Posted by: secretperson | April 27, 2010

Has Representative Democracy Failed?

All the electoral reform talk so far has been of vote-counting systems, and how to transform votes into seats. There has been little mention of, say, an English Parliament (at least amongst the main politicians). And there has been only a brief mention of more direct forms of democracy.

But surely the real issue driving all these reforms is the failure of the model of representative democracy. In a constituency-based election there are two basic models of MP, the MP as representative, who we choose to represent our interests in Parliament, or the MP as delegate, who simply conveys the opinions of his voters, without much need to think for himself.

The UK has very much seen itself in the former model. There are good arguments for it, in a more direct system contradicting policies could be supported by the electorate (low tax and high spending being an obvious example), whereas it was hoped that the representatives could thrash out a solution. Parties exist to present consistent policy packages. However this system also has its problems.

One of the most common complaints about MPs is their lack of independence from the party machines (although this is not such a new phenomenon as often assumed). It seems clear to me that it is political parties and not constituents who are represented in a representative democracy. Behind this lie the calls for PR, a recognition that those whose chosen candidate/party doesn’t win are unrepresented.

But while PR might provide a fairer representation of our current party-run system, given party-based voting intentions, might a more complete rethink of the whole concept of representative democracy be in order?

One proposal offered by Labour (and maybe others I have only heard Brown mention it) is the use of petitions from voters to put ideas before parliament. I have my doubts about how far this would be allowed to go, and whether the politicians would offer real power, as in Switzerland. However, it at least shows a concession to the idea of direct democracy.

The most exciting possibilities are offered by technology. It is now much more practical for people to vote regularly and to make sure they are informed on what they are voting for. A strong local element, combined with devolution of powers down to the lowest practical level, would also increase accountability and allow people to see the true effects of their votes. Some kind of compromise is obviously needed, in terms of knitting together potential policy clashes, but this is clearly an idea whose time is coming.

One might feel disenfranchised voting for the Lib Dems, say, and they come third in a constituency. PR would help this. But what are the chances one also supports all their policies rather than their just being the least bad package from a bad selection? In that case, even with PR, the exact stitch up of which policies get selected and which sacrificed in forming a coalition will happen after you have voted, behind closed doors. (Those politicians who think discussion of coalitions is arrogant and ‘second guessing’ the electorate should think they are also depriving us of the chance to make a fully informed vote). Our hypothetical voter might support the Lib Dems on raising the tax theshold and civil liberties, only to find they’ve been abandoned in the back room deal for the price of greater EU integration, or simply a cabinet seat.

The real answer is more direct democracy. More chance to be enfranchised on individual issues. Yes, there are potential problems, but good systems work in Switzerland and on a local scale in many areas of the US. I am sure many people would agree with me that party whips are too powerful and people not powerful enough. PR won’t change this, but direct democracy might.

I am sure you can guess my answer to the original question – has representative democracy failed?

Posted by: secretperson | April 24, 2010

Sir Humphrey on Trident and why Clegg is Wrong

Posted by: secretperson | April 23, 2010

St George’s Day – Home Rule Power2010

Press release from Power2010, who I can only assume have been looking at my blog header picture for information and have pulled this stunt.


Guerilla-style projection brands Westminster the English Parliament for St George’s Day

Two thirds of voters (68%) in England believe England should have its own Parliament with similar powers to those of the Scottish Parliament, according to a new ICM poll for the Rowntree-backed democracy campaign group POWER2010 published on St George’s Day.

The findings come as POWER2010 stage a huge guerrilla-style projection of the St George’s flag with the words ‘Home Rule’ onto the Palace of Westminster to brand it English for a day.

The ICM poll shows a large majority (70%) of voters say that laws for England should be made by the House of Commons but only MPs representing English constituencies should be able to vote on them. English Votes on English Laws (EVoEL) is one of the five changes to fix politics backed by over 100,000 votes which now forms the POWER Pledge being put to all candidates standing in the General Election.

