Most of my readers probably consider me an excessively rhetorical soul, given to dancing verbally around subjects instead of providing hard evidence. Today, I’ll provide hard evidence for the following assertion: our democracy has been gamed from within – and needs to be ungamed about as sharpish as we can.
The evidence first. A couple of years ago I already reported on ministerial bed-hopping:
It was bad enough in New Labour times. Something I picked up via False Economy in August (background here) made that pretty patent and clear enough for all of us to see. Amongst the many unhappy truths, conflicted interests and abuses of power in such times, this one is perhaps one of the most vigorously anti-democratic:
“The number of former ministers ‘revolving out’ raised particular concern in Parliament and the press in 2008, when the list for the previous two years revealed that no fewer than 28 former ministers had taken jobs in the private sector. Of these, thirteen were still MPs. Paul Flynn, a member of the Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC), commented that ‘he could not remember ministers hopping into the private sector like this……It is a way of buying access.’ This number of 28 compares with a total of 31 in the list published in March 2011, which covered the previous twelve months. A smooth transition to the private sector could now be said to be the normal expectation for a government minister.”
Now – it would appear, however – that as in everything in this world, Cameron & Co are looking to outdo even more of the less salubrious “achievements” of our previous governors. As the Telegraph reports today:
The bosses of some of the biggest companies in Britain, including BP, Shell and Jaguar Land Rover, are to be given hotlines to ministers to boost the economy.
To be honest, here I’d be inclined to want to argue the toss – and make one very small but important amendment to that sentence:
The bosses of some of the biggest companies in Britain, including BP, Shell and Jaguar Land Rover, are to be given hotlines to ministers to boost their economy.
Yesterday, meanwhile, the Guardian provided us with some important data in relation to who is really represented at party political conferences:
Lobbyists and executives from companies and charities make up a third of the people at the Conservative autumn conference, it has emerged.
The Tory party’s commercial brochure shows just 38% of delegates at the party’s annual meeting are members, while 36% are from companies, charities and other “exhibitors”. Around 20% of attendees were from the media.
If you asked me to compare that figure of 36 percent with how general elections are won and lost, how decisions are taken after election day and who, essentially, our representative democracies truly represent these days, I’d find it difficult to take issue with that figure. If anything, I’d be inclined to argue it underestimates the influence of moneyed constructors of public opinion and discourse.
Clearly, then, our democracy has been gamed from within. Political parties which can no longer depend on individual members to sustain their narratives resort to big donors whose interests lie quite elsewhere. The big push that a general election campaign used to presuppose – where once interpreted as a massively positive referendum on past actions as well as on the potential integrity of future promises – has been positioned as a perfect objective for the Dark Arts of political marketing and spin to focus their actions and massage our opinions.
And so most of us understand a democracy gamed just as clearly needs ungaming. Which brings me to this fascinating suggestion by Tim, worth reading in full for its measured portrayal of a beautiful alternative to the mess we currently find ourselves in – democracy without general elections:
In short, general elections seem like a good idea and we’re used to choosing governments that way, but they allow a lot of room for undemocratic manipulation.
But surely, to have democracy you need general elections?
He goes on to explain how a rolling process of weekly elections – not without its possible downsides but nevertheless worth considering in the light of its democracy-infusing and grassroots-empowering advantages – might help wrest power from the centralisers and return it to the people without requiring any profound reorganisation of Parliament itself:
[...] Its main features are:
- No general elections.
- Instead, elect five MPs per fortnight. With 650 MPs, this takes five years to get through them all. So each MP is elected for a five-year term, and you vote every five years, when it’s your constituency’s turn to vote.
- On arrival in parliament, each MP casts their vote for who should be Prime Minister, using a numbered preference system. That vote remains in force throughout that MP’s time in parliament or until they decide to change it (maybe subject to limits about how frequently or under what circumstances this can happen).
- The Prime Minister remains Prime Minister for as long as the recorded votes of current MPs indicate that they are still acceptable to the majority. (That is: if the recorded votes were cast in an AV-style ballot, the Prime Minister would still win.)
- To avoid a situation where a Prime Minister goes in and out of office every fortnight as new MPs replace old ones, there’s either a threshold number of votes above 50% that someone has to pass in order to gain office, or they have to be the winner for a specified length of time.
The biggest upsides I can see are twofold: firstly, since it would appear the traditional party political structure is now about as corrupted by Big Money as could possibly be the case (remember that 36 percent of lobbyist representation mentioned in the Guardian article), taking away the right of parties to structure their political persuasion and marketing around big events held every five years would, in fact, take it away from the lobbyists too. Secondly, no party, however well-funded, could possibly run weekly elections without the true enthusiasm and collaboration of grassroots volunteers everywhere. Suggestions made to democratise internal democracy in relation to policy generation and planning in particular would rapidly gain traction as a result.
And not just for Labour.
This idea deserves further and wider consideration than simply by my humble blogsite. If you do stumble across this post, please consider retweeting on Twitter, liking on Facebook or linking to and writing about its thesis.
I do think we need it more than many professionals in the field are prepared to acknowledge for the moment. But as simple voters who know what it’s like to be on the crappy end of a process, it may be up to us to make them understand their tardiness – before we all lose faith entirely in the glories of what we once called a liberal democracy.