Sunday, 10 December 2017

A Radical Way To Change Politics For The Better

I have three radical, brilliant and yet wacky ideas for how to revolutionise our political system. The first one involves ditching constituencies and drastically reducing the number of MPs with a new system of representation (your local council could fulfil any need your MP can). The widespread mediocrity of our MPs is a lot to do with the fact that they are working within a system that does not provide much of an incentive for moral probity or intelligent policy-making. 

It's only when professional people are accountable for their actions or words that we lessen the duplicity and complacency. I doubt we would have seen the MP expenses scandal nor be subjected to the regular tosh to which we have become habituated if we had upstanding MPs who feared the opprobrium (and voting power) of the electorate, and had to conduct themselves with integrity and intelligence to secure their next vote. 

The main cause of this lack of incentive is that too many MPs are in safe seats in their constituency, and party associations that choose the candidates for constituencies can ensure that those in Ministerial roles get the safest seats. My antidote to this is a whole new system that instils some kind of accountability to MPs, and ideally brings in a better and more scrupulous calibre of candidate, and a more carefully thought out voting process.

Idea 1
First we need to decimate the notion of votes attached to constituencies according to geographical borders. As a replacement, my radical proposal would be that candidates will stand to represent surnames demarcated into sections of the alphabet, not regions of the country. We could reduce the exorbitant number of MPs down to about 500 (that'll save on expenses) - and then have a system in which MP 1 represents everyone whose surname begins with Aa-Ad, MP 2 represents everyone whose surname begins with Ae-Ah, and so on. 

Under such conditions, an MP really would have to work hard to forge a good reputation and the prowess for positive influence, because the people he or she represents would be all over the country, and they would make up a body consisting of a diverse range of classes, cultures and ethnicity. MPs are much less likely to be complacent if they are required to have a positive impact on tens of thousands of people scattered across the country rather than people concentrated in a specified area of the country - they will have to think more innovatively about plans, policies, investments and strategies.

And instead of having constituents and holding surgeries, elected MPs could get involved with local issues through regional councils, primarily motivated by doing good, honest, decent work for the region. There may be occasions when conflicts of interests occur between a local person and a person he or she represents alphabetically, but I don't expect them to be too frequent. Put this system in place and I'll bet we'd see a higher standard of MPs, in a system in which Westminster attracts more candidates who want to be MPs for the right reasons.

Idea 2
In addition, my second idea adds even more intellectual and moral scrutiny to the process - because in order for MP 1 to represent everyone whose surname begins with Aa-Ad, and MP 2 to represent everyone whose surname begins with Ae-Ah, and so on, we could try to lessen party political biases and tribalism by offering category distinctions between policies and parties. In other words, rather than everyone whose surname begins with Aa-Ad voting for a party candidate, they could instead be asked to tick boxes for a large range of policies they support (after reading intelligent annotated arguments for the costs and benefits of each policy - we could make this mandatory), while being blind to the parties to which those policies belong.

I got this idea during the last election, after clicking on one or two of those websites that attempt to tell you which party it thinks you should vote for based on a series of policy selections you've made from behind a Rawls-type veil of ignorance, blind to the parties to which those policies belong. It’s obviously not totally blind, as it’s fairly easy to tell which policy belongs to which party in the most obvious areas - but it certainly was the case that when people did the exercise they frequently ended up being most closely aligned with parties that were not the parties for whom they would usually vote.

Being more economically right wing than most, and more socially left wing than most, when I partook in the exercise it was clear that I am further from all the mainstream parties than any of them are from each other, which means there is no obvious party for me to vote for. However, this isn't true of the average voter - in fact, rather worryingly, a poll seemed to indicate that if people voted for policies not personalities, the Green Party would have won the last election - which does rather suggest that the average voter is likely to make a real mess of things with a policy-only vote, and that democracy would not be all that safe in their hands.

Idea 3
This is where my third idea can help - because, as I talked about in this Blog post, I think the nation pays too much regard to the so-called qualities of democracy. Leaving decisions and policies that require intelligence and evidence-based analysis in the hands of largely uneducated and short-sighted populations is highly overrated. What's needed, in my view, is a voting system comprised of fewer, smarter voters - but having tweaked my system a bit, I'd now wish to incorporate my two above ideas into it.

Added to my above system of having MPs represent surnames rather than constituencies, and voters voting on policies not personalities, I'd also want the outcomes to be in the hands of far fewer, more educated voters - maybe with something resembling jury duty, where a random selection of the population (to ensure a proportional representation of sexes, ages, ethnic backgrounds, income groups, religious beliefs, political views, education, and so forth) - let's say 50 people for each letter group (at 500 groups, that's 25,000 voters) - are called to partake in a rigorous voting process involving careful, considered analytical scrutiny over a number of weeks.

So here's how it would work. The first step is to ensure that voters voting in my reduced voter election are better apprised of the facts, and of the pros and cons of all policies (the seen and the unseen). Rather than decide where your vote should go based on personalities, the 50 x 500 chosen voters get to spend a number of weeks, getting paid for their time, studying the economic, sociological and philosophical tenets of all aspects of the policies in front of them, attending lectures from speakers of both sides of the argument, partaking in group discussions and becoming involved in debates orchestrated by experts in the fields (the benefits of the outcome would more than pay for the financial costs of this, and some of the offsetting savings will occur by not having to employ polling clerks throughout the country on election day).

And then at the end of the process, after developing a much broader understanding of the costs and benefits of all policies, the individuals get to vote on those policies, and then the results are announced, with the winning 500 MPs taking their place in Parliament

You may worry that this will disenfranchise most of the other citizens that don’t get to vote – but there’s no reason to think this.  At the start of play, everyone has exactly the same chance of being selected, and everyone in the country (both those selected and those not) will be secure in the knowledge that the people who are going to represent them in Parliament will have been chosen with more rigour and a higher degree of analytical scrutiny by highly conscientious citizens in the country. That cannot be as disenfranchising as the current system in which every single person that votes knows that that vote will have the same use as if they’d stayed at home.

What I'd also predict will happen is that if politicians knew that their policies would be subjected to proper, rigorous analytical scrutiny - and that they'd have to be credible to pass intellectual muster - the policies offered would be far more carefully thought out, and more in tune with a formal economic accountability.

One would hope the politicians that made empty promises, and sold policies based only on benefits with scant regard to costs, and politicians who took advantage of the electorate from within the comfort of their safe seats, would be greatly diminished, and in many cases got rid of altogether in my proposed system. Who knows - it's even possible that higher quality politicians with properly analysed policies may end up rubbing off on a greater proportion of the electorate.