The poll of 1033 people across England also shows that less than a quarter (23%) of people in England feels either “more English than British” or “English not British”. Almost half – or 46% – of those questioned in the poll say they feel “equally British and English”. 24% of those questioned said they feel either “British not English” or “more British than English”, according to the poll. POWER2010 says this means that the fairness of decision-making matters more to people than Englishness.

Director of POWER2010, Pam Giddy, said today:

“England was not mentioned once in the leaders’ debate and has not featured at all during this campaign so far. Yet we now know people want a fairer way of making decisions that affect England.

“It suddenly feels like we are on the cusp of seismic changes to the way our politics is done. But so long as the unfair system we have at the moment persists it can only play into the hands of undemocratic voices like the BNP. With all the talk of reform in the air politicians should not duck the English question, but use the opportunity of St George’s day to say where they stand.

Posted by: secretperson | April 22, 2010

Call this a Draw Then?

I was wrong, not as much on Iraq and Europe as I expected. Polls seem split on Clegg or Cameron for top spot but narrow victory, Brown close behind. No-one stood out. All to play for next week.

Big story possibly – Tories alleging Labour lies about their policies in leaflets and election broadcasts. I predict a small Tory gain in the polls as the Lib Dem bounce recedes but we’ll see how the lying allegations pan out.

And my I be the first to christen this argument winterfuelallowanceandfreebuspassfortheelderlycampaignleafletliegate.

I fully expect credit when that spreads round the MSM.

Posted by: secretperson | April 22, 2010

What Cameron Should Say on Euro-Allies

European groups are large broad coalitions and all groups have members with views which we here in Britain may find outdated, for example the ‘mainstream’ EPP we are condemned for leading includes parties who talk of the “aggressive homosexual lobby” and have election posters stating “children not Indians”.

But large groups are the way the European parliament works and we have to look at the biggest issue, what should be decided in Brussels and what should be decided in Britain. We in the Conservatives believe in a Europe of Nations. We want to trade, work and be friends with Europe, but not necessarily share a common government or a one-size-fits-all set of rules for all matters small and large.

People across Europe have proved more consistently more Eurosceptic than their politicians. But until now in the European Parliament there has only been a federalist voice. Now, for the first time we have broken away from the system of groups that only allowed more and more power to pass to Brussels, and somebody is standing up for the people of Europe who think enough is enough

We want a Britain that works with the other nations of Europe. But also with the USA, with Australia, Canada, India and our other commonwealth allies, with growing countries like Brazil and China, and with poorer countries that need our help. The only way to get this is to oppose moves towards an inevitable European superstate, and stand up for Britain as a connected but independent nation. That is what we are doing.

Large tip of the hat and sweeping bow to Daniel Hannan from whom I have taken the EPP quotes and a large amount of inspiration. Personally I’d like to see us leave the EU all together, but the Tories are better than the other two on this issue, so lets hope for a reasonable defence of their policy. And if Cameron gets stuck he can always say “if our allies are so extreme who sits with UKIP?”

Posted by: secretperson | April 22, 2010

Leaders’ Debate: Iraq vs Europe

There will be a number of issues raised in tonight’s foreign policy debate, on Sky News (and BBC News). One personal one is whether Nick Clegg can live up to all the hype, but policies I hope will rule this time.

Number one is Iraq. The Lib Dems opposed it, both other parties backed it. It turned into a complete mess. Clegg will wipe the floor with public opinion on this, and will presumably mention it at all times. I may get bored of the word Iraq after a while!

Number two is less predictable, Europe.

Polls have seemed to suggest that people support loose trading relationships with Europe, and that is what the Tories will try and press. However even people who support there stance may be in danger of seeing their position as extreme, as that is the line the others will press. Watch out for lots of questions about the Tories Eastern allies.

The Lib Dems are probably more EU than most voters, and this could count against them. Clegg’s admission that joining the Euro, which he supported would have been a mistake with hindsight, makes sticking to his guns difficule. Both others will attack this.

