The following is a response to Helena Kennedy's Power2010 appeal
Dear Helena Kennedy,
I have read through your invitation and 'call to arms' for the people to take back 'power'. I fear that, as with the original 'Power' report, and as noted in the earlier interview with you, this new initiative will share the fate of that report, unless it is considerably beefed up, in order to take proper advantage of the widespread disapproval of the current political system, that has grown up with the events of the last few years.
The traditional parties are a small and declining group of self-interested individuals who have shown, time and again, that they cannot be trusted, and yet they are still permitted to maintain their position by operating as a cartel which prevents entry of other, more worthy and informed, individuals into the democratic process. Indeed, more worthy individuals are actively emasculated by the ‘whipping' process even if they do gain entry and pass through the antidemocratic selection processes.
As all - currently electable - parties are only interested in gaining and holding on to power, they are incapable of making crucially important decisions over such issues as climate change. They are also all wedded to a business/growth ideology, that is rapidly eroding the planet's ability to support humanity. The need for change is very dire: yet those who might help are excluded from taking part.
Their ‘ding dong' swap-over of near identical leaders is exploited and catalysed by the media, who treat the whole thing as little more than a game, where only three sides are permitted into the league, and where any dissent from the popularist views of the controlling groups, is pounced upon as weakness and made the subject of pejorative banner headlines. Thus the media keep the parties where they are, and prevent them from changing even if they wanted to.
It is quite disturbing that, despite the evident breakdown of democracy, clearly writ in the ‘banking' crisis, in the political response to it, and in the ‘expenses fiasco', the dominant media organisations that claim to know better, such as the BBC, are nevertheless gearing up and ‘grooming' the public for yet another change over to yet another identically incapable and self interested regime! (In the same vein, they make programmes about the failings of the ‘banking system' through greed, whilst simultaneously encouraging such gambling in endless property development programmes and in ‘news' such as the ‘UpShares Downshares' section of the Radio4 PM programme.)
I feel strongly that the party system is unfit for purpose and must be replaced with a truly democratic system. The ‘Power' report itself, did, I think, try to address some of these issues - suggestions of reforming the electoral methods and the whipping system, I recall, were made. But the report was otherwise very much operating ‘within the box' of the existing system and trying to make silk purses out of the sows' ears of the existing politicians and their parties. Indeed, now we have seen that the sows' noses were so deep in their troughs that their ears were covered and deafened in any case!
Reforming the electoral process currently requires that one of these unfit for purpose parties is somehow cajoled into changing the very system that brings it to power. Realistically there is no chance of this, so those suggestions in the Power report can never get off the ground. The ‘box' needs to be thrown out, and one that is fit for purpose constructed out of sustainable, recyclable materials: such as easily recyclable, truly public, rather than party, representatives...
To achieve this Power2010 will have to demand complete change, and the removal of the parties themselves. It has always seemed strange to me that the Charities Commission denies charitable status to political parties, on the grounds that party politics is not in the public interest, and yet our pseudo-democratic system deems it to be in the public interest that such parties should have an exclusive right to run the country! Now that it has been demonstrated clearly for all to see that political parties are NOT fit and proper organisations to be put in control of whole countries, Power2010 must come out with a BOLD statement of these facts, and provide the means for the public to register their disapproval of the party system in no uncertain terms.
A Few Bold Suggestions:
A register of dissent from the party system should be set up, so that those who, currently feel that it is wrong for them to go on registering to vote in a sham of democracy, can, instead, officially register their objection to the whole thing and demand reform. This should apply both at the local and national level: local parties are even less representative and democratic, and every bit as dictatorial and parochial as their national siblings.
With such an official register of dissent, the parties could no longer go on claiming that it was ‘voter apathy', lack of ‘consultation' etc. that keeps people away from the polling booths. With such a register, Power2010 would be able to show that there is, after all, great public interest in politics and that it is, in fact, the parties themselves that are actively preventing the public from taking part in the decision making process.
With this ‘banner statistic' of public dissent, Power2010 could begin demanding real alternatives. Without such a powerful trump card, Power2010 will be ignored by the system and by the media, and the cycle will carry on taking us all to ruin.
The exact nature of the replacement system is not so critical as the need to ensure that party interests are not allowed to take control of it again. A simple first principle therefore would be to exclude members of political parties from becoming MPs: if your party comes first, as now, you cannot be representing your constituents.
An alternative might be to make the practice of coercion and whipping illegal, but really, if the public are to get the representatives they need, parties should not be allowed any greater access to the decision making process than any other lobby group. The parties, in any case, have smaller support bases than many other interest groups, so why are they allowed to have both exclusive access to and control of what passes for democracy?
