less isolated if their local MP is not of their party, or simply doesn't represent their interests.
People respond best to messages in their first language. At the moment the Labour Party website has no non-English reading option; branches are left to fend for themselves, which means uneven provision. A search in a non-English language for the sort of help a local Labour Party provides yields nothing. A central translation exchange, to which CLPs and branches could apply for translations of (particularly online) materials into certain second languages, would allow local organisations to reach constituents more effectively and start conversations they otherwise might not have been able to start. Members fluent in a language could declare the fact and volunteer an amount of time to deliver translations. For languages not covered in this way, a fund could be established to pay professionals. It would be a relatively simple way of engaging a wider group of people.
Peter Levine has discussed the concept of Good Democracy, where inclusive process should be accompanied by the efficient reaching of outcomes (and, of course, vice versa). Meanwhile, Adam Grant in his latest book, "Originals: How Non-conformists Change the World", describes how one notable business organisation foments criticism by all levels within a hierarchy to all levels within a hierarchy, often in internally very public ways, with the aim of achieving highly creative and persistently democratic environments, that at the same time operate efficiently. In order that such democracy does not disintegrate into monolithic battles between a number of often rigid ways of thinking - or, alternatively, engender highly negative groupthink where large numbers of voices agree with the loudest and most important - to the mix that is one person one vote, a series of indices based on previous achievements in particular areas of expertise is assigned to each individual - or in our case, it could be to each Party member/supporter/voter. These indices would serve to determine the "believability" of each person with respect to their opinion and vote on a particular matter. It would *not* mean their opinions would be prioritised over others in everything, but simply in those areas that statistical analysis had shown their worth, accuracy and efficiency on previous occasions. Such indices would be continually assessed and revised as per a complex set of principles around organisational culture, already devised and created before the weighting processes were employed for the first time. The weighting process would never fix a person forever, but would form part of a path, a trajectory of growth re themselves and in relation to their colleagues - ie other Party members, workers, supporters and so forth - where an emphasis on objective performance, results and thought processes would replace the ability of people to get their own way through simply knowing how to impose via force of personality. I'd underline that neither would these indices give the same believability rating for an individual in all areas - unless, of course, it became plain that via the statistics and trajectory - the recorded history of their decision-making - their performance deserved such judgements. In this way, whilst such a system might appear at first sight to be highly elitist, it could actually make it possible for people who are often excluded from major debate through their inability to impose via force of personality and/or presence to make huge contributions as a result of having a system which made it possible for their ideas and proposals to be measured by common criteria, thus giving them the structured voice and reputation a celebrity democracy rarely allows.
Around 75 percent of eligible voters at the last general election did NOT vote Tory. According to repeated surveys around the same proportion of British adults support the introduction of direct democracy, for instance that a large agreed number of voters can make a public proposal and so trigger a binding ballot to decide the matter. Probably there is considerable overlap of these two "populations". So, please lobby to place the introduction of elements of local and national direct democracy, to complement "representative" and party democracy, centrally in future Labour Party policy :-) Michael for www.iniref.org
Reform shouldn't be about number crunching to get Labour's best result, but rooted in fairness and doing politics differently. Tory driven changes are about divide and rule, not consensus building. That why diversity needs to be at the centre of this debate, as so many of us - disabled people for example - are largely excluded from politics. Diversity won't only make things look different, but change much of the dynamics - helping people feel politics is less remote and more relevant to their lives. That goes for The Labour Party too. This is what I said last week on HuffPost about our illusion of democracy: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/emily-brothers/the-illution-of-british-d_b_9561762.html
It should be possible to charge politicians with laws equivalent to those that govern war crimes and should cover both the sorts of policy making that we have seen from this Conservative Govt over Education, playing fast and loose with financial decisions being driven by ideological bias, and the simple misrepresentation/lying to the public (making claims that decisions are evidence based when the opposite is true etc). It is frustrating to hear the evasive obfuscation of politicians when they are pressed during interviews and it would appear that a lack of fear of accountability over what they say and do emboldens them to lie to us (the electorate) and to misspend taxpayers money for their own ends. If laws that govern these things exist then they are clearly woeful and need to be reformed.
A sample of results in the 2001 General election shows that turnout is inversely proportional to majority. See figure here http://www.greenhealth.org.uk/Democracy.htm . Turnout falls from 60% to 50% if the majority rises from 4000 to 1600. In other words, some people realise there is no chance of their vote making a blind bit of difference. So if we want to increase participation and turnout, we need to go for PR.
The problems with the House of Lords are hard to count - their number, their supposed independence, and their method of appointment all invite criticism. Instead of the Lords, a jury of citizens should scrutinise legislation. There's ample evidence to suggest that with the right support a group of non-experts can achieve a high standard of deliberation and perform effective scrutiny - the Irish constitutional convention being a highly effective, assertive body which exemplifies this. Around the world groups of citizens are asked to assess the validity of claims in courts, as well as being brought together for constitutional conventions. It is a rare occasion when fault is found with the manner that citizens drawn by lot make their decisions. Expertise in these cases is not expected, but is provided by relevant experts. As such, I would like to suggest that a jury of representative composition be convened for each bill passing through Parliament, with powers equal to or greater than those of the House of Lords. I believe this would solve the questions of selection, independence, and quantity of peers. It would also invite participation, and could form the basis for a new sense of connection with politics which representative democracy has failed to yield down the years.