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Topic for October 2019 - What is democracy anyway?

    • 81 posts
    October 21, 2019 6:00 PM BST

    A further look at certain aspects of democracy with the following suggested agenda:

    What is democracy anyway? What do we want it to be in practice?

    This session is one of a number on Democracy and Government in the 21st Century. We already have a number of initiatives in the Manifesto of Ideas. This session is intended to fill in some gaps where we couldn’t immediately find solutions before.

     

    Can a representative democracy and a direct democracy co-exist? If so, how?

    Our Ideas Manifesto says it can with the technology we now have. Our proposal for advisory referenda enables this, as does the Digital Ideas System. We haven’t suggested that the advisory voting should be extended to decision voting on policies though.

    Are decision referenda important on items of major change e.g. on a written constitution if we develop it, or on anything that gives powers away such as the various EU Treaties that were supposed to be referred to the people but never were.

    If so should all the information around them need to be much better i.e. all the things we said were wrong with Brexit campaigns and media.  

    There is an argument that it is difficult to phrase a simple question about a complex topic. However with a technology based advisory referenum you can easily have multiple questions and you don’t need a straight yes/no answer because the objective is to inform the politicians of the public’s view and shades of opinion. Also the form people fill in can have links to facts and an argument of pros and cons. Even each option can be linked to a paragraph of explanation. The demographics collected also can give the politicians and the media a breakdown with a set of much more nuanced analyses. If you did extend to decision referenda then you could still give much better than a yes/no option e.g. similar to MPV with transfer of preferences.

     Do we want more Direct Democracy? Should we extend the use of binding referenda?

      

    How do we improve the way we are represented?

     

    Who should choose the representatives for us to vote for?

    Should we extend the use of primaries? See here for progress to date in the Tory party  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservative_Party_%28UK%29_parliamentary_primaries . There doesn’t appear to be an equivalent statement for any other UK party. Do primaries advantage those with money to run their campaign?

    Do parties in fact exercise a quality control and exercise consistency of outlook so you know what you are voting for, without personally having to investigate all the candidates yourself?

    Should we have functional constituencies as well as geographic as in Hong Kong e.g. teachers and lecturers, engineers, nurses and doctors, insurance brokers,  etc.

    Who should control the policy agenda?

    It’s currently controlled by political and policy elites, non-governmental activist groups, think tanks, the courts and world events. Nowhere does it appear that it’s controlled by the electorate. Should it be? Could it be? How?

    Our Digital Ideas System – does offer this.  There is a review process by a cross-party group at local level, with 10 best going to National Policy Bodies and a National cross-party group and all also going to local and National media.

    Should policies only be allowable in a party manifesto or in Parliament if they have been put forward by a Think Tank with publicly published pros and cons and analysis of impact on an agreed set of demographic groups. So also guarding against bag of fag packet policies. Think Tanks having a legal remit to perform balance analysis.

    If we voted for policies, could we then elect representatives to implement those policies, rather than to argue about them?

    The Party System –  Do we need it, should we improve it, or is it possible to replace it? Do we need more parties? What would we do if we were starting all over again, would we decide to have several parties that competed with each other? No business is run with the equivalent of parties. Most countries have parties even if it is a single party. Could we just identify the most important policies (how?) and hire the very best people to implement them (how?). If we continue with parties how could we improve them? Could/should we regulate them in some way?

     

    How do we improve Parliament?

     

    Some random thoughts to discuss:

    The Adversarial System - how do we remove or substantially change it?

    One alternative model might be a system that allows the Govt. to deliver their manifesto while being held to account but not opposed. We need to define what being held to account actually means. It may require much more emphasis on the quality and importance of manifestos. It might be possible to do away with the official opposition and define a different role for MPs from other parties i.e. one of pointing out improvements, bad consequences and unintended consequences in order to help the Government perfect the legislation or implementation for the good of the country.

     

    One practical difficulty is that if ‘opposition’ parties help the Government to deliver an excellent manifesto then the chances of the ‘opposition’ party ever getting elected may be significantly reduced. Which leads on to our notion from previous discussions of a set of policies, chosen by the electorate, being implemented by the very best people. So no politicians. Is a ‘no politicians’ model viable and what might it look like?

     

    Some other thoughts

    Moving to a modern Parliament (?in the Midlands) with desks and laptops etc. without adversarial seating (Note ideally in one of our new Hitech cities).

    Redefine what an MP is – what do we want it to be?

    We have to find a way of getting balanced debate and ruling out the constant distortions. Why do we need every MP to speak such that the same thing is said 30 times over. Could we have a few spokespersons on each side (from the relevant sub-committee) who deliver the opinion and the MPs indicate who they agree with and only speak if they have a genuinely different point to make.

     

    Boris is being democratic in wishing to implement the referendum result but undemocratic in proroguing parliament. Is that right?

     

    We need to be careful with this point as we are likely to view it through different coloured glasses depending on whether we voted Leave or Remain. We need to recognise our own prejudices and examine it from both perspectives before trying to draw out the salient points and reaching any conclusions.

     

    Would having a written constitution have avoided this?

     

    Is it undemocratic for Parliament to take over the agenda from the Government?

     

    Again we need to be careful with this one as it is likely to be seen through the eyes of the different Brexit and Remain Tribes. So we need to examine it from both perspectives.

     

    What are the implications for the future – should this be something usable in any hung Parliament?

     

    Would having a written constitution have avoided all this?

     

    Would a written constitution help?

    Do we need a written constitution for clarity and certainty? What is likely to happen if we don’t have one?

     

    • 81 posts
    October 21, 2019 6:06 PM BST

    Output from the discussion on this topic is available at:

    http://www.probably42.net/documents/2/65/what-is-democracy-anyway