Democracy 2.0- Alternatives to the current governmental system

So now we reach our final article in this series. It’s an article for me which will probably be the easiest to write because it allows me to delve into my own passion for political society. But despite that huge appetite for all things political, I am unique in that my friends and peers do not share that appreciation. I have chosen to explore this passion through reading books, watching parliamentary proceedings and other things of this nature. Some of my friends (and they know who they are) have an active disdain for politics, so why the difference?

How does a passion begin? Like all aptitudes it begins at an early age and is shaped by the circumstances and education of the individual involved. Like a child playing a musical instrument, the key is getting them involved as early as possible and reinforcing this involvement with frequent reminders/lessons. Hobbies and occupational pursuits formed when young can shape an individual’s life. How can we apply this to the political process? Education.

I’m not talking about indoctrination of the youth, far from it, I’m talking about specifically defined stages/nudges towards the development of a general understanding of the political system from the get-go. It can start with a simple lesson in nursery/primary school before graduating to more in-depth discussions as children age. Simply put, it’s about installing the political process in our schools, so that tomorrows voters are aware and active in political discourse.

At present, the only political education that school children receive comes from their own pursuits and the limited explanations afforded during history classes. They receive no up-to-date knowledge about today’s politicians, the difference between political systems and how political decisions affect them. We give them the ability to vote at age 18, but no practical reason to do so, and you wonder why they don’t want to.

Knowledge is power

Giving them any sort of knowledge could tip the scales, it could give them the motivation. Practically, how would such a plan play out? A lesson or two every year during primary school, just asking simple questions like, who runs the country? What is a law? Even a trip to a council office, small things like that. Build them up as individuals get older and then when they move into senior school, make it a more regular and detailed occurrence. This subject should not be optional, it should have the same bearing in school as English, Maths and the Sciences. I’m not talking about dropping a subject or adding to our teenagers already large educational burden. We need to give them greater real world studies as many have called for with education on personal finances.

Drawing from my own experiences, towards the end of my schooling we had a regular lesson called general studies, which was widely regarded among my peers as a joke course. Even today, I can’t think of a single thing I learned in it, yet I came out with a C at GCSE level. Make room for politics in the lesson plan and while the rewards may not be immediate, they will come. We will breed generations of children who know what a politician is, what he or she does and how it affects them. This knowledge can change the face of society.

But beyond schooling and education, how can we keep that knowledge and enthusiasm going, in a way that is unobtrusive and does not endanger freedom of expression? The key to this process, as it should be in the whole political process, is transparency. We need to show the practical results of the political decisions taken.  When a politician agrees to do something, which affects the local community, the community should be made aware of the politician’s involvement and his/her reasons for doing so. It should be published in notices across the affected area, in the same way that the council publishes notices of community works.

Community engagement

These notices should also be replicated in the local paper, so that those who are not in the area affected can see how things are being done and discern motivations behind political decisions. Also, do we see politicians in our local areas? Quite often no, even during election season. Politicians should be made to tour their constituencies on an annual basis, all throughout their parliamentary career. This needs to change and with increased voting turnout this will. I can see the logic in the minds of the politicians, a few scripted events rather than a full tour, but with increased voter turnout comes the increased chance they might get ousted, so it’s definitely in their interests to do more.

And more could not only encompass more presence in the local community but more interviews in the local papers, perhaps even a regular opinion-led editorial in a local newspaper. However, great care must be taken to ensure these do not become a de facto party political broadcast. Community fairs, leisure events, market days, these are all events in which a politician can show their face. They might be busy, I hear you say? Well, politicians are very busy people. I acknowledge that but they are public servants who have very little connection with the public they serve and that to me is wrong.

Annualised events and community initiatives, while laudable, can be forgotten. They can become routine, so how do we reinforce positivity and awareness of politicians? Well, everyone loves a public holiday, so why not a public holiday on behalf of politicians? America has presidents day, how about parliamentary day? It wouldn’t need much organisation and could be in one of those void periods during the year when no public holidays occur.

Another way to keep politics in the minds of people is to advertise, not in the partisan way of the party political broadcast, but in an independent way using non-partisan language. Slogans such as: Politicians fighting your corner, if you don’t vote, you go unheard etc. Politics is our product and we can use the latest advertising techniques to ensure that this product is something which is prized and wanted by all.

This can extend to print, online and broadcast media but it must be done in as simple as possible a way to avoid being seen as the extension of some darker totalitarian agenda. Slogans must be uniform and non-partisan, together with being easy to understand. A no frills version of political engagement. In this age of the instant celebrity, the utilisation of celebrities, sporting heroes and others of note in such a campaign is a virtual prerequisite, as people will increasingly do whatever celebrities tell them. Entire trends are built on celebrity input, and the influence of this on the political process can bring a lot of weight to bear.

Shock and awe

In a lot of ways, merely increasing awareness of the political process can make up a lot of ground in winning voters back to the ballot boxes. However, while it may bring them back, if you want to truly change the nature of politics and democracy, it needs to be more than just awareness. We need dramatic and real change. This change cannot be merely initiated by the politicians themselves, the public must also play its part or the engagement will become a fad, something to be brushed off within a matter of months.

