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Alternative democracy

Parliament, initiated in the 13th Century when the population was ill-educated, is now a self-perpetuating anachronism. What are the alternatives?

Image of a polling station It has to be more than an 'x' in the box. Flickr/Garrett Coakley. Some rights reserved.

Our voting system is costly and inefficient. Once every five years we have a general election, which costs in excess of £120million. The first past the post system is archaic and only allows us to put a cross on a piece of paper and select candidates that adhere to Party policies. The nation is disillusioned with our outmoded political machine, Governed by Party dogma, vested interests and career politicians who fail to act decisively. Our current consumption is unsustainable. The world’s resources are declining and the population is predicted to increase by 50%. Now more than ever, the population needs to be an integral part of the political decision making process.

Parliament, initiated in the 13th Century when the population was ill-educated, is now a self-perpetuating anachronism. MP Zac Goldsmith has said that it is dysfunctional with MPs little more than lobby fodder, voting for laws they do not understand. Will Hutton states, ‘politicians find it hard to think beyond the next election, they owe favours to close supporters that have to be settled; they overpromise; they are prone to vanity and hubris.’ Al Gore in his book ‘The Future’ says politicians are feeble, dysfunctional and servile to corporate interests.

Alternative Democracy – digitalising the political process

Imagine a system that would enable us to actively vote on policy decisions and current affairs? That is precisely what Alternative Democracy offers the populous. The internet, smartphone apps and modern technology as a whole has given us the ability to participate and comment on current political issues. Alternative democracy takes this notion a step further. Rather than waiting 5 years for the opportunity to elect a politician or party that rarely lives up to its promises, we would be able to intervene in and shape political policies through social media and e-technology. Not only would we scrap the first past the post system, we would also replace career politicians with qualified experts in their field.

Technology is a catalyst capable of initiating enormous cultural change. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have changed the way we interact and share information. The vast majority of us have mobile phones, email and web access; by using them to vote we can combat apathy and create a balanced political system that reflects the needs and wishes of the people, not vested interest and political agendas. The digital revolution has shifted the balance of power in favour of the people. This is very evident in Africa and India where this e-technology (e-tech) is effecting transformational change, by advising farmers when to plant, fertilise and irrigate crops, providing a route to education in remote villages, and positively changing lives through innovation.  We are yet to harness the true power of technology; using smart phones, the internet and other technologies to vote could potentially dispense with the need for elections by allowing us to vote easily and rapidly at miniscule cost on issues that concern us. Software exists which can analyse our voting intentions in an instant. 

The people would be given entrenched decision making power, and those in government would have to really take into account the wants and needs of those they govern before making large budget cuts, going into war, increasing the defence budget or taking on large scale infrastructure projects. The digital voting process would allow those in power – elected solely by the people and not chosen by a political party – to propose three policies on each key issue and the people would then electronically vote for the best solution.

In real terms this could mean that through Twitter, Facebook etc. we would not only state our views on the state of the economy, we could actively vote against political decisions we disagree with. This would limit the power of big business and create a fairer, more representative political system. Digital democracy would not only reduce the cost of the election process, it could reduce apathy, and polarisation in our society by giving the people an active say in how the country is run without going through the longwinded process of referenda.

Who’s in charge?

So who runs the country? Certainly not the politicians. Yes, we still have a political figurehead, but instead of making decisions based solely on his/her judgement or political persuasions he/she must adhere to the digital decision process. Unlike our current system, the people have the final say on how the nation should be run… not David Cameron, Nick Clegg etc. Alternative Democracy replaces elected politicians with expert representatives. Meaning… those in senior positions will have the experience, expertise and a proven track record in their field. Committees will be chosen by the people and they will in turn select candidates for each given post. For instance, the Minister of Education would be offered a position by the education select committee made up of three expert officials chosen electronically by the population. It would operate the same way high level private sectors who advisory boards work. The board or in this case the committee can suspend the powers of replace appointed government officials who do not keep their promises or factor the needs of the people into their decision and policy making.

