Are you just plain bored or angry with politicians? Probably both because all the pub talk is telling me that politics isn’t working.
In the UK we pride ourselves on having the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ and throughout the Western World we promote democracy and deplore dictatorships although if I had a choice a compassionate, humble, non-democratic leader is probably the preferred way forward and as no better example I suggest that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum the Ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates.
However, we cannot all be so blessed, and a voted democracy is still the safest and best way forward. The risks associated with the wrong sort of dictator are not worth the risk (see my blogs on Mugabe).
Democracy has many aspects from how we vote through to how the power and responsibility is exercised.
Voting in a democracy is not enough; just ask the good folk of Belarus with an ‘elected’ dictator who received over 90% of the vote. In the last Presidential elections, now President Trump did not receive a majority of the popular vote. In the last UK elections, the conservative party and Prime Minister May only won 42.4% of the popular vote.
There are many proposed solutions with proportional representation (PR) being one meaning that parties with insufficient votes to win a seat in the ‘first past the post’ have representation in parliament. There are many different forms of PR and Wikipedia lists 87 countries that use PR but there is no consistent approach.
Invariably PR leads to coalition governments but not necessarily a stable government. In 2010- 1 1 Belgium went a world record 589 days without a government as no agreement on policy issues could be reached between the opposing Flemish and Walloons. Germany is currently trying to form a government and could be set for fur further elections soon.
However, tinkering with voting systems doesn’t solve the real problem. All sustainable and performing organisation need a sense of purpose and direction and even more so a country needs policies that last far longer than the term of an election. With elections taking place every 4 or 5 years, often new governments are formed and here is always likely to be a flip flopping in policy direction.
Here is one of many examples. President Obama had a plan for health care in the USA and President Trump has a different view and is trying to unwind it. The situation in the UK is little different and free health care delivery is a political issue with regular and huge fluctuations in funding and structure.
Health care requires planning and security of delivery. There needs to be an agreed policy, agreed priorities and an agreed financing plan that covers far more than the five years between elections. Health care needs an agreed long-term approach.
These are one among many examples but how do we get resolution?
On a different day I will suggest possible approaches to the development of a shared and agreed plan but today I will concentrate on the role of parliament. How do we stop the flip flop of policies from newly elected politicians that do not have universal support?
Again on a different day, but unlikely, I might comment on PR but I will need to be bereft of any other ideas as I don’t care much which version of democracy is used but I am concerned with the way a democracy is exercised in parliament.
We have a Parliament where a majority of one member decides the success or failure of a Bill. That leads to confrontation, poor decision making and certainly does nothing towards satisfying anyone. This cannot lead to long term stability. We cannot afford to keep messing around and need long term planning and funding.
Edward de Bono, well known for lateral thinking, as you would expect, had an interesting approach. He suggested that at the start of each Parliament a political party has a set number of ‘voting tokens’ to be used over the life of the Parliament. The number of tokens was calculated simply to be the same as the number of votes they received.
Over the life of a Parliament a party could spend their tokens as they wished promoting or opposing a Bill. On an issue of prime importance to their doctrine they could spend heavily causing the other side also to spend big, if their opposition was strong. Of course, if there was agreement on the Bill neither side had to spend much keeping their powder dry for another day.
This, De Bono argued would lead to increased agreement on policies between the parties so that tokens never got spent.
I have another approach. It is not better, just different, but first I need to explain the principle of the core roles of Government. I suggest these are:
- Defend the State (as a short hand forever saying the population) and its people
- Educate the population. While this is mainly the children it also includes apprenticeships, vocational and skills training
- Provide efficient and effective health care from cradle to grave
- Build an infrastructure including roads, trains, and power
I know Government has many other responsibilities, but these are the core of what governments are about.
As far as I am concerned we can leave in place the process whereby the party with the greatest number of Members of Parliament (MPs) becomes the Government – just as present. The Government would frame the legislation to be debated and all legislation, including the budget, will be voted on, again just as present.
However, to be successful and become law, a Bill, especially on the core roles of government, I want to have far wider support than just one political party and potentially just one vote. I want all the MPs working towards an agreed future for the State.
In my plan a simple majority of one is still required for non-core legislation but for the core activities we must demand that a much larger majority is needed. We need the support of many more of our representatives to reflect the population’s needs.
Why not set a threshold of two thirds which in the UK would mean 434 MPs voting in favour?
As well as requiring discussion and moderation in the way new legislation is framed, there are other benefits. It will drive and incentivise politicians to develop shared long-term plans while also allowing MPs to vote across party lines and vote reflecting the needs of their constituencies.
This will ensure a much greater level of cooperation between the parties to submit for scrutiny and legislation only those Bills that have the likelihood to produce ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’.
If all our politicians started to cooperate and work together for our benefit would you still be angry with them?