Active engagement at all levels is an absolute necessity if these reforms are to be successful. There also has to be an acknowledgment at every level that the current system is failing, that we can do better. To achieve this acknowledgment, we must know all the facts and the only way to do that is to create dialogue and get the views of the electorate. An incentivised survey is perhaps the most obvious way of addressing this issue via targeted questioning. Questions could include: Do you trust politicians? Have you voted previously? Do you vote? Why don’t you vote? All we are talking about are simple questions which get to the heart of the issue. Why is the voting count in this country so low?

After a predefined period, the results must be published in as wide and open a way as possible, and there must be an active commitment from the government and political parties to work to address identified issues. Importantly, to avoid a cloud of negativity, this must be presented in a positive way, as a period of national introspection and renewal. I say a positive way because you only need to look at Brexit to see how an issue has become so divisive and so damaging to this country. Brexit is a triumph for the British electorate, and while there will be consequences of our decision to leave, the reality is we chose it, despite these issues.

A political renewal and change process must also be a granular choice. We must choose to acknowledge our system is not working and then work on a new one. That is when Democracy 2.0 can truly begin.

Democracy 2.0- Current political parties and the way they could be changed

The political party is a very modern institution, born out of the twin needs of dealing with a population explosion which has occurred over the last 500 years and the need for a scaled down form of governance which moves beyond existing feudal lines. However, today’s political parties have more in common with businesses than their landed ancestors. They are juggernauts which create, respond to and aim to harness the general populous towards a particular ideology. Political parties of today use terms like left, centre ground, right wing that are equally at home on any football pitch and, in a sense, we as the public form the football.

But what does it all mean? The terms are rather superfluous when it comes to your average voter, who will base his or her political choice on factors which are largely independent of these parties. For example, a trade union individual is more likely to vote Labour while an entrepreneur is more likely to vote Conservative etc. In addition to this, you have the so-called cult of personality, i.e. the voter will vote for the party leader or political personality they like, independently of their own political bias and in some cases completely contravening their prior voting record.

To the casual observer, this melting pot of factors can make political parties seem like crazed groups of idiots screaming at the tops of their voices to anyone who will deign to hear. But if you look closer, you will see their perceived insanity is a very sane operating system reliant on two things, creating white noise around their own policies while creating enough negative sentiment around their opponents.

Manifesto destiny

We begin our journey to the reform and reenergising of democracy with perceptibly that most simple of documents, a party manifesto. Manifestos are as Wikipedia will attest the “published declaration of the intentions, motives or views of the issuer, be it an individual, group, political party or government”. But do any of these individual terms apply to the political manifestos of today? Maybe they do and maybe they do not.

Today’s political party manifesto’s share many similarities with your average restaurant menu in that they contain a number of delectable treats designed to entice, but also increasingly costings for those treats. The fully costed public policy is perhaps a product of the recent parliamentary policy of austerity but has been used in many countries successfully for many years.

However, these documents can be extremely complex and beyond the attentions of most traditional voters. In addition, they can often be buried within websites of political parties, making them inaccessible to all but the most ardent of politicos.

So how do we bridge this gap? Two ways: We require all political parties to develop simplified versions of their larger manifestos, reducing them down to a maximum of 10 bullet points. These bullet points must all be on the same uniform subjects i.e. healthcare, benefits, taxes etc. Secondly, all political parties should be required to publish these manifestos in a side-by-side publication, either a newspaper, online website or social media post. In this way the voter would have a checklist style comparison site for political parties, allowing voters to select what party they feel best meets their needs.

Spin cycle

But this already exists, I hear you cry! Permeated by media outlets such as the BBC, Sky News etc. And you might well be right, but look at the names, they are all media outlets controlled by individuals with stated interests, interests which can be manipulated to suit a specific bent. Another good example are newspapers, which can display political leanings towards one party at the expense of another. These organisations would not lose out, in fact they could build coverage around the development of manifestos, interviews with individuals involved and organise editorial in preparation for the run up of publication.

The issue is media spin, the use of specific techniques or language to present an issue in a favourable way: how do we avoid this being used by media outlets? Simple, you make it a criminal offence to alter or change the manifesto during the printing process, and you also invent a media code of conduct specifically for the manifestos’ printing that you require all media outlets to sign up for or they don’t get to print it. Simple. Why would anyone sign up to such a code? The loss of news this big is not something the news outlets can afford to do.

Now we switch tack, from the manifestos to another big issue. How do we allow new parties to flourish? The most obvious example of a political party suffocated by the present political environment is the Change UK party, a party made up of exiles from the Conservative, Lib Dem and Labour parties. Regardless of the political stance of this group, they had a view on the Brexit process which made them unique and worth voter consideration. But instead they never got the chance to figure within the process. But on the opposite end of the spectrum, look at Nigel Farage’s Brexit party, which for me is UKIP 2.0. It has been able to garner significant financial support and has used this in European election wins making it a real political challenger. Are their ideas any more or any less valid? No, but they’ve been able to utilise infrastructure and finance to get a message and candidates out there.

