Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine
"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

Friday, 22 October 2010

Opinion: we won’t be able to please many of the people for much of the time

Earlier this month Stephen Tall offered, in The Saturday Debate, 'Local government is to the Lib Dems what the unions are to Labour and big business is to the Tories'. What Stephen's view does underline is that, unless the Party achieves an unlikely breakthrough and wins a General Election outright, its place is more likely to be as a junior partner in a coalition government, which offers the choice between working with a group supported by the most ruthless of business leaders or by the, oft power crazed, union barons. This will, as demonstrated by the latest debate on graduate funding, necessitate the frequent agreement to policies fundamentally at odds with the membership's wishes. Presently the Party is in danger of losing credibility unless it has some immoveable core values, these in turn would ensure a more loyal core vote.

The most important group not represented by the two largest parties are 'the people' themselves. Local government is closer to them than either the leaders of the business community or the leaders of the Trade Unions, however - not that close. In our system of democracy, that which was originally conceived as 'the will of the people', the will of the grandees of one of these groups will always prevail in this dance of alternating dictatorships.

Representative democracy was necessary because clearly it was impossible to ask all of the people their views on every issue. However, representatives, in this misleading title, have never considered it their role to represent the majority view of their constituents, not even the views of those who voted for them, although some account is required of this if the representative wishes to continue with their political career. With the strengthening of political parties, the MPs were more keen to represent the views of their political party because their career prospects became inextricably linked to being loyal servants of that party.

Previously anyone could stand to become the local MP and would have had a fair chance of election, if they were in touch with the peoples wishes, when the primary form of communication with the electorate was from a soap box in the market square or other meeting places and a time when a simple pamphlet for each voter would not be beyond the means of the candidates. However, as the means of communications became more complex and sophisticated, successful communication by the candidates to the electorate became more difficult and with the political parties having their own manifesto and substantial funds, those who wanted a successful career in politics realized that joining one of these parties was the most practical route to success. Now, joining a political party is the only viable route to electoral success - the days of representative democracy, where the MP represents either their own or their constituents views, is over.

Government in the interest of the nation and its people was possible if their chosen representatives had independence and were able to honestly debate the issues of the day in the House of Commons - those who offered the best solutions to the problems of the day would likely be able to convince their fellow MPs of the wisdom of their case. However, once this independence was compromised, because each MP was reliant on the support of the party grandees, in practice, just the wishes of these managers became the only solutions likely to be given sufficient support to become the actions of the government. Once one of the two main parties had a majority in the Commons - the only solution became the wishes of these party grandees, big business or the unions an our alternating dictatorship.

Stephen is right, the Party does need a core vote if it is to succeed in its own right and not be dragged into supporting the policies of one of these two special interest groups. Why is there any reluctance to have 'the people' as this core vote? It is in the people that the power should reside and it has been stolen from them through devious tricks of devious people. Direct democracy would return the power to the people and is surely a much better system than all of the alternatives to 'first past the post' on offer. Whatever system is used to select the peoples representatives, direct democracy would ensure that they did not stray too far from the peoples wishes.

Only the wildest optimist can view the future with anything but serious concern. Tough decisions are going to have to be made on every issues - defence, education, law and order, immigration, social services etc. The government will not be able to please many of the the people for much of the time - surely if these tough decisions have to be taken it is vital that 'the people' play as big a role as possible in the decision process since it is they who will have to endure the resulting hardships - direct democracy offers a system whereby this can be the case. It is also the route to the big society and would re-enfranchise a disenfranchised people.

First published 13.10.10 - Liberal Democrat Voice

Opinion: we won’t be able to please many of the people for much of the time

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