Democracy 2.0: Building a new system from the ground up

As we have, hopefully illustrated with article one of this series, the execution of democracy is currently failing populations of many countries throughout the world. However, failing does not mean beyond repair, and the key thing which can make it work is to make changes. But as anyone who’s ever undertaken a change in their lives will testify, people fear change more than they fear anything. Changing things can be a very scary experience and politics is no exception.

In recognising the need for change, we need to recognise that this will take time and some changes will inevitably be more accepted than others. Resistance to change is inherent and particularly in the field of politics there is a need to be careful to ensure all groups are satisfied. In the UK there’s been a lot of talk recently about prorogation, a suspension of parliament for a set period, but while this in principle means an absence of democracy, democratic institutions including local councils would still function.

Stopping democracy entirely would be catastrophic for civilisation. Democratic society exists at more levels than just the high-profile environments of senates, parliaments and prime ministers. The aforementioned local council is a good example, if we merely disbanded local councils then local infrastructure would collapse, not overnight but eventually. Roads would not be gravelled, council tenants would not have redress, crucial council departments would not receive funding because there would be no one there to allocate it and so on.

Now take that lack of infrastructure and multiply it by 50 and you have a national emergency, by 100 and you have a global one and you see the issue. We have to retain a failing system until a new one can be introduced to replace it. Nature abhors a vacuum and human experience has shown that in the absence of democracy, baser instincts and behaviours take over.

Changing the narrative

All changes must come with the consent of the governed, otherwise the ethos of making those changes can be subverted by individuals looking to strengthen their own position. The surest way of establishing that consent is with an information-led campaign, leading to a final vote with a binary outcome, i.e. yes or no. There can be no ambiguity about this or the entire campaign is in jeopardy.

The vote and indeed the entire campaign must not be run by a political party, as any information provided will also have that stigma of being ambiguous or motivated by a singular political agenda.

So how do you achieve change in a democratic system in a way which does not jeopardise that system’s role in a civilised society? Simple, you reduce it to the sum of its parts and refine from the ground upwards. In this case, the ground is the individual districts and cities of said country.

Now under the current system, individuals above the age of 18 vote in local elections within districts or wards to elect councillors to represent those wards at county level on a proportional basis i.e. one vote, one councillor chosen from a field of several candidates who all meet necessary financial and political requirements to stand. The running of that council is based on the number of councillors which are elected and which political party they stand for i.e. Broxbourne County Council elected mainly Conservative Party councillors at the last election, so the Conservative Party holds a majority on the council.

This system escalates upwards, an MP is selected to represent a county under which the individual districts fall, again meeting the financial and political requirements to stand for public office, until you get up to the higher echelons of government, the cabinet and the office of the prime minister and so on.

The new normal?

The first step is to deselect the individuals currently within a given council body. Once these individuals are deselected, running of the local infrastructure and budgeting should be delegated to an external entity or parliamentary body. This entity should be set up and staffed by individuals familiar with civic duties of this sort and should be made up of independently appointed individuals not directly affiliated to existing political parties.

Each duty should be isolated and allocated to a body for a set period under a fixed term contract, i.e. roads to Highways England for a period of two years. This contract should be the fixed term for the setting up of a new political body to replace the council. Once the duties of the body have transferred, the district should be excused from all elections, with the exception of general elections where individuals can still vote.

The problem at this stage is creating another level of bureaucracy which might frustrate our ultimate goal, making democracy more efficient, more transparent and more appreciable to the average voter. The ancient system of town charters might hold the solution of creating a central point to focus the roles and responsibilities of the community it serves. Each individual within a given town would be given a charter model, based on several factors, including the definition of the body designed to run the town from a control standpoint, the roles and responsibilities of this body and its commitment in each area (from roads to policing and so on).

Hang on? We already have this sort of system! I hear you cry. Yes, we do but I’m talking about bringing it into the 21st century. Town charters could be renewed every two years and every individual would be given the chance to vote on its make-up. The legal application of the town charter would only extend to the perceived boundary of the town (something which could be agreed as part of the formation process). Information-led campaigns could be rolled out to drive engagement in the process, with a proviso that every individual be obliged to participate as a condition of being domiciled within the respective town.

Local engagement

Each town charter would be recorded in the offices of the district, with regular commemorations of the agreement to keep the idea of the town charter within the minds of individuals living within each town. Each district should operate a minimal derivation of a town charter to avoid the duplication of the bureaucracy currently in place at town level. The district charter should ideally contain three things: a list of the towns within the district, together with their consent to be included within the district, a confirmation of how the district will be represented centrally in the respective parliamentary body and conditions on how this may be changed or amended. Districts should be able to select the number of MP’s to represent them based on their size, population and their own predilections. This should be refreshed every time the district charter is renewed.

Every district charter should be honoured in the same way as the town charters are, with an annual celebration. To reinforce this, district charters should be kept in a centralised location, similar in mould to the US’s library of congress. The building should be next to or as close as possible to the seat of government and to the offices of the president or prime minister.

The top tier

So, to the final cogs in the democratic machine, the parliament. For the purposes of this article, I will choose to disregard the house of lords, which is a peculiarly British institution and not directly elected. As previously stated, districts can if they choose to select one MP to represent their constituents, or alternatively they can select a set number as defined in their charter document.

These MPs can be from different political parties, based on election results. A dedicated meeting place must be built in a central location, most likely the capital of the country involved. At this point you must be thinking, we have this already, but no we don’t. For if we choose to maintain the current political buildings, the spirit of political renewal and change will forever be subjugated to the previous institution. New changes to democracy need new political bodies and new buildings. Term limits for centralised bodies should be established in the same way as they are at a lower level by the consent of the districts and towns which make up the country. The make-up of these political parties will be covered in the next article.

The final question is perhaps the most obvious one. Over what timescales should these reforms take place? As anyone with experience of political society will tell you, the process takes time. Quite often it is easier to propose legislation than it is to push it through. However, in a case like this, movement must be swift to seize the impetus of reform, but at the same time rushing can be detrimental. A realistic timescale would provisionally be five years, with staggered target points for each reforms’ completion i.e. town reforms within one year, district within two and finally parliamentary within five.

Once the timescales for reform are agreed, true change can properly take place.

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