A crowded parliament

Do we need more political parties? Arguments can be made for both yes and no, but the decline in voting turnout for me proves all people’s views are not being represented by our current political parties. However, great care must be taken to ensure the legitimacy of these parties and that voters time is not wasted by silly ideas like the green bins for London party etc. How do we ensure this? We refine the process for setting up a new political party, make it like a Dragon’s Den style business environment where only those individuals or groups that are truly serious and good enough receive political party status.

A simple political style business plan would weed out the serious candidates from the non-serious ones. There should be a template of requirements to do so, as well as a specific interview process conducted by either a body made up of ex-MPs or an independent body such as the Electoral Commission, which should be repurposed and receive increased funding.

We also need to make it easier for existing MPs to join new parties but make it a less frequent occurrence. At present a member of parliament is tied to a specific party until they leave that party, be it via a defection to another party, standing down as an MP or an election loss. Limiting MPs to one political party change in every fixed term parliamentary cycle would give the option to do so without the farce of defection. It would also stop the present flip-flopping of certain MPs, which has brought the collective distrust of politicians.

Divided loyalties

At present, the defection of an MP from one party to another is seen and used as a slap in the face for the party that individual leaves. It’s a cheap trick that is used a lot but doesn’t engender a positive opinion of politicians. To combat this, MPs must be forced to declare their party choice for the next parliamentary cycle and must only be allowed to change party upon the presentation of valid reasons to the local party in which they serve or with the consent of constituents. If the individual changing their party prior to an election is a good public servant, then they will be selected regardless of their political allegiance.

This ability to change parties would allow new parties to attract new members from inside the parliamentary sphere, increasing their stature while also increasing their membership. Another issue concerns the treatment of MPs in the party of governance. While MPs are referred to by other MPs in parliamentary proceedings as my right honourable colleague, friend, etc conveying the semblance of respect, often these individuals are disrespected by other members publicly.

This most notably occurs in election season where individuals from all sides participate in mud slinging and disrespecting of opposing MPs. This disrespect and frankly fragrant mocking does not engender a spirit of trust and strength required to sustain voters. Abuse of politicians by other politicians should not be tolerated, as abuse of MPs by members of the public should also not be tolerated. But to end the abuse of politicians by members of the public, we must first create a new climate among MPs and the only way to do that is to strengthen rules governing MPs so that behaviour is consistent with the highest ethical and moral standards.

Politics is the biggest and most profound thing we will encounter in our lives, and people need to be as respectful of those who take up public service as they would of any other individual. But that takes trust, honesty and time.

Democracy 2.0: Understanding the failure of democracy

Democracy, or rule by the consent of the governed, is quite honestly the perfect system of the modern nation state, in that it represents the interests of the people in a way where if those interests diverge from that of the rulers, they can be replaced. Totalitarianism, whereas is perhaps the worst expression of how the nation state can be subverted into an environment of repression, where freedom of expression does not exist.

So you may be wondering, why this article is entitled understanding the failure of democracy. For any  system to truly fail there must be a natural point where that system was perfect for the decline to take place. Since there has been no natural point in history where democracy has been perceptibly perfect the contention that it has totally failed is somewhat erroneous. And yet we can say that democracy is failing the electorate.

Why? The evidence is obviously really, in most elections throughout the world, the voter turnout is quite often less than 100%, and in some recent elections and referenda, its been less than 50%. Now we can call it changing views and a changing societal outlook but put it simply: If the governed do not feel interested enough in selecting those who govern then why govern in the first place.

Governing becomes an action of necessity rather than a civic duty, we govern because we have always done so and so it continues. But eventually, the motivations for governance will fade and at that point the point of democracy will be lost. You only need look at the disenfranchisement taking place to see the start of this process. We as a society have a responsibility to arrest this and we can with a few changes.

The Generation Game

Generations are becoming disenfranchised with the political process, with viewing figures for reality TV shows far higher than those of your average parliamentary questions session. Voting figures in elections continue to slide, the names of ministers become less important than whichever vacuous Instagram influencer or Kardashian clan member has a new fashion line.

But to some extent, why would they? What does joe public have in common with your average politician? They are seldom seen, and are often seen as aloof, privately educated individuals who have no connection to the common man. They are not believed and seldom trusted by citizenry, sometimes with good reason and other times unnecessarily so. We never see a politician outside of a scripted carefully choreographed environment, surrounded by toadies and when approached by members of the public, they never deviate from the party line, despite the individualised nature of the questioning.

However, I want to qualify this statement by saying this perception of politicians could be endemic to those within the higher echelons of the respective parties. There may be many hundreds of politicians who work hard, connect with the communities they serve and are good and responsible public servants. But we never hear about them!

Kings of spin

In most forms of publicly scrutiny, politicians they are often seen to misdirect truth and employ rhetoric to avoid answering questions, aiding this distrust among citizenry. Citizens do not understand the work that politicians do, both in their respective communities and externally.

Worse than this, entire sections of society are collectively switching off from politics. Working class individuals are often apathetic about politicians, often using the adage “doesn’t matter who gets in it’ll never change” to justify staying absent from the political process. In the case of BAME individuals, they often feel their views are not represented because of the absence of BAME politicians, which is something of a misnomer due to the presence of pioneers like Bernie Grant, Diane Abbott, Oona King and so on.