Abolish the office of Prime Minister: This office is a disaster in itself. It makes a mockery of democracy by effectively - with the collusion of the celebrity obsessed media - replacing the whole body of representatives with one man or woman: acting under the advice of a small coterie of unelected advisors and cabinet ministers who themselves, even in this high position, are to a large extent emasculated by being both handpicked by, and constrained not to disagree with, their leader, or to show any form of ‘party weakness' for the media jackals to pounce upon.
To any sane person, holding such an office would be a nightmare: anyone who actively seeks this office should therefore be immediately suspected of mental instability. At least two PMs of the last quarter century, have, in my opinion, amply demonstrated this principle. We should not blame them: we get what we deserve in ceding the power of the entire electorate to one person, and then submitting them to a constant barrage of media hype and abuse, that finally drives them out - as is currently happening with the traducing of Mr Brown, whereas previously he was heralded as something of a saviour figure.
Without the parties there is no need for a PM: we elect several hundred community representatives instead of party representatives and the whole body of MPs should form the Parliament - which would be the Government - and the votes of each shall have equal weight. Without the malign influence of party 'loyalties' parliamentarians ought surely to be able to fairly choose from amongst themselves who are best to head the various government departments, and makeup the various committees.
We already have the makings of a system for deciding the order of business in the Early Day Motion system. In many respects EDMs are the real voice of the public's concerns, yet they are treated largely with contempt by the cabinet as it proceeds with its own party agenda often in the face of public outrage.
Whilst the office of Speaker has lately begun to suffer from a similar media puff/traduce cycle as that given to the person of the PM, this office and its committee, is nevertheless the logical one to take on the role of supervising the agenda of EDMs - or motions proper as they would be under a new system. The Speaker's Office role would be to set the order of business, to see fair play, so to ensure that it is the will of the public that gets carried out, rather than the will of parties. It should be the duty of this office to guard against any tendency to a return of whipping or otherwise coercion from any interest or lobby groups.
The vote of each Representative should be decided on a proper consideration of the pros and cons of any issue; and he/she should thus be chosen by his/her constituents on the basis of proven ability to weigh up evidence and make careful and unbiased conclusions. Representatives should be open to recall by their electorate at any time it is felt that they are not being adequately represented.
End the anachronism of one general elections
No doubt there will be many ways that each community might choose its Representative/MP. Logically, this would involve elevating a suitable member from local government, or even the deliberate employment of a suitable person or persons by local government, to be ‘sent to Parliament' as the community's representative. This way there would only be the need for local elections - and the huge expense and media frenzy that is the ‘general election' would be blessedly confined to the historic annals of infamy.
Of course, this would involve the pre-requisite of a fair, democratic and party-free system of local democracy, from which the influence of the political parties was likewise excluded as in the Parliamentary case. It should not really be that difficult to set up a register of would-be councillors from within a local constituency, and to see that they are trained up in local issues and history, and otherwise qualified to act as informed public representatives, at either local or Parliamentary level. One of the duties of local authorities should be the setting up and financing of such genuinely independent constitutional colleges or departments for the proper training or screening/assessment of prospective public representatives.
Anyone with any experience of community groups will understand that there is a wealth of informed and ably active people who might wish to stand as local representatives, if only the parties didn't exercise complete control over the system, and exclude non party members from it. Indeed, taking the parties out of the system would probably so greatly improve the prospect and civility of council meetings, that people could be falling over each other in their eagerness to take part! In addition, with party agendas and ambitions taken out of the process, it would probably be found that there was in fact much less ‘business' that councils actually need to do, and the workload of prospective councillors might be considerably less than it is now. As with MPs, councillors would be recallable at any time by their constituents, to account for themselves and be replaced if found wanting.
So, Helena, you are selling the public short when you write:
"It's too late for us to bring change to our current set of MPs, but the general elections are coming up. We can make sure that the next Parliament is a reforming one"
Ms Kennedy, under the current system you can do no such thing: you will only make sure that the cycle carries on as always if you do not take steps to change the system and the MPs, while the public is still reeling from the events of the last two years, and desperate for radical change. As the system itself is at fault, you should not be relying on, or waiting for, any ‘general elections' to effect the necessary changes. Power2010 should, instead, be acting to expose the travesty of democracy that is taking place under the steerage of the media and the parties, and to get the public to demand an end to this system NOW: not at the convenience of the very people who profit from the status quo.
We do indeed: "need to act to take power from the hands of the politicians and put it back in ours where it belongs."
But empowering the people means disempowering the parties! This cannot be done by electing any of them for yet another long 5 year term! We the public should take back the power by deciding for ‘ourselves' the when, where, the how, and the who, of any future elections, that ‘we' decide are necessary. We should not be trying to convince turkeys to vote for Christmas: it is long past the time when we should be telling them to get stuffed!