Making Democracy Work

To be sure, there is a great deal about our democracy and its processes to be improved. We’ve made great leaps in vital areas at times and stagnated horribly at others. But look around the world: Democracy is a messy business and work in progress. It won’t be tidied or improve without the informed and active engagement of those it claims to serve. There are many differing arguments as to the best ways forward, from proportional representation to digital participation but these are irrelevant to me, right now for, not only are too many people disaffected but we are not a society that is anywhere near ready for such gown-up thinking as would be involved to have faith in such change. Besides, it’s not as if there aren’t plenty of other possible ways to improve our First Past the Post system.

There are three things, however, that I want to see happen pronto and which I think could be done in time for the 2015 General Election. And yes: this is very rough musing with gaping holes but I hope that you will see in generalised terms, what I’m getting at.

1 – A People’s Veto: I want this one right now. A mechanism by which the People can petition to force the Government to act or force them to stop an action. This could be achieved by determining a suitable threshold – probably a pretty high one – of the number of people required to effect such a mechanism. There are numerous occasions where such a system may be helpful to our citizenry interests – like ‘war’ and privatisation of our essentials – but the one that is uppermost in my mind is that, in the face of Fixed Term Parliaments, we should have the rebalancing right of power to demand a General Election. Why should the monarch be the only one with the right of Parliamentary/Governmental dissolution? This is our country and such a potential needs to be more than some symbolic gesture.

2 – ‘None of the above’: This could be added to ballot slips in a printed minute. And they would be counted. Imagine if the majority vote was for this box choice… It says not good enough; your manifestos are crap; we don’t believe you; you’re all failing; try listening and thinking; piss off…

In the meantime and in the absence of this magic box, please do spoil your ballot slip if you cannot bring yourself to select what’s on offer. Your spoiled ballot is counted, too. Please turn up.

Remember: not voting at all does nothing whatsoever to secure your interests. It does, however, guarantee a mandate to those with the most power who are NOT us.

3 – A ‘popular’ vote count: Now, I haven’t thought this through like one of those electoral expert types and I may well have overlooked an obvious thing or two but I think you are an intelligent lot who can read into the general spirit of what I’m saying. Any naivety aside, I think it is appalling that a significant proportion of votes are wasted by the present system and that the will of what might be a majority, both locally and nationally is faded into an unrepresented and justifiably resentful obscurity. I live in a seat so entrenched in complacent safety that effecting change seems impossible and I imagine that for many, this contributes to the “why bother” as much as does the complaint of “they’re all the same”.

Because I see ‘safe seats’ and boundaries as a hindrance to national governance, I would like two votes at a General Election. The first vote being for who I want my local representative to be in Parliament. This obviously entails a boundary of some sort and neither does it counter the ambiguous effects of the safe seat. I think, though, that a second vote would assist in softening its negative impacts. I want my second vote to be for the Party/leader to whom I would confer a mandate to govern nationally. This is the vote that I would like to see devoid of any constituency boundary. This is the vote which would not be inhibited by safe seat syndrome and would more clearly reflect the collective wish of the electorate. I would like to see how that looks.

Perhaps the answer I propose is not in actually having two votes but I think the problem itself is one that definitely needs addressing. Maybe there is another way but the answer is not in AV and nor is it proportional representation – at least for the foreseeable. I used to like the idea of the latter, by the way but ‘Borgen’ and our very real Coalition has quite put me off.

And, before you think I’m unconsciously desiring a republican state: this is not about constitutional monarchy versus a republic. Let’s please not get sidetracked by a load of unhelpful, outdated and equally flawed labels. The Republican systems may have features worthy to inspire but nothing to recommend a complete facsimile. They deliver no more real accountability or representation than what we’ve got. This is about making democracy work for us and by us and the processes that entails. We may well have to make some of them up, you know: use our imagination. Bespoke.

7 thoughts on “Making Democracy Work

  1. Pingback: Making Democracy Work | Welfare, Disability, Po...

  2. Yes, certainly something pretty radical like this is required. Trouble is, persuading an aging population to vote for anything radical may become harder and harder..!

    I suspect a better chance of persuading increasing numbers of elderly may initially be just to add payment priority options as a second ballot paper. The main spending areas could be listed, each with a More & a Less checkbox. If voters prefer more to be spent on the NHS, it would receive a large number of ticks.

    A list of preferred spending priority areas would result, in order of popularity (their total ‘More’ minus ‘Less’ votes). The top 5 (for example) most positively voted for areas could be treated as meriting higher spending and the lowest 5 most negatively voted against areas justify less spending.

    The Treasury might still decide the total expenditure and, to avoid impractical large spending changes, any increase or decrease would be limited to, say, 1% per year of the existing amount allocated to that area.

    This communal expression of priorities could then be designed in a way which should become binding on the Govt and operate as a gradual series of ratchet adjustments until settled to levels reflecting voter preferences. At a stroke this should help minimise idealogically driven swings imposed by opposing parties and much of the influence of large.lobby groups between elections.


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  4. How about we need a Minister for Democratic Accountability?
    It’s about RISK. Private sector businesses discovered the magic of risk ages ago – nothing gets done without being vetted for risk – new products, markets, campaigns – and the control of risk (to the corporation) is at the heart of many of the non-democratic movements over the last 20+ years, for example, International Trade Agreements, designed to mitigate legal challenge to the corporation; Lobbying, derivatives, etc.

    But our Govt is run on functional lines – energy, education, etc, with only PM & Deputy PM in a position to look at the whole. But they’re only looking at the risk from a Party political POV, not from a Democratic POV – if we make this a constitutional role, then at least someone who is not a blogger is responsible for informing the electorate about risks to democracy from proposed legislations.

    Obviously, there isn’t a party in the land that would sign up for that, but then that’s not unexpected.


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