The conduct of politicians over recent years has done nothing to aid this disconnect. In parliament, politicians bicker, behaving like children, shouting each other down and increasingly slinging mud when they should be acting in the interests of the public. Worse than this, it is seen by the electorate in newscasts, interviews and latterly on social media, adding to the negative perception of parliament.

The problem is not endemic to the UK, in the US, tweets by Donald Trump are regarded as the mating call of the lesser spotted idiot, in which he says whatever he feels regardless of who he offends and the political consequences. This is not the denigration of politicians as a result of freedom of speech, which every person has a right to do (we are in a democracy after all), this is the politicians effectively sabotaging themselves through their increasingly crazy actions.

In addition, the second part of this disconnect exists at a local level, where politicians, due to a flawed system fail to engage with the electorate that they serve. This leads to many people thinking quite rightly, why vote for you, what have you ever done for me? Without a demonstrable track record anything the politician says would most likely be considered as hot air.

Democracy is on the verge of eating itself, not because of some rival political system, but because of its own failure to address issues and move with the times. The disconnect between voters and elected officials is becoming a gulf and to be quite honest the only people who want to become politicians are often the people who are most ill-suited to do so. The world has become a breeding ground for corruption, where politicians work behind closed doors to maintain regimes at the expense of the people that keep them in power.

Tackling the problem

So how do we address this issue in a way which preserves the system which has flourished for centuries and could still do so? The fundamentals of democracy are worth preserving, the consent of the people, appointing representatives to serve communities, one person from these individuals leading the nation state to a collective future. These are the things that work and should be preserved.

But at the same time, we can lose these things due to inaction in addressing the things identified above which are failing. Drawing parallels from an individuals life, if you want to become a better person you must first acknowledge that you have problems and work to address them. This is something we as a society must do with democracy, we must acknowledge the failures and then work to overcome them.

Developing a totally new system requires time, patience and testing, something which our civilisation cannot really afford to do because it is so entrenched in our DNA. We must therefore work under the current system and introduce staggered targeted improvements into the process while there is still time to save democracy. But what are these improvements and how should they occur? This is a question I’ll attempt to answer over the next series of articles. This is Democracy 2.0.

The Party Line is ………Identity

A golden tipped plane arrived at London Heathrow earlier today, carrying the victorious athletes from the Great Britain Olympic team. In an enthralling display of sporting prowess, they netted an astonishing 67 medals achieving a feat unsurpassed in British Olympic history and very rightly are welcomed home as national heroes.

As a citizen of Great Britain, it makes me very proud to see our athletes doing so well and beating nations like China and Russia who both have far bigger populations than our 65 million Brits. In our pride we venerate our victorious athletes and vicariously, our nation.

But after a while the pride subsides, the medals fade and the apathy sets in. We become nonchalant about being British, unwilling to maintain that level of pride we settle into a practiced negativity talking down our nation and undervaluing our achievements.

It’s a cycle that repeats itself not just at the Olympics but other sporting and social festivals: We are proud to be British as long as it’s convenient or allowed, but as soon as convention dictates we go back to our national apathy.

If we could, would maintaining our national pride make us a better nation? How would we do it?

The issue is that the notion of Great Britain lends itself to a historical slant rather than a current one, we revel in our glorious past without considering the potential for our future. So much of British society is set up on the traditions of the past: our Parliament, our Royal Family, our class system (yes it still exists) and most importantly our national zeitgeist. Even the name Great Britain lends itself to a time past when we commanded a vast empire.

In our rush to become a truly multicultural nation, we have effectively negated the British identity relegating British nationalism to extremists and the ignorant. It has become almost a societal taboo to express British nationalism except in those instances previously mentioned.

Far too often nationalism is confused with National Socialism but many people forget that for all their extreme politics the Nazis brought the German nation from economic and societal destitution to unity and almost total European domination in 9 short years in power.

Nationalism created the American identity, allowing it to go from a collection of colonies into a World superpower. It energised a people, enabling them to explore outer space and win the ideological war against Communism.

Our problem is we are afraid to use practical nationalism for fear of it becoming fascism. We are right to fear because it is a very fine line between the two as both champion the superiority of one group over another.

But what if there was a way to be Nationalistic without being fascist?

In choosing this course we have to first tackle one of the issues I previously mentioned: The British reliance on its past.

In all seriousness, who wouldn’t want to rely on a past where we dominated over 3/4ths of the Earth, where we were the undisputed masters of the sea and were the pinnacle of civilisation for a time?

The problem with over reliance on the past to generate a national identity is just that, it prevents you from crafting an identity which is current and pertains to the people of this generation.

A current national identity, generated by the people living today would engender a greater sense of what it means to be British than the collection of past glories and traditions being churned out in today’s society. It would connect the people of this country to this countries identity in a very tangible long-lasting way as they would become de facto stakeholders in the British experience and identity. I’m not saying ignore the past entirely, but don’t overplay it as we have done.

An example of doing this would be to drop the “Great” in Great Britain and just continue as Britain. This would have the effect of absolving our ties to the past nation. The slight issue with this is that there may be negative consequences, but if spun correctly this could be used as a challenge to the people of this country: Make Britain worthy of the title Great again.

