So parliament has chosen to dissolve itself, and our politicians are asking for a new mandate. I don’t know about you, but personally I am struggling to remember a time when the voting choices presented to us seemed so pitiful. I have written about the parlous state of our political system twice already this year, Change Ahead and The Party’s Over and I have been reluctant to do so again. Nevertheless I keep getting people asking me what we can do about our current malaise. Or even saying that voting makes no difference at all anyway. The first thing that we need to be clear about is that if you want your voice to be heard then you must vote, even within our failed system. Change in our political processes must come through the ballot box, but change there must be!
As I think has been adequately demonstrated over the past few months, in our current system power is vested in parliament. The people’s only access to power is to elect a representative who sits in that parliament. The way this has evolved over the last 350 years is that political parties control, or at least seek to control, our representatives. Thus the parties have acquired the power. We the people think that the power comes from us, but because of the way the current system works the ability to wield this power is much diminished. This is why I advocate more direct democracy, because it puts more power into the hands of the people. And it is a closer match in our social systems to the underlying structure of reality. Because we already have the power, we are just not expressing it efficiently.
Within any system there will be pluses and minuses. In a system of direct democracy the voting public will have to accept the burden of frequently voting on key issues. And will also have to take more responsibility to educate themselves about the issues that they are voting on. The voting public must also loosen their grip on their tribal party loyalties. Voting for a party just because your grandparents did isn’t a good enough use of your intellect.
The job of the politicians should be to provide good quality, researched, ideas or policies that we the public can read, consider, discuss, and then vote on. Today this whole job has been delegated to your MP, but as the last 20 years have illustrated they have failed repeatedly to do an adequate job. Changing the personnel hasn’t worked either, because it is the system that has failed, not just the people in that system. The two main parties claim that their leadership selection process is democratic, but putting the choice of a party leader in the hands of activists has pushed the parties to the extremes of both left and right.
The benefits of direct democracy include –
- Every vote counts. It is representative.
- Power moves to, or at least closer to, the people.
- Limits extremism.
- Limits political gridlock.
As I said before one of the main criticisms of direct democracy, is that the people are not well enough informed to make intelligent choices about public policy. And that they can be manipulated or deceived. Well that also sounds like a criticism of our current system. And to me this also sounds like a reason to have more direct democracy. Because if we are not capable of educating ourselves and taking responsibility for our choices, then we deserve everything we get.
To make this sort of change happen we need to believe that this is a positive direction to go in and then build a consensus for that. A truly political process. As far as I can tell this issue doesn’t even feature in our current political debate. Perhaps it’s time it did.
In the interim we will be bombarded with pledges and promises, without being told where the money is coming from. Politicians will avoid answering direct questions, whilst posing for every photo opportunity going. You will do the best you can to make a single educated choice by consolidating your views over a vast array of issues into one simple X on your ballot paper. Good luck with that.
“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.” John Adams