19 March 2009

Politics Without Parties?

I recently stumbled across (ok, found on the BBC, like the mainstream sheep I am) a new project called Jury Team that is aiming to bring independents into politics and break the shackles of our 2 party dictatorship

Now this is something I have long bemoaned - how politics has become dominated by the select few within the party machines, how individual MPs are nothing but numbers to follow the party line, how the first past the post (FPTP) system stifles any kind of change etc etc.... you have heard it all before...

How parliament is meant to work is that each individual constituency sends one representative to champion the concerns of (usually) his people - of course the idea of this person being elected by the people is pretty new in historical terms - previously it would have been the biggest landowner who either represented the borough or county, or his puppet

Now while this may, quite rightly, be seen as an antiquated and unfair system - it was at least realistic - think about it, if the majority of people are simple peasants, who probably cant read or write, then it stands to reason that the person with the most influence over them and the land should represent them

Sticking to this train of thought, the original way parliament operated was to debate between the various representatives - who, if they agreed on core issues of the time, would band together to form parties, but were free to vote how they wished, they could support the government or let it fall

This naturally led to a situation where real debate was fostered - MPs voted with their conscience, of course in reality they were acting in their (or their rich backer's) best interests - not for some namby-pamby concept of "the people", but anyway this is the principle

I am not saying we should return to the pre-nineteenth century system, far from it - but when you look at parliament it makes far more sense to view it from that perspective - whilst it does not fit with our modern ideas of equality and democracy, the basic concept of our parliament is still that - one constituency represented by one man

And now to return to my original point...despite turning Britain into a democracy and giving everyone an equal vote, this archaic debating chamber was left virtually unaltered - only now the representatives were chosen based on who got the most votes, they were the choice of the people

Sounds fair, right? Well, not entirely, as you see when the franchise was extended in 1867 to give the vote to every Tom, Dick and Harry, something happened - those loose parties realised that they could no longer simply buy the seats, or bribe the handful of voters, they now had thousands of people to make vote for them, and thus with new advances in communication technology the concept of the modern national party was truly born - parties, not the MPs, now had to represent a people

This meant that people across the land became accustomed to voting for their party, who the candidate was rarely mattered, just the colour of the rosette - and if the MP dared to do what he wanted he would incur the wrath of the party whip, who could remove him from the party and force the MP to rely on his charisma, or contacts, alone. In the first half of the twentieth century crossing the floor was still regularly practised (just look at Churchill) but particularly in recent decades, with the rise of better technologies, parties have had a stronger and stronger grip on us to the point where one of those thoughtful people who had their own ideas became a rarity in the Commons, the majority in the respective constituents were well trained to only look at the parties, and damn anyone else

And thus ends the incredibly brief, and patchy, history of British political development - but regardless of my simplistic analysis of about 400 years of our history, we are left in a situation where only the two main parties get to have a say about the country works

"Well what is so bad about that?" you may ask rhetorically - two parties, different viewpoints

Of course, but remember where the power lies - in the party HQs, millions of people are effectively governed by one of two small groups who have been alternating for the best part of a century - can you get into politics? Only if you work your way through one of these two groups, you stand no chance of getting elected if you simply stand as yourself, even against a political rookie whose been dropped into a safe seat - this nobody will win

And even if you do work your way through one of these parties, you probably become a backbencher - no more doing what your constituents wish, only what your party wishes - they may well have voted for that party, but remember that with the FPTP system all you need is the most votes - it can be as low as 20-something per cent, that is just one extra number for a party, based not even on a majority, who are often left unrepresented

So this is why Jury Team want there to be some independents - people who are free of party shackles, to criticise the government on an individual basis and to make decisions based not on pre-conceived ideologies but on their own conscience, why should there only be two (ok three, Lib-Dems) voices in the commons when you could probably find 20 different ones on any given high street?

Sounds pretty idealistic - but like I say, that was how parliament once worked, and while we have addressed the issue of voting rights, we have never addressed how the main debating chamber can best serve the people

Of course the problem here is Jury Team stand little chance of getting even one candidate into the real parliament - they would need to convince twenty or thirty thousand people in one very small area to vote for them, theoretically they could get a million votes nationally - but not a single seat

So they are planning to utilise the European parliament - which uses the proportional representation system (PR) - whereby the percentage of the vote dictates how many people a party send, this has resulted in us sending UKIP and Green members to Europe, but never to parliament

Where they plan to go from there is anyone's guess - MEPs are, I'm sorry to say, political nobodies - the Westminster parliament is sovereign and isn't going to be altered from Brussels or Strasbourg anytime soon

What it will provide is some extra funding and awareness - but I remain skeptical, no other small parties have succeeded in breaching Westminster (with the exception of the odd defected party MP, which is simply more proof of party hegemony)

But one must not give up hope - how else do we do it? Britain has yet to experience a violent revolution and I really don't advocate one...unless Brown refuses us an election

We must find a way to get thought back into politics, there is a possible chance right now - with Labour and the Tories unappealling to much of the population it may be possible to appeal to the Labour areas in particular - places where the BNP are doing well due to the lack of support for the major parties, where there is little hope and change is welcome

All I know is that few people in the commons appeal to me, and when they do it's a bloody miracle - despite the fact that I can often find decent opinion in the media, and the undemocratic House of Lords, odd huh

It's time for a change and I support anything that aims to improve this situation (peacefully)

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