Thursday, 11 May 2017

Some answers

Following on from my last post, a fair few people have suggested to me that it’s all very well to point out problems but what about solutions?
My view is best described in short hand as follows:
That the current electoral system is a hostage to a variety of vested interests and, unless the system itself can mitigate against these then we will be unable to move forward in a rational way leaving ourselves open to disenchantment, disengagement from the process and, ultimately, the rise of extreme voices that appeal to those left behind.
That process is already well underway in both the UK and the USA and has flared up across the Western World (Greece springs to mind but almost every European country has a version of this happening right now). In the UK with Brexit and the USA with Trump it could be said that the process has delivered victories based on the premise of ‘outsiders’ gaming the system. Whilst France dodged that bullet for now, I maintain that the status quo will mean that it is only a matter of time before the next shock.
Too often we accept that change of the nature I suggest is impossible. History tells us otherwise. Were it not so I would be toiling for a feudal lord. The process by which the Western world reached this point is littered with painful (and sometime) cataclysmic conflict yet we find ourselves, for all our disenchantment, in a world that is safer and more prosperous than ever before. 
Any solutions will start at a low level and take years to achieve. In this accelerated age that may be hard to accept. Nonetheless I believe everything I suggest is possible eventually. Ultimately, the reason the democratic system endures is because it carries the majority with it. It therefore follows that if the majority will something, it will eventually happen.
So below are some suggestions as to what represents progress. These are, by their nature, fanciful in the current climate and wide brush strokes. They are easy to take apart as they are, by their very nature aspirational. The extremely likely victory for the Conservatives on June 8th makes them a wish list but, should Corbyn defy the polls I would suggest a similar resistance to everything below bar the odd detail. That is a great part of the problem.
Electoral reform
The current system is, by any rational analysis, not democratic. A majority of votes cast hold no weight in the final result and too many are disenfranchised through the back door. Little surprise that a younger, more individualistic, demographic is increasingly switched off from the process.
First past the post favours the two main parties, it excludes independent voices from democracy at all levels, in particular the national stage, and reduces the political process to a he said / she said dichotomy where party principle trumps rational sense and good government. It is out of date.
The tragedy of this situation is that Blair’s first government had the prize in its hands but, swept away by the majority delivered under FPTP, imagined a social democratic future where coalition was not necessary. The next chance will be some time coming but needs to be taken if we are to live in a truly modern democracy.
Electoral Spending Reform
Money talks, bullshit walks. The second pillar of a corrupt system. All the major parties are in thrall to their donors and we all know it. Yet it persists. For truly independent voices to flourish the rules on spending in election cycles need radical and brutal reform. I would suggest caps on spending per parliamentary seat, junking party political broadcasts (which exclude ‘minority’ parties and independent voices) and caps on online advertising and display advertising spends, all funded through government. No outside money should be permitted in election material or campaigning.  Independent candidates would be offered a state fund for their campaigning in line with local caps for established parties. Fanciful? Maybe, but a way to ensure that a plurality of voices is heard. Those caps should be low, no election cycle needs endless billboards proffering half-truths, attack ads or major advertising agencies getting fat.
Legislation on any constitutional change
Whatever your view on Brexit there is no doubt that in execution the process was flawed. When golf clubs have more precise and detailed rulings on changes to membership than the nation’s parliament on major constitutional change there is something wrong. Any plebiscite on major constitutional change should be ratified by 51% of the electorate, not the votes cast and only be advisory and subject to debate, further proposal and a second plebiscite unless ratified by 66.67% of the electorate. The assumption being that no vote is a vote for the status quo. No solution is perfect but that seems a much better approach to me. That may seem tedious and plenty of Leavers will no doubt howl that this is partiality but I would suggest a similar bar on any future vote to rejoin the EU. This is not about a single issue but rather about a political society where change is accepted on a real majority scale rather than a (numeric) minority of the public.
The dismantling of the current party system
Party whips, three-line whip votes, towing the party line. These are anachronisms in an age of Twitter, Faacebook and the transference of individual opinion in real time. Hence the spectacular success of those shouting about ‘cosy elites’ and ‘stitch ups’. We no longer live in a mass voting bloc society, workers do not share the same concerns en masse. That is the triumph of the post war consensus, a journey from basic rights to individual concerns. A modern political system needs to understand that.
It seems no coincidence to me that the UK and USA labour with a fractured political consensus maintained by minority (in the total electorate sense) majorities whilst Germany, with an alternative political culture that can sustain even coalition between its two opposite parties, has (thus far) managed to see off the upstart challenge of the likes of AFD. Whilst the US legislature has been hamstrung and deadlocked for a decade with entrenched opinion delivering paralysis and the UK has fiddled whilst UKIP burn, other political systems offer hope that moderation and consensus can deliver progress to the majority.
To achieve that the progressive forces in UK politics need to accept that the age of entrenchment is over. Shared ideas and beliefs trump rosette colour. I do not necessarily remove all Conservatives from this equation, there are no doubt some Conservative MPs and supporters deeply worried by Theresa May’s direction of travel but boxed in by the reality that any olive branch to ‘the other side’ will be placed in a narrative of ‘defection’.
Those of a political mind must stop thinking of party and start thinking of policy.

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