Just as the American dream provides a notion for all to strive for and achieve, the new British identity and quest for greatness could provide a similar vehicle for national growth and expansion.

A seed change of this sort would have to be instigated from the top of society downwards, in a way which affected the lives of all citizens. It would require a prompt and I can think of no greater prompt than the death or retirement of either the Queen or Prince of Wales.

This tragic but foreseeable future event would undoubtedly prompt introspection on what it is to be British. A new individual on the throne for the first time in almost a century inspires a period of renewal in their country: there is a feeling of newness and the society can capitalise on that feeling to a positive end. A precedent for this sort of sweeping societal change exists in the cultural revolution that took place in the aftermath of the Second World War. In that case a new society emerged from a great tribulation and began an explosive period of renewal, cultural growth and enterprise which greatly benefitted Britain.

This period of renewal could begin with the formalisation of a written constitution to govern. For all its history, Britain does not possess a formalised constitution in the same way as many other nations in the world do, we instead rely on traditions accumulated throughout the centuries. A formal process to create a constitution with public engagement on all facets of the process would give the people of Britain a legitimate and long-lasting say in what their country should be and how it should be run.

The impact of this change cannot be underestimated, here enshrined in the rule of Law is the constitutional nation of Britain. It is something which can be defined, defended, studied and improved as required. It would make people feel connected with their country.

Renewal once is not consistent change, so the constitution could be renewed every five years in line with the election of a new government. Additionally, the public could be asked to vote on the inclusion of amendments to the constitution at the point of renewal, thus maintaining their aforementioned stake in how the country of Britain evolves.

A society where this sort of nationalism is only practiced on a singular basis will inevitably fail to embrace this change. The ethos of this New Britain must be extolled at every level from school children to the elderly and must be made part of every institution that exists in this country.

We need to spend less time venerating pointless celebrities and more time recognising the people who do great things for this country and its people.

Once again, we near the line of fascist nationalism because extolling the virtues of the New Britain over the other ideologies of the world implies that ours is the better ideology. We should be keen to champion other ideologies and governmental systems but a British society must be able to push itself to the fore in its own country.

Using the energizing spirit of this renewal, the government can inaugurate a culture of British achievement in all fields from construction to agriculture to information technology. Government departments can be rebranded and repurposed with the aim of using them to promote Britain rather than just the current error prone standard of government department. The constitutional change can facilitate this as parts of it can be used to create new ministries and entities.

The cynics among us may well say “well where is the money for this change going to come from?” and obviously there would be financial concerns in play at the point of renewal, but we spend billions on unnecessary social and political programs designed to make changes that simply do not have any chance of making real change.  All too often the act or program is instigated and shelved as soon as a new government is appointed or the public appetite shifts, wasting a lot of money and time.

Creating a constitution that everyone agrees on and has a stake in reduces the risk of these sorts of programs occurring, allowing for the funneling of those funds into projects which will actually be relevant and useful to the community at large. It also serves as a checking mechanism to the more out of touch ideas that the politicians have in government. The more these ideas are found and stopped the less likely they will occur giving the politicians a greater sense of what the public actually want and how to serve their respective communities.

Challenges such as these demand a higher standard of politician, one that goes beyond the current crop of elected individuals and could see them replaced by individuals who are more geared to the new ethos of the British state. The period of renewal in British society could and in all honesty should wipe these individuals away, as they are remnants of the traditional society rather than the new.

With a population hungry for change and the appetite to make this change at a societal level, there is no limit as to what changes could be made. The recreation of Great Britain under a newer more relevant guise could make this country what it needs to be: A more United Kingdom and a truly resurgent world power.

 

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

The Party Line is………………..Schism

The British parliamentary system of government is a system of duality. It is a system which requires two parties to function effectively: one in government and one in opposition. The principle function of this is for one to provide an effective counterpoint to the other and vice versa. This ensures that the opposing viewpoints are aired and a consensus prevails.

When one party ceases to provide this effective counterpoint the system becomes prejudiced towards the other. In the unfortunate event of both parties ceasing to provide counterpoints to each other you inevitably see the sort of political and economic confusion that has existed over the last few weeks in the post referendum world.

With its speedy appointment of Theresa May as prime minister, the Conservative party has been the first to emerge from this land of confusion to a state of reasonable (if only perceptually) stability, allowing them to get a hold of the Brexit juggernaut and move toward a coherent exit plan.

On the other side of the aisle, the Labour party however has become embroiled in a civil war between its members of parliament and its leader Jeremy Corbyn. The only recently elected leader has found himself the subject of an attempted coup from within the Labour party. Using the pretext of Labour’s failure to effectively campaign in the EU referendum, a group of dissenting MP’s resigned and have pushed the Labour party into its second leadership contest in as many months.

A Labour member of Parliament for almost 35 years, Mr Corbyn is a man of deep conviction and an entrenched socialist, who matured in the staunchly union version of the Labour party that existed under the tenure of Neil Kinnock. He is not a man who conforms to the New Labour stereotype and was never expected to be anything but a backbencher in the young dynamic Labour party.