Candidates will be chosen by people on merit, skills and experience not by favouritism or propaganda. However, the revolution doesn’t stop there. Each month the newly elected candidates known as the Convectors (the people who bring things together), will create three policies, and the people will then decide on the best one. This will mean that parents will no longer feel alienated by changes to the education system, the views of medical professionals will be considered when reviewing NHS and opening/closing hospitals; charities/social organisations will be considered when discussing benefit reform, immigration and environmental policies. These views will then be fed back to the Convectors before policies are draw up for the people to vote on.

Change through Alternative Democracy

We have been so conditioned by the status quo that there has been little debate on alternatives. It is proposed that we work towards a system where we replace the current machinery of Government. How can this be achieved and what would we replace Parliament with? We obviously need Government but we cannot afford the waste engendered by MPs and Ministers. There are less than thirty Party Members who currently attend Cabinet meetings. Their responsibilities would be taken over by individuals with professional backgrounds in medicine, education, business, transport etc. The expert representatives in charge will be known as ‘Convocators’ because their role will be to ‘bring together’ disparate viewpoints. The systems would be known as ‘Convocation’. The Convocators would have positions as Ministers with the same responsibilities. As at present, they would act as a Cabinet under the authority of a Prime Minister.

Professionals who put themselves forward for the positions of Convocators through the pre-selected committees (also chosen by the people) would be given a platform by the media for speeches and interviews on radio, television and newspapers and the web. They would then be chosen by the public by e-tech voting. It is recognised that not everyone would want to be involved in voting for these candidates but everyone would have the opportunity. 

This group of qualified Convocators would derive at least three different policies. There would be a media and web based debate on these policies. The policy selected by an e-tech majority would run for three years with opportunities to amend policies as world events changed.

Alternative Democracy would render the role of Parliament redundant. Advisors to the electorate would remain as they are as now, but with more time to concentrate on real issues that are cognisant with the nation’s needs. The House of Lords would remain as it is, with a quicker system of removing peers. The House of Lords would also be reduced in size and would act as consultants to the Convocators, debating aspects such as future energy needs and energy saving, poverty and social welfare, education. Lobbyists would meet with Members of the Lords but would not have meetings with the Convocators. Their responsibilities would be to act as policy makers. Discussions on issues which impact on the populace would be reviewed in speeches. Things like parliamentary expenses would be openly viewed and approved by the people, as we would do with the secret state system of concealing data on key issues unless it poses some form of risk to national security. To avoid any form of majoritarian tyranny or disparate views the House of Lords would also be able to vote against extreme, negative or detrimental policies.

An example of a situation which would be put to the people for an e-tech vote would be ‘If Syria were invaded, the cost would be, say £10billion, this would need to be borrowed and the interest on this loan would add to the tax burden. Alternatively, if we did not invade, the money saved could be used to fund say 500,000 nurses, teachers of care workers.’ To a large extent, wars and invasions are carried out because Ministers want to appear decisive and to ‘act in the nation’s best interests’ even though there is no mechanism for gauging the nation’s views.

Under existing Government, vital facts are regularly concealed. It is doubtful that the UK would have invaded Iraq or Afghanistan if the electorate had been allowed to voice their views. The estimated £30bn cost of these invasions would have paid for 1,464,000 more NHS nurses, 408,000 NHS consultants and hundreds of lives would not have been lost. We would also have been able to decide if we want to spend more than £50billion on HS2. The expenditure of maintaining our political environment is in excess of £500million per annum. This would be substantially reduced while efficiency would be optimised, and the people would be actively engaged in the political process. In essence, Alternative Democracy would be a more just system that reflects the views of the people and how we communicate today! No structure which is administered by human beings is without fault but Alternative Democracy, giving us all a voice in our own futures would be an advance on the present inadequate and anachronistic form of government.

About the author

Derek Bates is a distinguished Materials Scientist, business man and author. In his recent book ‘Shadows in the Wall’  he outlines the past corruption of church and state and juxtaposes this with pitfalls of modern democracy. Included in the appendix is also an overview of alternative democracy and tax simplification. He has given a series of talks on tax simplification, social inequality and democratic change.


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