09 October 2014

UK Democracy Has Failed

1. A constituency MP is accountable.

2. Single party government is decisive.

3. One person, one vote, it must be fair.

4. The candidate with the most votes wins, this is a simple system.

5. Our hereditary and unelected Lords are best at scrutinising our elected chamber.

All of the above are used to defend our present system. All are false.

1. Most constituents do not vote for their MP or even know their name. Yet 70% to 85% of seats do not change hands.

2. Our governments are slower at making decisions than those abroad and less likely to think long term.

3. The value of your vote is determined by constituency boundaries.

4. The link between total seats won and total votes cast is unfathomably complex for Westminster and local elections.

5. Amongst developed states only the UK has hereditary and unelected law makers.

All of this is beyond debate. These are undeniable facts.

The question is, what to do about it?

For a political animal like me, the triumph of UKIP on the back of what is obvious voter frustration at how our system works is very depressing.

Sadly, any party achieving power under the present system is unlikely to change the system. But worse, by the time they achieve power, the system will have moulded that party to its image. Real change seems hopelessly out of reach.

The failure of our political system can be summed up by two words - the lack of;

1. Representation

2. Information

1. You can increase representation by increasing the proportionality of results, so seats won more accurately reflects voteshare. You can also increase the frequency of elections and decrease constituency size to improve accountability. But in my opinion, good though these measures would be, it would not be enough.

Our current system is getting worse partly because the proportion of the electorate needed to win power is decreasing as our voting system fails to cope with votes dispersing among multiple parties. It is now possible to win power with less than 20% support amongst the electorate. But even the most proportional systems can deliver  power with less than 40% electorate support. Better, but still not a majority. And everywhere this figure is falling. There seems to be something fundamentally wrong with the process of voting itself.

The problem is that voting is a crude process that does not come close to capturing the opinions and views of voters.

2. The second problem is lack of information. It is pretty near impossible to get detailed and impartial information on candidates and party policies. We could improve the quality and range of information available to people by diversifying the ownership of our media. This would mean more opinions reflected and views more in line with the public mood. This would help, but once again in my opinion, it would not be enough.

People haven't the time to become experts on the main topics and no-one can be expert on everything and every candidate.

The other linked problem is that our political parties, candidates and media can be easily bought by the rich and powerful. We could have rules on donations and the dispersion of propaganda but how practical would this be and how long would these rules last?

Also the bigger problem is those people who need democracy the most are always the least likely to have the time or energy to participate. The poorest are not properly represented in political parties and certainly not in parliament. This will always be the case. And the longer this goes on, the more it alienates the poor from the system and the more likely they are to disengage.

What we need is a system that allows a truly representative sample of the population equal access to a diverse range of expert opinion, the time to deliberate, and the power to implement their collective decisions.

Thankfully we already have such a system - the jury service. We should extend this to selecting our government.

It is not perfect, but most of the objections are unfounded. People can make very informed decisions on the most complex situations.

Replacing our elected representatives with randomly selected representatives will deliver a much harder system for the powerful to corrupt. It would take the money out of politics and ensure proper representation of everyone.

We could experiment with term limits, a mix of elected and randomly selected. But ultimately I feel our system has gone so badly wrong that this might be the only way to put things right.

The numbers of "jury politicians" selected would have to be big enough samples to be representative. I suggest 500 in the Commons and 500 in the Lords.

This idea could take a long time to gain favour. But don't dismiss it, really think about it. Then think about where we are heading with our current elected alternatives. Which would you prefer?


  1. You may find this of interest - http://warelane.wordpress.com/2014/10/21/who-gives-a-damn-anyway-inertia-electoral-fatalism-or-just-not-enthused-by-the-choices-on-offer/

    I do not agree with your jury-slection idea. For starters, juries are becoming less representative as voter enrolment diminishes.

    The idea that many electors know little about individual issues and policies is why we have political parties. Labour, Conservative, etc are shorthand descriptions that enable someone to say what they broadly support. Besides, the electorate is largely as educated on voting as it wants to be.

    Also, MPs are volunteers insofar as they put themselves forward. Randomly selecting people will invariably mean many chosen who do not want the job. Is democracy served by having those who do not want to be there making our laws?

  2. Have you checked out the 6 demands of harrogateagenda.org.uk ?