My name is Denny de la Haye, and I'm running for Parliament in Hackney South and Shoreditch. My manifesto is a little unusual... I'm proposing that instead of having my own policies, I will hold online polls to determine how I should vote in Parliament (there are three exceptions, which I'll talk about a bit later).
I've been involved in politics since I was a teenager, but never with party politics. I've always been part of campaigning organisations instead, trying to get parties and politicians to notice and care about the issues that affect me. As long as I can remember I've wished I could vote on issues, instead of voting to select a representative.
As the Internet, and particularly the web, has grown in popularity and functionality, its application to this idea is obvious. I believe that we're now in a position where it should be feasible to let people make their own decisions on the issues they care about, instead of devolving their responsibility to a barely-accountable representative who has to toe a party line in most of his or her votes.
Of course, the problem with political reform is that it needs to come from the inside - the people who hold the power need to vote to give it up. While it's possible that Parliament will slowly build up a critical mass of people in favour of reform, it seems more likely that for this to happen, reformers will need to run for Parliament themselves, on explicit reform platforms.
I'm not the only person to think we need a more participatory politics. Hannah Nicklin wrote an excellent piece called "The Future of Politics is Mutual" late last year, which is well worth reading (including the comments). Hannah proposes that the Internet, and the social structures that are building up around it, could return democracy to the way in which our country is governed. Most particularly, she sees the Internet as being a directly opposing force to the spin and informational control that has become characteristic of politics in the UK.
I've received a few enquiries now from people who say they're interested in running on my platform in a future election, so the potential exists to build a coalition of independent 'direct' MPs, with the power to propose real changes to the system. There are also candidates running in this election with some similar ideas, such as Tamsin Omond who is calling for "ordinary voters to have more influence over decisions made on their behalf".
Of course, it's easy to pick soundbites that agree with my platform. I've got some quotes on my website that I thought tied in nicely, one from each of the major parties. My favourite is this one from David Cameron:
"I think if we give people more power and control over their lives, I think they'll take the right decisions, they will grow stronger and society will grow stronger too."
Inspiring stuff. However, I think it's more likely that smaller parties and, most particularly, independent candidates, will be most interested in changing how politics works. The major parties have a vested interest in the current system, and their motivation to change it is always going to be slightly suspect.
I can't offer a real direct democracy to the voters in Hackney South and Shoreditch. We still live in a representative democracy, and we have to work within that system. My proposal is to embed a direct democracy into our representative democracy, by taking the public's votes and passing them along. In many ways it's a good thing that we can't instantly become a direct democracy. Political reform, like legislation, should move slowly. One direct democracy MP will only influence 1 in 646 votes in Parliament, which is not a huge effect on the country... but it would be huge in terms of gathering real-world data on how people would use their vote if they had it at this level.
Because this isn't a perfect system, I do have a few exceptions as I mentioned earlier - issues where I may decide to vote my own conscience instead of honouring the online poll. The exceptions are votes relating to equality/discrimination, civil liberties, and democratic reform. Some people have been quick to point out that this makes me something of a hypocrite as a direct democracy campaigner. I don't entirely disagree, but I think my proposal is closer to direct democracy than anyone else is offering in my area, and I reject the 'all or nothing' mentality that seems to go with these complaints. I don't think we should refuse to start a campaign just because we can't get to the finish line in one jump.
Other people have expressed concerns about 'the tyranny of the majority' - the belief that most people can't be trusted to vote nicely. I don't believe that disenfranchising people is the solution to this problem. It's less than a century since woman were not allowed to vote, because the average woman was believed to be incapable of exercising the power responsibly. Let's see how responsible our fellow citizens are, instead of pre-judging them in the same way.
If people are interested in what I'm trying to achieve, there's some information on my website about how you could support my campaign. Also, of course, people can follow me on Twitter and Facebook, and/or email their friends with the URL for my website, especially if those friends live in the Hackney South and Shoreditch area.