Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Thursday, 21 October 2021

A few random thoughts after the murder of Sir David Amess

It’s because he has been generally heralded as a great constituency and parliamentarian that my thoughts turned to what the role of our MPs actually should be and what they are paid to do?

Whether he was that upstanding, as there is an increasing amount of evidence that he wasn’t, is not for this post to cover.

Something which I doubt many MPs understand is that their official role is both to make laws and to scrutinize the Executive or Government.

It is because they have moved so far away from their primary role and become quasi social workers to their constituents that our governance is so lamentable as evident by the many bad laws rush through parliament on the ‘something must be done’ basis.

The reality is most constituents’ problems and concerns could be solved by local councillors or Citizens Advice offices but the later are very stretched having been reduced from 1074 in their heyday to around 316 today. This reduction was as the result of government cuts with little long term thinking about the consequences.

Implicit in our Second Demand 'Real Local Democracy' is that our national MPs would only concentrate on the issues of national importance such as Defence, Home and Foreign Affairs and of course the overall budget for the country. In their reduced role, concentrating on national issues, there is absolutely no reason why MPs should have to work every day of the week and indeed secondary employment would be encouraged, giving every MP a much broader outlook. Also, in such a way would their work life balance be improved.

Meanwhile local politicians, in a much-enhanced role, would take care of all local issues on a county basis with the powers to raise taxes a proportion of which would be sent up to Westminster to finance central government. This is of course a complete reversal of our current system where central government largely controls local government expenditure.

Interestingly my county of Somerset with a population of 560,631 is served by 55 County Councillors and, over four Districts, 214 District Councillors. That’s a total councillor count of 269 which gives you one councillor to 2084 citizens. Albeit councillors are currently part-time I really do wonder what they actually do but with a complete overhaul of local government and a greater role their value and worth would be enhanced.  

Given the current thinking is that MPs should do constituency work it should be noted that around 200 MPs, by being either government ministers or Shadow front benchers, have responsibilities that take their focus from their constituencies. Our second demand clearly address this point as well.

THA is also very clear with enhanced local government and MPs concentrating on national issues we do not need 650 and could easily reduce the number to around 400. That would mean there was one MP for every 167,000 people which compares to 750,000 for each member of the USA House of Representatives.

The Executive or Cabinet would, under our third demand ‘A Separation of Power’, be separated from parliament along with all other ‘ministers’ thus leaving parliament free to hold them to account.

In addition to the reductions in the House of Commons the House of Lords, renamed The UK Senate, could also be reduced from 788 to around 300 with a third each appointed, elected and selected by sortition.

THA's demands set out a whole new way to govern this country in which the 'People' have real power, local politicians become important figures making real decisions and dealing with constituents’ issues thus leaving national politicians to concentrate on the key issues of State.

As Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa wrote in his novel The Leopard "everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same"

  

 

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Real democracy demands more referendums.

My aim this week is to answer the critics who believe holding regular referendums is impractical and show that it is indeed possible and of course desirable to any fully functioning democracy who believe in real ‘People Power’.  

Our fourth demand ‘The People’s Consent’ proposes three types of referendums. The first would propose new laws but is only advisory. The second would allow the people to vote out new and existing laws and the third would allow the people to challenge the decisions of judges and other officials.

Importantly our new codified constitution, our sixth demand, would set out the procedures under which referendums could be held and the requirements for the results to be approved and accepted. First, for a referendum to be called would require a certain number of signatures on the official petition. Second, the ruling body, like the current Electoral Commission, would have to approve the question and the length and dates of the campaign. Third and lastly for the vote to succeed there could be a turnout requirement to validate the vote and in certain instances, like changes to the constitution, a set winning margin would also need to be meet.

Given the above ‘referendum rules’ they would not easily be held or won but when they were they would clearly indicate the views and opinions of the people which through our first demand would see them as sovereign rather than the current situation in which our parliament holds all the real power.

Fortunately, as Switzerland has a system of Direct Democracy, incidentally with local Cantons that are stronger than the national government, we are able to actually see how their system of referendums work in practice.

This year federal referendums were held on 7 March, 13 June and 26 September, with one further set scheduled to be held on 28 November. Of the three held so far, the first included three questions the second five and the third two. From the total of 10 questions five were approved and five rejected. To pick out three, a ban on wearing a full facial covering and same sex marriage were approved but one on Green House Gas emissions was rejected. 

 Swiss referendums take three forms: Popular Initiatives which are citizen proposals to create a new law and require 100,000 valid signatures on a petition to get on the ballot; Facultative or Optional Referendums, which are citizen proposals to approve or reject a piece of existing law and require 50,000 valid signatures on a petition to get on the ballot; and Mandatory Referendums, which are required to revise the constitution, join an international organisation or introduce emergency federal legislation for over a year.

If the Swiss can hold three referendums, so far this year with one more to come, asking the people’s opinion on 10 questions, I see no reason why we should not be capable of doing the same here.

Real democracy demands THA’s fourth demand ‘The People’s Consent’.