“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”
Martin Luther King Jr.
When the financial services industry reached rock bottom through countless scandals, it cleaned up its act by licensing the players. I would argue that a similar situation now exists with our democratic process and similar medicine is needed to return the public’s trust and support.
There are many good people who enter politics to make a contribution to improving the lot of Society and who’s innocence is quickly lost when confronted with the reality of ‘Club Westminster’ and its workings. If we add to this the corrupting influence power can have upon human fallibility we get to the cause of so many of the problems we now face.
There is only one antidote to our current dilemmas, I believe, and that is greater accountability from MPs in how they conduct themselves, which the current system is incapable of achieving. Licensing every elected Member of Parliament can do this job in the same way it has done for financial advisors. If you mess up you lose your licence, with either a yellow card (for weeks), red card (for months) or black card (out of the game forever), depending upon the offence.
(Stephen Dorrell’s flagrant abuse of privilege, in becoming an adviser to a company competing for a £1 Billion health contract, whilst still holding his seat in parliament, is a demonstration of everything that is rotten about today’s politics. In this situation, giving a big finger to democracy like this would result in the instant issue of a black card, I would suggest!)
Licensing offers a threefold discipline. Firstly, the very threat of loss is a deterrent, having worked and studied to get the licence. In addition, having to face local constituents and explain why you are not in Parliament fighting their corner would be difficult, if not credibility destroying. Secondly, a returning ‘unfrocked’ MP would receive a ‘provisional’ licence and be monitored through an annual review of conduct carried out for two or three years before full reinstatement of the licence. Or alternatively, the inability to progress to higher office for a similar period would help rebuild personal humility and credibility. Thirdly, the professional respect of colleagues and the public for those holding an unblemished licence, plus public esteem which could only grow over the years.
Licensing alone is not sufficient however, as the current climate at Westminster could see abuses begin again. A clean sweep is necessary to improve the overall image of politics in my opinion. That would require closing down ‘Club Westminster’, bringing about the ending of an environment of abuse that has caused the deteriorating elector trust of the present (and outdated) political system. These magnificent buildings must be restored to their former glory and handed over to tourism, where they have already earned their keep.
This would then offer the opportunity for a new purpose built complex somewhere away from Westminster, making a complete break with the past and creating a whole new fresh start for government and democracy. Its primary purpose would be to bring the people into the process of managing our country with the use of modern technological communications. (Something I will go into in a separate blog.)
It would include a state of the art debating chamber, convenient purpose built accommodation for MPs, with supporting facilities for the long hours many of them conscientiously put in. There would be full media facilities – which they pay for! The introduction of a prepaid card with limits, as part of the ‘MP licensing process’, would manage their legitimate other expenses. All of which would bring down the running costs of government considerably.
Now we move on to the next part of restoring the democratic process in this country. ALL of the above would be achieved with the influence, support and full public co-operation of voters concerning the location, design and ongoing maintenance of government. To my mind this is essential for the rebuilding of confidence and bringing the two sides closer together. After all voters are paying for it all and therefore fully entitled to have an ongoing say in how their money is being spent!
In the process of bringing the electors and elected together, the funding of political parties has also to be addressed and here the financial services industry offers another potential solution. At the heart of the problems they faced was the payment of large commissions to financial advisors and the influence this wielded in the biased advice often given to clients. The ever growing funding of political parties by business has created a similar problem in biased decision making by lawmakers and so perhaps they too should get their funding from voters.
It would up the game of all parties, resulting in a much closer and ongoing connection with the public as they seek to convince people to fund them. Perhaps some of our taxes could also be used in matching every pound raised by parties but this, like all else, is open to debate. Certainly the BBC would play a vital role in supporting their financial independence, by providing a separate channel that could be used by ALL parties to promote their messages – a sort of ‘political’ daytime TV.
If voters were offered the opportunity to subscribe to party membership at differing levels, from basic newsletters on party thinking and proposed actions, all the way up to meetings with party officials and cabinet member’s, politics becomes engaged and exciting again.
Just imaging buying the opportunity to be able to call on David Cameron or Ed Milliband and tell them directly what you thought about the latest U-turn or substance ‘less’ headline. WOW would that change the current ball game, particularly if it were then automatically uploaded to YouTube (Remember Russell Brand & Jeremy Paxman!)
It is embryo thinking I accept. I believe it has substance however, based upon what has happened in the financial advisor arena. We do need desperately to rebuild the credibility of politics if we are not to be consumed by an Orwellian world. We can do this with modern technology, an essential and viable part of bringing our democracy into the 21st century
How could it actually be achieved? I am convinced that the party which has serious visionary leadership capable of supporting new thinking of this type in its manifesto will romp home in 2015.
I say this whilst making no apology whatsoever for mounting my hobby horse and reminding everyone that next year is the most critical election year we have ever faced in our democratic history. It is no longer about ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ but about the rebirth of democracy and the full involvement of the people in running their country.
At its heart is restoring power back to voters with ‘People Driven Referendums’, as is the case in Switzerland (Of which our first subject might be ‘Licensed’ MPs, quickly followed by A ‘Replacement’ Westminster). What a difference in our lives to feel this very real sense of involvement. After all, as I have said before, we pay for it so we have a BIG AND DIRECT SAY IN RUNNING IT!
It’s up to us . . . There is nobody else!
Until the next time
Thinking from His Book: Global Magna Carta. Returning Power to The 99% . . . If They Want It! By J T Coombes