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.

Breaking Whispers- Supreme Court rules no Brexit without Parliament approval

The UK Supreme Court has overwhelmingly rejected the Governments appeal to trigger Article 50 without Parliamentary vote in its ruling earlier today.

The ruling follows the earlier defeat of the Government in the high court in November and means it cannot use prerogative powers to trigger article 50 of the treaty of Lisbon, beginning Britain’s exit from the EU.

Eleven of the Twelve Supreme Court justices sat in on the case, with the ruling passing by a vote of 8 to 3 in favour of dismissing the appeal of the earlier high court decision.

neuberger-1

Lord Justice Neuberger delivering the courts ruling earlier today

In his summarising remarks, Lord Justice Neuberger said “Section 2 of the 1972 [European Communities] Act provides that, whenever EU institutions make new laws, those new laws become part of UK law. The 1972 act therefore makes EU law an independent source of UK law, until parliament decides otherwise.

Therefore, when the UK withdraws from the EU treaties, a source of UK law will be cut off. Further, certain rights enjoyed by UK citizens will be changed. Therefore, the government cannot trigger article 50 without parliament authorising that course.”

neuberger-5

Gina Miller speaking outside the Supreme Court Earlier today after the courts decision

Gina Miller, the campaigner who led the legal challenge against the Government welcomed the ruling saying “No prime minister, no government can expect to be unanswerable or unchallenged. Parliament alone is sovereign.”

In the wake of the Supreme Courts ruling David Davis, the governments minister in charge of exiting the EU delivered the government’s response in a parliamentary statement in which he announced the publication of a ‘straightforward’ Brexit bill to be put before Parliament in the coming days.

Neuberger 3.jpg

David Davis announced a new Brexit bill would be put to the house within days

Addressing the ruling directly, Mr Davis said “This will be the most straightforward bill possible to give effect to the decision of the people and respect the supreme court’s judgement.”

He later reasserted the Government’s commitment to triggering Article 50 at the end of March saying that “This timetable has already been supported by this house.”

Neuberger 6.jpg

Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer has called for greater transparency on Brexit

Labour’s shadow secretary for exiting the EU, Keir Starmer has called for the government to publish a white paper on Brexit saying “Labour accepts and respects the referendum result and will not frustrate the process. But we will be seeking to lay amendments to ensure proper scrutiny and accountability throughout the process. That starts with a white paper or plan. A speech is not a white paper or plan, and we need something to hold the government to account throughout the process. You can’t have a speech as the only basis for accountability for two years or more.”

nintchdbpict000286818699.jpg

The Supreme Court said relations with the EU are “reserved to the UK government and parliament, not to the devolved institutions”

The Supreme Court has also ruled that UK ministers are not obliged to consult with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland during the Brexit negotiations. The Judges added that “the devolved legislatures do not have a veto on the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU.”

However the Government has said that it will include all of the devolved administrations in its deliberations in a move which will it hopes quell the dissent that is bound to occur in both the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

While many will question the need for this case, given the government’s willingness to include Parliament in the Brexit process (as indicated by Theresa May’s speech last Tuesday)  this writer regards the ruling as a victory for the British legal system in asserting the rights of its people.

Also, the case bought by Ms Miller and her compatriots has undoubtedly forced the government to rethink its position on Parliamentary inclusion in the negotiations with Mrs May’s speech and today’s Brexit bill being the natural result.

Breaking Whispers- Theresa May gives speech confirming the Governments position on Brexit

Prime Minister Theresa May has today outlined her strategy for Britain’s exit from the European Union in a speech at Lancaster House in London.

may-1

Prime Minister Theresa May spoke about the desire to create “A Global Britain”

The Conservative leader made clear that she would look to pursue a ‘Hard Brexit’ from the EU and that there would be no compromising on things like immigration, access to markets and parliamentary sovereignty.

Mrs May said “We do not seek to adopt a model already enjoyed by other countries. We do not seek to hold on to bits of membership as we leave. The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union. My job is to get the right deal for Britain as we do.”

In a conciliatory but firm statement, the Prime Minister confirmed the following:

Britain will not remain a part of the single market

With speculation that her government would not look to stay in the single market, Mrs May confirmed that Britain would not be staying  within the single market but would instead look to sign a new free trade agreement with the EU.

This proposed agreement would allow the UK to have access to the single market but without membership of it. Membership of the single market required accepting free movement of goods,services, capital and people. In her words retaining membership of the single market “would in all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU.”

Britain will remain a member of the customs union

Trade formed a large part of the Prime Ministers speech and she confirmed that Britain would look to remain a member of the customs union with Europe. However she was keen to specify that Britain would not look to be subject to the common external tariff (a tax on all goods coming into the union from outside it).

The prime minister would not be drawn on whether the custom’s union’s policy of no member country negotiating trade deals on its own would be something that Britain would look to avoid.

The phased approach to Brexit

The Prime Minister underlined the requirement of any exit strategy from the EU to be phased in rather than having what she called a “cliff edge” point, which could cause irreparable harm to the UK economy.

Phasing arrangements would allow the economy, industry and public institutions to make necessary preparations for life outside of the European Union.

Mrs May confirmed that she would look to conclude negotiations with the EU within the two year timescale provided for by Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon.

Controlling Immigration to the UK

The control of Britain’s borders was a crucial part of the decision to leave the EU and the Prime Minister reiterated her desire to enforce this policy.

However, she affirmed that Britain wants to continue to attract “the brightest and best to study and work in Britain”.