Yet it has been a rise as meteoric as much as it has been unexpected.

Winning a leadership election with almost 60% of the vote has given him almost unlimited carte blanche to turn the Labour party into his version of socialism and to steer it away from the Blairite version of new Labour.

The politics of new Labour and its chief architect; Tony Blair have been the prevailing political sentiment within the Labour party for the last 20 years and have shaped many of the politicians which now form the Labour parties front and back benches. It is a politics of reform and accountability.

The nascent politics of Corbynism which finds its voice in more traditionalist Labour values has moved in to replace this ideological standpoint, but New Labour is so entrenched in recent Labour philosophy will not leave without a fight.

A fight which has created the first schism in the Labour party, but a schism of their own making.

By contradicting the party zeitgeist, he has won a legion of new supporters in the party, but very few friends in Westminster.  Not every Labour party leader has been popular amongst his peers, but popularity in Parliament does not matter as much as support from within the party membership.

Indeed, by their actions, Labour party front and backbenchers cannot be called upon to offer Mr Corbyn the kind of support he needs in this second leadership contest, so he must look to other sources for assistance.

Historically, the largest and strongest support that Labour party leaders can call on comes from the Trade Union movement. An integral partner in the party since day one, prospective leaders have had to court union support to succeed in their rise to power.  They are the largest proportion of membership within the Labour party and are also its largest donor.

The candidate who can call on Trade Union support can win the leadership contest, regardless of the popularity of the other candidates as we saw when Ed Miliband famously “stabbed” his more popular brother David in the back to win the Labour leadership election in 2010. He could not have done so without the crucial support of the trade unions.

Jeremy Corbyn with his socialist background appeals to the union mentality of Labour and as such the Unions have been unswerving in their support of him, despite the attempted coup by the rest of the party.

The traditional support mechanism of the Unions has been joined by a new political group, that of the organisation known as Momentum.

Momentum, inaugurated in the wake of Mr Corbyn’s victory in 2015 is a group made up of those individuals who so vociferously campaigned for Mr Corbyn to be elected leader. It portrays itself as a unifying presence, a grassroots movement designed to strengthen the Labour party, increase its support and unify the party behind Mr Corbyn. It has a manifesto of broad social reform very much in keeping with core Labour values but remaining an independent organisation within the Labour party.

It is currently embroiled in campaigning to get more of its supporters elected to the Labour National Executive Committee, the key ruling council of the Labour party. Councillors have found themselves being supplanted by organisation members in their own constituencies and individuals within the party have been coerced into supporting Momentum’s aims.

Momentum has become extension of the Corbyn political machine, which has now dedicated itself to keeping him in power.

The Labour party is a party of communities, of organisations, of unions, which finds its strength in the politics of consensus rather than focusing itself on an individual, as Momentum does with Mr Corbyn.  A conflict between these two ideologies is inevitable as each is an anathema to the other.

It is this conflict, if unchecked that has potential to split the Labour party in two. This will undoubtedly lead to the end of the Labour party as it is known today.

This is the second schism which is rocking the foundations of the Labour party. Both threaten the core if a political settlement is not reached.

But what of those MP’s who openly rebelled against Mr Corbyn’s leadership?

If he does, as expected win the upcoming leadership election they will find their position is almost completely untenable.  If they do nothing, they will be forced out of their positions by Mr Corbyn and Momentum, but if they do choose to act they risk their entire political careers by going against the party which they represent.

There is no easy answer.

The only winners in this sort of scenario are the other main parties, who can sit around in their stability and watch as the Labour party implodes. There is potentially every chance that many of the rebel MP’s will choose to defect to parties which more closely match their views.

We could see the growth of a new political party distinct from Labour which could amalgamate with the Liberal Democrat party, a virtual non-entity since it was cast out of number 10 in 2015.

Whatever the scenario, the Labour party has a rocky road ahead of it.

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

The Party Line is……..Purge

Politics and political parties exist in a state of constant flux, where ideas and aims are discussed, implemented and sometimes jettisoned like driftwood.

What works in some countries does not work in others and can often have disastrous results for both the incumbent government and the populous as a whole. It is a precarious balance, that if not maintained allows the country to teeter and slide into disorder and barbarism.

With so much at stake, it is natural that individuals and groups will rail against the authorities that govern them particularly if that government exerts an agenda which compromises the basic rights of the individual regardless of political persuasion.

Over the preceding weekend, a section of the Turkish military attempted to seize control of Turkey by targeting vital infrastructure points around the country. Britain’s news agencies, still primarily covering the Nice attack rapidly received and digested this fluid situation.

And just like that, it was over.

President Erdoğan, forced at one point on Friday night to make emergency broadcasts to the Turkish people from his mobile phone was back in full control of Turkey, to the rapturous acclaim of the general populace. The defeated rebels found themselves the target of a vengeful people and government.

Erdoğan, with the support of a grateful people has begun a wholesale purge of turkey’s social and political structures in an attempt to restore Turkey to her former glory.

Thousands of public servants, military personnel and opposition politicians have been suspended or detained pending investigation on charges of conspiracy to commit treason.

