Beyond Representation

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.

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  • John Littler
    commented 2016-07-30 15:03:45 +0100
    The issue of whether a party is captured by a more radical membership or goes to the centre to win wider support from regular voters is almost the wrong question.

    Under First Past the Post, parties have to become broad internal coalitions in order to get over the threshold of winning seats. What they become is internal coalitions of views which are not really based on coherent views, hence the attacks, hatred and procedural wrangling.
    Under PR, parties can if they wish, split into their logical and coherent components, then form progressive alliances or other alliances on particular issues. They can do this and still likely get elected.

    This would offer voters more choice, more fair representation, likely continuity on consensus issues such as the NHS and ( other candidates Industrial and Energy Policy) a more flexible, responsive and a less deadened politics. It has worked for Germany, Netherlands and Denmark.

    I think you should all accept that FPTP is keeping the Tories in power, mostly with majorities without a mandate to act as such and that the system encourages them to win. As McDonnell suggested, the amount of damage they can do before a change of government is too great to ignore voting reform.
  • Bob Crossley
    tagged this with hate 2016-07-29 19:51:11 +0100
  • Shan Morgain
    commented 2016-07-29 14:03:21 +0100
    Again I really like Patrick nelson’s comment. Rash populism (which would for example bring back the death penalty as well as public ownership) needs to be balanced by panels of expertise to spell out the consequences. A cooling off period would be good (cf. mail order impulse!) perhaps 3 months in which people could cancel a vote and re vote.
  • Shan Morgain
    tagged this with love 2016-07-29 14:03:21 +0100
  • Patrick Nelson
    commented 2016-07-29 08:52:18 +0100
    “Lastly, highly popular petitions could trigger referendums on especially contentious policy decisions at the national level.”

    This is a very good idea indeed but there is always a danger of “Barnaby Rudge” style public hysteria and intolerance.

    To avoid rash populism leading to very bad national decision making there should be some sort of ethical framework to limit such referenda, along with the statutory provision of fair honest information from (not on behalf of) both sides of the argument and a minimum time frame of several moths to prevent rash decision making by the public.

    “Delegate democracy. Take steps to ensure that elected representatives are more closely bound to speak up for the interests of those they represent. "

    One very simple step to delegate democracy is to empower localities by returning powers and autonomy to town/city councils and county councils and by promoting other forms of devolution of power to the regions.
  • Dave Churchill
    published this page in Join the debate 2016-06-26 00:02:55 +0100