Referring to her time as Home secretary, Mrs May said “You cannot control immigration overall when there is free movement from Europe … Brexit must mean control of number of people coming to Britain from Europe.”

The UK’s immigration system post-Brexit has not been announced and the Prime Minister made no reference on how policing immigration from the EU would occur.

An end to the legal authority of the European Court of Justice in the UK

The authority of the European Court of Justice in the UK legal system will cease after the Brexit negotiations are concluded, the Prime Minister has confirmed.

Leaving the EU meant leaving all the institutions of it, with the Prime Minister arguing “We will not have truly left the European Union if we are not in control of our own laws.”

It is widely expected that the Supreme Court will assume all the legal responsibilities currently being undertaken by the European Court of Justice.

The final Brexit deal will be put before both Houses of Parliament

In a move that will appease both remainers and opposition parties alike, Mrs May has confirmed that any final Brexit deal committed to by the UK will be the subject of a vote in both the Houses of Parliament and the Lords.

This move will allow MP’s and Lords to block the plans, but is a vital move in confirming the sovereignty of Parliament in the Brexit negotiations after the recent Supreme Court case involving campaigners led by Gina Miller.

The timeframe for the Brexit deal to be put to the House will be confirmed shortly.

Cautious friends with Europe?

Mrs May stated that “I must be clear. Britain wants to remain a good friend and neightbour to Europe but I know there are some voices calling for a punitive deal. That would be a case of calamitous self-harm for the countries of Europe and it would not be the act of a friend. Britain could not, indeed we would not, accept such an approach.”

The Prime Minister said she believed that this would not occur but said that “no deal would be better than a bad deal”, warning that Britain would be free to set competitive tax rates, echoing earlier comments by the Chancellor Phillip Hammond.

However she also called for a close relationship with Europe after Brexit- ““Our vote to leave the European Union was no rejection of the values we share. The decision to leave the EU represents no desire to become more distant to you, our friends and neighbours. We will continue to be reliable partners, willing allies and close friends,” she said.

Cards on the Table?

By confirming the sort of deal that Britain wants from Brexit, the Prime Minister has placed Britain in the metaphorical driving seat of the Brexit negotiations. Much will be made of what the Prime Minister did not say and the lack of specificity on certain points but this is an important step on the road to Britain’s exit from the EU in two years time.

International Whispers: Trump ‘keen’ to sign quick trade deal with UK after Brexit

President-elect Donald Trump has promised that the U.S. will sign a quick trade deal with the UK after the Brexit negotiations are concluded.

In an interview with former leave campaigner and cabinet minister Michael Gove for the Times newspaper, Mr Trump said that the UK was “so smart for getting out”. He went on to say  “We’re gonna work very hard to get it done quickly and done properly. Good for both sides.”

pay-no-social-use-president-elect-donald-trump

President Elect Trump met with MP Michael Gove at Trump Tower in New York

 

Mr Trump’s words were in sharp contrast to outgoing President Barack Obama’s remarks during the EU referendum campaign, where he famously said that “the UK would be at the back of the queue” for any potential trade deal should it leave the EU.

The President-elect, who will be inaugurated on Friday in Washington, went on to criticise Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel’s stance on immigration calling it “obsolete”.

Mr Trump later said “I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals, you know, taking all of the people from wherever they come from. And nobody even knows where they come from,”

methode%2fsundaytimes%2fprod%2fweb%2fbin%2f72aa433c-db5e-11e6-b301-d3506ecf1753

Mr Trump said that the UK was ‘doing great’ in the wake of Brexit.

Later in the interview with Mr Gove, he turned his comments to NATO and called for more member states to commit to the target of spending the 2% of their respective national incomes on defence, a spending target that the UK is meeting and remains one of the few nations to do so.

nato-3_custom1

Defence Spending as a % of GDP- Source: NATO

With his inauguration looming, UK prime minister Theresa May will be keen to ensure that Mr Trump delivers on his promise to sign a trade deal with the UK, as this would be a boost to the economy and future success post Brexit.

Breaking Whispers- UK Ambassador to EU Resigns

Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK’s Ambassador to the European Union has today resigned from his position, a full ten months before his scheduled departure from the role in November 2017.

resignation-2

Sir Ivan Rogers, pictured here with the Chancellor Philip Hammond last month at a meeting with the EU

The resignation comes a month after making public comments that he felt a post-brexit trade deal could take as long as ten years to conclude, despite the two year limits imposed in Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon. Downing Street later refuted the comments as not reflecting the view of the British Government.

Mr Rogers was a part of former prime minister David Cameron’s negotiating team when he unsuccessfully attempted to renegotiate Britain’s position within the European Union. A failure which ultimately led to the EU referendum and Britain’s subsequent vote to leave.

resignation-1

Rogers, right pictured with former Prime Minister David Cameron in January 2016

Former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who previously worked with Sir Ivan said “If the reports are true that he has been hounded out by hostile Brexiteers in government, it counts as a spectacular own goal. The government needs all the help it can get from good civil servants to deliver a workable Brexit.”

While the Government have yet to issue an official statement on Rogers resignation a source in Whitehall today said that it would not affect the governments proposed triggering of article 50 later on this year.

With preparations for this process to be made and significant ground still to be decided upon, the Government will come under significant pressure to appoint a new ambassador as quickly as possible.

article-50-2

However reports that Nigel Farage had already sent his CV in for the position were described as laughable by one government source.