A state of emergency has been declared for the next three months in which the President can enact laws without the need for parliamentary consent and detain who he wants when he wants without political check. The instruments of democracy no longer exist in Turkey.

As an observer and student of history, you cannot but view these events with a sense of fear. Far too often, the action of a purge has been responsible for some of the worst acts of peacetime violence seen in political society.

Think of the Soviet leader Stalin in the 1920’s and you have some equivalent idea of what I’m talking about, the forced elimination of all opposition from the political process.

When a country or government has to resort to such methods to exert its will, it devalues the political process as a whole and more importantly calls into question fundamental freedom of expression.

But what if the coup was engineered with this objective?

The military machine for all its breadth of action is a very tight-knit family with a clear hierarchical structure. Not much is undertaken at the lower levels without the informed consent and knowledge of those higher up in the chain of command. If a small section of the military had seditious intent, the sheer number of people involved makes it highly unlikely that the rest of the military wouldn’t know about it.

A successful coup d’état could only be launched if the entire military were involved in the plot as control of such a large populist country could only be secured with sufficient forces and the armaments to back them up. The military would not proceed with the coup unless they were absolutely sure of total victory.

The launching of the coup would undoubtedly trigger a quick response from the loyalist factions in Turkey and the fight would be on.

But it didn’t happen, did it? The coup ended as quickly as it had begun in total defeat for the rebels.

The only reasonable conclusion is that the indirectly involved members of the Turkish military were a willing accomplice to the counter plans of President Erdoğan. The speed at which the coup was overthrown seems to bear this theory out.

Would the coup had ended so quickly and as bloodlessly if those military units engaged had the full unswerving support of the whole military?

No, they would have fought to the last man, confident that their overwhelming numbers would win the day. In an army numbering almost 350 thousand men the small number of military personnel arrested and the speed to which the coup was quashed lend themselves to being ill prepared for the lack of widespread support.

Does ill prepared sound like something the military would be?

No, the military are by their virtue always the most prepared for the consequences of their actions, randomness, chance and lack of preparation are completely foreign to them. Everything is accounted for and planned against, with defeat only occurring due to external forces.

This splinter in our mind’s eye, leads us to ever more fantastical thoughts on this subversive style of political will. Were the bombings that occurred in the preceding month’s in Ankara and Istanbul part of an elaborate plan to create the perfect conditions for a purge?

President Erdoğan, in allowing the coup to happen, creates the conditions required to exert his extreme agenda with the support the Turkish public as a whole. He can now arrest who he wants, when he wants and no one will express dissent for fear of being his next target.

A cleaning of house is underway in Turkey and when it is completed a newer stronger nation may arise or in the extreme it may slide into a potential civil war against President Erdoğan, the situation is that tenuous.

Whatever its rightness or wrongness it is taking place and looks set to change the lives of millions of Turkish citizens for the better or for the worse. In our political history we often see the echoes of the past in the signs of the future, hoping to not repeat the same mistakes and trusting ourselves to a higher power, be it a god or otherwise.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

The Party Line is……….Democracy and the vote: Time for a change?

Democracy.  Nine letters, Six Consonants, Four Syllables, Three vowels and One Idea: Freedom for all with restriction for none. Men have raised armies to defend it, more people have died for it than can be counted and as an idea it has grown into one of the defining political ideas of our age.  Yet for all its bluster, all its redeeming features and promises, all the moments of great change that it has inspired, it remains at its heart that same idea.

It sounds a wonderful idea, doesn’t it?  Freedom of existence, of speech, of expression and freedom from suppression by means internal and external.  Ideas are always very romantic concepts and it is easy to associate grand sweeping changes with them, but taking away all the romance and grandness, the reality is still an extremely interesting and socially stimulating idea.

One of the many realities of democracy is the ability to remove current mechanisms of government and provide new ones for the ongoing security of the populous as a whole. This is the democratic process and includes the fundamental concepts of choice and different political views. This choice is expressed using the electoral vote.

Still with me?  Good.

A vote is a very simple thing, a small piece of paper by which a populous expresses its collective political views. Individuals who vote are exercising this right to choose their political leaders based on the policies and views of that group in relation to their own.

Bringing this into current events, last Thursday there were a number of local council and mayoral elections across the United Kingdom.  Nine political parties contested just fewer than 2800 seats in 124 councils. Also four cities chose new Mayors with 36 elections of new Police and Crime commissioners. Aside from the general election it should be the greatest expression of the democratic process, yet if you were to ask the man on the street to name his elected official or their policies, he would struggle.

Surely in such an interesting and varied process, voter turnout should be 100%, everyone should be interested and energized by their role in this expression of public will? …… No not really.

In point of fact, voting numbers have been reducing steadily over the last 50 years.  In providing freedom of expression, democracy has contributed to its own decline: as numbers of individuals participating in this process reduces.  The public are disinterested, dissatisfied and disenfranchising themselves from the political process in ever bigger numbers.

At some point in the future, the turnout for elections will be so low that single votes will determine the success of political parties. It is a future which would signal the death of the democratic process, as collective will gives way to individual prejudice.