So where does Gordon Brown fit in? A shrewd political operator could no doubt try and exploit both sides weaknesses, and present himself as pragmatic, practical, working to get the best out of Europe for Britain. Gordon will probably end up offending pro- and anti-EU sides!

Predictions: Clegg to edge narrowly ahead, thanks to Iraq, of Cameron who will gain points on Europe (but also lose them). Brown most implicated in Iraq, along with questions on funding the army to lose, but whether it is a narrow loss or an embarrassment depends on how well he works the centre ground on Europe.

Second prediction: I’m a regular donor to the Royal British Legion, but I’ll be fed up by the end of hearing about ‘brave soldiers’!

Posted by: secretperson | April 20, 2010

Electoral Reform – the Big Electoral Issue

It wasn’t of course until Nice Nick won a debate. Everyone heard about how he’d won a debate, and all the people who thought the Lib Dems could never win saw the polls and thought they might be worth a vote anyway. If they’d been keen Lib Dems they’d also have been keen students of the electoral system and realise that even with the biggest vote, they’ll almost certainly remain the third party in seats.

But the boost, should it continue, looks likely to make the outcome a hung parliament, in which the LDs will hold the Kingmaker role. It is also likely that the make up of seats will be noticeably different from the break down of votes. Last election it might have narrowed Labour’s majority, this time round it could be completely topsy turvy with Labour third in votes and first in seats, and vice versa for the LDs.

So, the current system exposed as dodgy, and a fight between the Tories and Labour to woo the Lib Dems into a coalition. And what’s the one thing Lib Dems want more than any other? Electoral reform.

I sincerely hope that the economy will be every parties number one priority, but since noone has truly comprehended the scale of that issue, and decisions are likely to be forced by circumstances as much as by political wranglings, it looks like it’ll be electoral reform dominating the political scene for the coming years.

Gordon Brown, now he looks like losing, has proposed a referendum on Alternative Vote (AV). Even Labour’s own review, ignored in the wake of their overwhelming 1997 victory recommended the adjusted AV+. I suspect Gordon has chosen the most likely to give Labour a victory, and I hope if we are forced to accept a Lib-Lab coalition that the Libs don’t sell themselves short by accepting this even less proportional nonsense. We mustn’t have reform for reforms sake.

I suspect the Lib Dems would like multi-member Single Transferable Vote (STV), which is the most proportional system. Its quite possible as well the system under which they would perform best.

The Tories, despite it currently disadvantaging them are heavily committed to First Past the Post (FPTP). But would they sacrifice it in order to form a coalition with the LDs and keep Labour out? That depends very much on what system is on offer, I suppose.

Anyway, I shall make a prediction that this could be the key issue of the next few years. And I shall hope that it does not distract from any more pressing issues (by which I mean debt). And I shall go away and get reading on the various systems to bring you my thoughts as necessary.

Posted by: secretperson | April 15, 2010

The Sad Death of the Devil

I watched (on BBC Iplayer, I do have a job!) the interview with the head of the Libertarian Party, Chris Mounsey. He may be better known to you blog fans as the man behind Devil’s Kitchen, a site full of foul-mouthed libertarians railing against the system.

I have some sympathy for the libertarian cause, tempered with a conservative resistance to dramatic change, and thoroughly enjoyed the Devil’s and his co-conspirators’ rants. However they took on a sort of offensive persona which would have been shocking in a mainstream politician, like Frankie Boyle popping up to present CBBC.

And unfortunately Andrew Neil decided his entire interview would be about the small size of the Libertarian Party (well why interview them then, Andrew?) and one particular offensive post (though there was a choice of many) on the Devil’s Kitchen site. Not one mention of policy, or what a Libertarian is, or anything serious. I suppose if Chris wishes to be a political part leader this is what he must take. His performance wasn’t good but I assume he wasn’t expecting this attack. On the other hand to run a series on minor parties and spend half of it insulting them for being minor is a bit much.

Anyway, the Devil has dies, to be replaced with a new, non-sweary twin. I can only wish him luck. There will still be plenty of blogs promising hanging for our MPs (metephorically, of course) so let the Devil concentrate on raising serious issues about civil liberties and the lies of the ‘righteous’ which only give them more power for ‘our own good’.

