Is this a stupid idea?

There are significant problems with first past the post, one being because it means that so many votes are ‘wasted’. This mocks Democracy, particularly if you live in a safe seat. It’s also sickening to have to hold your nose and vote tactically. However, the more I watch the world around me – our natural polarisation; small, single-issue parties which are great locally and vital as national agenda setters and re- setters but not actually viable or suitable for national governance, for instance – the more I wonder if proportional representation is any better. Political thought and choice, it would seem, is invariably reduced to an either/or, regardless of the system, so maybe first past the post has an inevitability. PR sounds all grown up but really it amounts to a lot of settling and time-wasting squabbling. It seems like a system destined to serve no one properly and everyone vaguely. Just look at the two-party coalition fiasco we’re suffering now. If you were a Tory then the chances are you feel let down by the dilution of compromise. If you voted Lib Dem, thinking you would get left-leaning wisdom and some integrity then the chances are, you feel as utterly betrayed as those who voted for Labour.

Now, I’m no expert, obviously! – but I am a voter and I reckon there are other mechanisms we could invent if we just used our imagination. I don’t know if it’s naive or sensible but here is one – in the very rough:

I’d like to have two votes in a General Election: one, for the person (US stylee) or the party (Europe stylish) upon whom I would wish to bestow the authority to form and lead a government; and a second, for my local parliamentary representative, as is traditional, to vote on my behalf (let’s assume integrity). This local MP would join the collective HoC pool from which the elected leader would probably construct most of his or her team – though not necessarily: this is ‘rough’, remember – It’s up to us.

This would also potentially sufficiently loosen the loyalty leash of the Party Whip so that a local MP might actually be freer to put his/her constituents’ interests above those of his/her party’s, on those occasions where the government created is still all, or mostly, from the same party.

Obviously, the local vote would be bound by constituent demarcation. However, the first vote – the primary reason for my suggestion – the first vote, the one for the Prime Minister, I would make a popular national vote. (Who knows: perhaps party-independent individuals might also be inclined to come forward..) No constituencies; no geographical boundaries for this vote. One nation, to re-coin a re-coined phrase. Every single vote designed to count. An authentic FPTP result. Maybe, just maybe, more people would show up to mark their cross.

I know this does not necessarily guarantee any of the myriad improvements we urgently need in our political climate nor the integrity of our politicians, nor the quality of their content and substance. But it might guarantee that when we vote, we feel our voice is more accurately reflected. (I actually think it would have a greater impact but my layman’s head thinks to play it down a bit, lest my suggestion turns out to be not just naive but impossibly stupid. Is it a stupid idea?)

Anyway, Progress comes most often by increments. Democracy is a messy business and in constant need of improvement. I say that a lot, I know, but it’s true, nonetheless. Sometimes the smallest, simplest steps make the most difference.

[Actually I may have said it better elsewhere: ‘Making Democracy Work’ https://julijuxtaposed.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/making-democracy-work/%5D

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8 thoughts on “Is this a stupid idea?

  1. I certainly don’t know enough to say whether this is possible but I like the sound of it and do think it would be fairer. Allied to that, a rule must be implemented to veto any career politicians so that people from the real world who have worked and known what it is like not to have everything handed to then on a plate, are the only ones allowed to go into politics. Who knows. Something has got to change and smartish.

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    • I agree with you. I wrote about A People’s Veto in ‘Making Democracy Work’ with regards to fixed-term parliaments but also more generally: “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.”

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  2. My concern about this suggestion would be that it was even more centralising of power. I know that party leaders are rarely dethroned, but if Margaret Thatcher had been directly elected, the Tories would not have been able to get rid of her. In the States, the Senate and Congress system are essentially set up to prevent the President from doing anything very much. I suppose under your system, ordinary backbenchers could be given some real power to oppose the government but my fear is that a direct mandate for the PM would be an overwhelming authority.

    Personally, I would return the powers to councils that Margaret Thatcher removed… the authority to build council houses, oversight of schools and involvement in health provision etc. In addition, bringing the ‘utilities’ like rail, buses, energy, water and so on into public (democratic) ownership would also democratise every day life.

    However, I totally agree that we should have the power to recall a government (or council) and force change to policies. It is beyond incredible the way Cameron lied about his intentions for the NHS prior to 2010GE. 5y is also far too long a period without a vote.

    You’re right about ‘PR sounds all grown up but really it amounts to a lot of settling and time-wasting squabbling.’ Furthermore, free-market liberalisation is incompatible with democracy, so a coalition between parties with fundamentally different ideologies inevitably results in one having to ‘give in’ to the other… rolling over is not a compromise as the LDs have found.

    Thought-provoking post 🙂

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    • Thank you, Sue. Your input is always constructive and welcome. I really appreciate the time and interest you take.

      I take your point about the danger in a directly elected leader. I wonder though if a safety mechanism couldn’t be worked in – back to the people’s veto thing, or variant, I guess. How do we get rid of a mayor? Is there a process for that, I wonder..

      I’m not sure why my idea gets in the way of returning local powers, though. I’d vote for the leader and local MP who agreed to that. Is it not just an issue of political will?

      Apart from the reasons I put in the post, another is that we have an abundance of potentially great, inspirational, visionary and seemingly capable leaders on our shores in myriad spheres. I like the idea that some might put themselves forward if the way was opened. Now, though, I’m thinking about funding and rich men problem – oh, we could set a limit and allow for crowdfunding. I’m also now wondering about Direct Democracy being a suitable counter to one man’s potential tyranny – the practicality and security worries me but I’m open to the sense in the basic principle.

      Chortle – between your response and the multi-directional bursts of thought I’m now having, I’ve just opened a can of worms in my head (not worms, that’s gross). :-/

      I understand that nothing changes in isolation and that not factoring consequences is an historically disastrous theme. Conversely, though, one thing leading to another is a big-picture gift. Perhaps I should have written a fuller post, to reflect this better, rather than picking just one aspect. I’ll think on that..

      I guess I’m saying that “we wouldn’t start from here” in so, so many things that we need to decide what needs repairing, what needs improving and what needs building that is new in our democratic system and that we undermine and limit ourselves when we imagine something new (process, system, outcome etc) and then expect to just paste it onto a pre-existing construct. Sometimes we just can’t.

      But none of that, means, of course, that my initial idea is viable or even has any merit! Gods I can’t half go on..! 😉

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      • Great reply… I’ve been continuing to think about your ideas whilst doing the washing up. As you say, there is no reason not to do all of these things and more. I was just aware of the need to not invest too much power in too few hands, without hedging them around with safety mechanisms.

        It occurred to me that regulating the banks; separating (or abolishing) investment banking and creating banks which really do invest in the real economy would also be transformative. As would, businesses becoming mutuals or co-operatives. On a day to day level, the lack of trust in politicians is largely because they fail to address these abuses.

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