Party politics is no longer fit for purpose. As the home of the “Mother of Parliaments”, Britain should re-invent democratic government for the 21st Century.
Principle : Vote for policies, not parties. The level of political disengagement in the British electorate shows how poorly the policy portfolios of the political parties reflect the views of the public. It is our view that party policy-makers are unduly influenced by vested interests and class prejudices. Under our proposed system, MPs, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet are given a mandate to deliver the policies the majority vote for.
How it might work: People who wish to stand for Parliament have to complete a questionnaire. This offers a comprehensive range of policy options on key areas of government – eg economy, foreign policy, education, health, social welfare, justice, public services, environment, international relations (including EU membership) etc.
From this exercise, a candidate profile will be created, which will be published to fellow candidates and to the general public. Candidates can then see where alliances can be made around certain key issues. It is likely of course that such alliances will look a lot like the current political parties; however, it also allows everyone to see where there is common purpose and where there is not. This in turn allows people to work together to deliver the policy objectives rather than wasting their breath point-scoring and arguing about nothing.
Voting: A much simplified version of the questionnaire becomes the voting form. Voters are asked to choose from a number of options on certain key areas of policy. It should be made possible to do this on-line, or at a traditional polling station. Computerised registration should prevent fraud and dirty doings. You don’t need every individual to have a computer to have a computerized registration – the electoral officers at the polling station will record a unique identifier from a paper document. This will then print off a voting form.
The options need to be published well in advance so people have time to think about their choices, and listen to the arguments.
Voters have the option to record “no opinion” on some areas without spoiling their vote.
It may also be necessary to retain an option to record a “simple vote” – for one of the groupings of erstwhile MPs that has emerged, whether these go by the names of Labour or Conservative, LibDem or other. However, these are all implementation issues which can be solved by people of goodwill.
Votes will be processed by computer and mapped against the profiles of the candidate MPs. Assuming no change in the number of constituencies represented in Parliament, the 650 candidates who most closely match the views of the electorate, are selected to become MPs. As far as possible, regional matches will also be made.
Prime Minister: Once the profiles are published, some of the candidate MPs can put themselves forward as potential Prime Ministers. They will need to be backed by a given number of candidate MP – so we would go into an election with a shortlist of potential Prime Ministers. After the election, elected MPs vote for those on the Prime Ministerial shortlist who are among those selected to form a Parliament. This procedure will most likely follow the same pattern as the election of party leader does now, with a series of votes narrowing the field until there is a clear winner.
We believe that this, in principle, gives us a model for giving people a REAL say in government. The current options simply ask us which group of people we want to tell us what to do.
We suspect the biggest argument against a change of this nature will be about the comparative complexity of the voting. But the biggest argument for change is the apathy for the current voting system. By its very complexity, the system we propose motivates people to talk about the policy options, argue about them in the pub, at the hairdressers, at school and on social media. The Scottish referendum shows that when the British people are truly asked to engage in political debate, the response is certainly not an apathetic one.
Andrew Blackburn & Sue Rule