The problem is that democracy has not moved with the times. In today’s information bombarded, one born every minute world democracy has been left behind in a haze of progress.  There is no great need to change the fundamentals of the democratic process, merely the way they are executed. If you understand what is going wrong with the constituent parts then you can address these issues and strengthen the democratic process as a whole.

A thorough examination of the individual issues relating to the democratic process would take a great number of minds a very long time and would be beyond the scope of this essay. For the purposes of this blog, I intend to focus my attentions on the Voting process: its effect on the populous and what should and needs to be done to increase voting numbers.

A key factor in the decline of voting numbers is the sheer apathy that many voters feel towards the political parties. It is a symptom of the disconnection that individuals perceive between those authorities which govern and those authorities which actually implement policy on a lower level.  They may see the roads being repaired, but they do not make the link between the road repairers, the council they work for, the MP who represents the constituency, the parliament where the MP sits on a regular basis and the policy which is implemented by this MP in parliament itself.

Politicians and parties can look to repair this disconnection by merely spending more time in their constituencies among the people that they represent. By being on the ground, they can prove that they are involved in the community and that they care.  The MP can move from being a nameless face at Westminster to the integral link between the community he serves and the party he represents.

Additionally there is a popular perception that despite whoever you choose to vote for things will not change with “all politicians being as bad as each other”. This perception, in some cases borne out by empirical evidence (the expenses scandal of 2013) is not entirely accurate. Each political party is vastly different from its opposition in both outlook and policy: one may choose to favor one economic policy and another one the other, it all depends on the individuals and the politics involved. The similarities that occur sadly in the type of individuals that are perceived to constitute the bulk of the political parties membership; upper class public school boys or people of better means and breeding than the working man. Some politicians buck this trend, but mostly for the benefit of the media and revert to type once the cameras are off.

Putting all cynicism aside, the perception that politicians are slippery customers can be rectified with greater transparency in the political process and to some degree the political parties have recognized this issue.  They have begun to make greater strides towards transparency, like the legislator changes to expenses claims and accounting and publishing manifestos in advance of elections. The problem is far too often these changes are motivated by unfavorable media coverage like in the case of the aforementioned expenses scandal. More transparency is required if individual voters are to understand the relevance and difference of the political parties in the UK.

The problem of voter apathy has its greatest impact in the younger voters of the UK. While many older voters vote in force due to the traditions instilled in them by their forbears, the voting apathy that pervades those individuals born in the last 40 years has spread to their children and perpetuates itself.  Unless the younger individual is politically minded they may not feel that voting matters due to the previously highlighted reasons.

A system of incentivised voting may prove to be more successful in increasing the percentages of those younger people who do not currently vote. Implementation of financial rewards for voting would be opposed openly by those who do not qualify, however other sorts of rewards such as discounts and preferential treatment on certain council and government utilities would be of benefit to these groups without alienating the rest of the voting populous.

The voting process could be expanded to include the capacity to vote online, thus decreasing the need to attend polling stations. However the removal of physical evidence of voting and the potential fallibility of online systems/sites could stop this from being a viable plan.

This incentivised voting could run from age 18 to 25, providing a vehicle by which more individuals of that age could be encouraged to vote. Incentives could be provided for one vote only, with the promise of additional incentives for the duration of the period. To be truly impartial the incentives could be provided by a central independent authority set up independent of central government like the electoral commission.

Any sort of incentives need to be effectively promoted and mirrored by a corresponding increased emphasis on making political campaigns more relevant to younger voters. Utilization of social media, promotion in outlets frequented by younger voters, appearances by high ranking politicians at youth events would increase their exposure.

If incentivised voting proves to be a success with this demographic, it could potentially be extended to cover additional demographic groups. As with any incentivised system of benefits great care must be taken to ensure that the system is not misused.

Policies aimed specifically at enhancing younger voters lives would also be well received, although care must not be taken to exclude or otherwise discriminate against the already active voters in the UK. Dovetail this with the positive efforts to make individuals understand their place in the political process and we could see a significant upturn in voting turnouts.

As with the older generation, distrust of political figures is prominent but in this case it is added to by immaturity. Voting needs to become a mature choice and part of taking your place in society and this would involve a significant cultural change. Positive propaganda could achieve this, by using celebrities and significant youth culture figures and appealing to individuals through youth markets.

Some politicians like Barack Obama, have drawn on younger voters to increase their own political base and all signs point to this trend continuing into the future. Politicians as whole need to learn to appeal to all demographics of voters, not just those who form their key voting base as the apathetic younger individuals of the present become the uninterested older individuals of the future.

Democracy does work, the UK and the other countries in the world that have adopted it are proof of this success. If it were not a successful and appealing process, countries would not choose to use it in their political destiny. However, the fact that it works does not mean that it is infallible and should be maintained in perpetuity, things need to change in order to remain successful & thriving and democracy is no exception to this rule.

Recognizing that changes needs to occur to the democratic process by individuals at the highest levels of government is what is required. The biggest problem is reluctance to do so, but how long can we afford to let the decline in the democratic process continue?

Making these changes can ensure the long term stability of this unique system of government, providing for future security while being a source of encouragement for other countries to adopt democratic political systems.

 

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.