The Devil is dead, long live the Devil!

Posted by: secretperson | April 15, 2010

Leaders’ Debate – Clear Clegg Win

I am not a natural Liberal Democrat, being both liberal and democratic, but I thought Nick Clegg came across best in tonight’s party leaders’ debate.

Clegg has the advantage of not actually being in a position to win an election, and his attacks on the ‘old parties’ as though the Lib Dems were the Monster Raving Loonies, were slightly tired, but just in terms of presentation he won.

I have already studied the policies, so tried to place most emphasis on general good impressions and I thought Clegg, Cameron a bit behind and Brown well down. But an ITV poll afterwards of 4000 people on who won the debate had Clegg on 43%, Cameron on 26% and Brown on 20%. So I had the order right but I would have put Cameron slightly higher in percentages.

But as I said, policies were not the issue. the differences were narrow anyway. Nick Clegg consistently condemned the others for failing to be honest about the deficit, but none of them really acknowledged the sheer scale of it. Brown continued talking about tax cuts taking money out of the economy. Why does noone point out to him that his biggest stimulus measure was a VAT tax cut? I am being really slow and missing something or is David Cameron?

Worst of all for El Gordo was a fake laugh at the others’ critical comments. I know not everyone can be calm on TV, but it just looked so fake and dismissive. It really reminded me of Nick Griffin’s awkward Question Time performance, showing a lack of confidence in one’s own beliefs standing up to criticism, and trying to ‘laugh’ off said attacks. Lots of repeating himself too. Brown also failed to get personal with the audience as Clegg and Cameron managed a bit more. Also Brown’s sucking up to the Lib Dems (‘Nick agrees with me..’ while Nick shakes his head) was obvious and pathetic looking.

Cameron was just too posh, and a bit smug. Not good reasons to reject a prime minister, but as I said I am trying to judge the impressions given. A bit over-rehearsed I would say, Clegg definitely came across as more genuine.

All in all, a bad night for policies, a good night for presentation. Few real differences were exposed, few blatant lies condemned and many a cliche wheeled out. ITV emphasised devolved policies to plug the Scottish and Welsh debates, but no candidate mentioned England.

There is no doubt though that only the Lib Dems can really see this as a success. If I didn’t think they’d prop up a failing Labour party that might not be a bad thing. That and their policies may be overturned depending on what the EU tells them. Maybe more great shocks are in line for the following two debates, but only one real conclusion tonight, a clear win for Cleggy, rolling down a hill in a bathtub on wheels for Foggy and Compo (which is which?)

Posted by: secretperson | April 13, 2010

The Conservative Manifesto – Promising

So the Tory manifesto is promising devolving powers and giving the public more say over their services. Trusting them people, a hint of libertarianism and Hannanism. Philosophically, compared to the big state Labour promises there is no question the Tories win, but do they really mean it?

I have long thought that the ‘free schools’ policy borrowed from Sweden was the most exciting Tory policy, possibly the most exciting overall. There is nothing like education to transform a society, and I think this really has the ability to improve education massively. But what else is there? Recall elections, good. Referendum based policies, good, though could go further. Elected police chiefs, undecided.

There are still problems. Referenda on keeping council tax down but not increasing it? I support low taxes but local democracy has to work both ways. The stupid ‘nudge’ policy, where they try and control us as much as Labour do, just using slightly different means. This is no doubt a step in the right direction, but how will they respond when the papers are screaming ‘something must be done’?

I won’t get excited by the Tory manifesto, but I do feel surprisingly positive. I don’t have much respect for politicians, and this may all be a ploy, but there’s at least hope that these people have good ideals hidden away. If the Conservatives take this philosophy and run with it to its logical conclusion, who knows, they may make a good government yet!

I’m certainly not won over completely. but it’d be nice to feel like I have a positive reason to vote, rather than just my dislike of Gordon Brown.

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