How would governments be formed if all MPs were Independent?
Fortunately we already have an excellent precedent for this. House of Commons committees used to be appointed by the government. This meant that most committees were controlled by the ruling party with the prime minister often having the final say on their composition. However, this was changed and the committees are now formed on a cross-party basis by the MPs themselves. This has resulted in a remarkable improvement in their performance as they go about their business in a non-partisan and professional manner. Similarly, it would make a great deal of sense to appoint all ministers, including the prime minister in this manner. We would then have a government selected on merit from the widest choice possible.
Will poorer people and minority groups not be excluded by the high cost of funding a parliamentary campaign?
Independent candidates simply cannot compete against large professional organisations that sell political access to fund their campaigns. That is precisely why we have provided a £6 million fund to overcome this problem during the next general election. The core aim of our campaign is to replace political parties altogether with high grade independent MPs. Once this has been accomplished, all parliamentary candidates will compete on a level playing field. The campaign spending cap will remain but the cost will be met from the public purse. To maintain healthy competition between candidates, a local selection panel will pick the best three candidates in each constituency, with the incumbent MP being allowed to stand as well. All candidates will then receive equal campaign funding which they cannot top up and will be elected on a single transferable vote system. State funding will ensure that even those of limited means are able to stand as candidates and local selection panels will be responsible for ensuring that candidates are selected on merit alone.
Will independent candidates require their own policy manifesto?
No quite the reverse. Although candidates may propose specific policies, we expect to see candidates standing on their CV and record of past achievements. We will not normally endorse single issue candidates as MPs must have the ability to deliver the best possible decisions on a wide range of subjects. We strongly believe that policies should be formed by consensus in the House of Commons rather than touted round the doors for votes. An independent MP will only ever be able to get a policy implemented if the majority support it. That said, it will be open for any MP to propose a policy. Our goal is a Chamber that debates policies on their merits and votes accordingly. Legislation must deliver the maximum possible benefit to the electorate, whilst supporting national interests and protecting the welfare of those who do not yet have a vote.
Are independent candidates not usually fixated by a single issue or have often simply fallen out with their own party?
This has indeed often been the case. However, all Free Parliament candidates will have signed up to constituent-led recall, parliamentary reform and the Bell Principles.
How will you select candidates to enter the ten thousand pound primary competition?
Potential candidates will be vetted to ensure that they accept the Bell Principles and Recall and have no links to extremist parties or organisations. The cash award, publicity and crowdfunding aspects will ensure that the selection panel will have more than enough good quality candidates to choose from.
Elections and Referendums
Why do you wish to replace general elections with rolling elections?
General elections have become a waste of valuable parliamentary time as well as a circus of bribery and false promises. Once we are no longer voting to change parties, there would be no reason to hold a general election in any event. However, with MPs being elected on a rolling basis and subject to recall, democratic accountability will be visibly improved. Our proposals are designed to move the focus onto the quality of candidates whilst removing the ability of political parties to carry out electoral bribery.
Do you support referendums on major issues?
That would be for parliament to decide in relation to a specific circumstance; our main purpose is to make parliament more democratically accountable all the time. We do support the principle of wider public consultation but still allowing MPs to exercise their judgment. The problem now is that MPs are often unable to vote as they might wish in order to protect their careers. Free Parliament has however established two secure voting platforms VoteEngland.org and VoteScotland.org to encourage greater public participation in the decision making process.
Do you support proportional representation?
No, we believe that our proposals offer many advantages over proportional representation whilst strengthening the link between MPs and their constituents. Experience from around the world shows that PR simply increases the number of parties with single issue parties often able to hold larger parties to ransom. By contrast, our proposals are focused on improving the relationship that MPs have with their constituents and with their colleagues in Parliament. Our proposals will lead to fundamental and far-reaching improvements in the democratic system whereas PR would lead to backroom deals and parliamentary paralysis.
Would open primaries not solve many of your perceived problems?
Political parties holding open primaries would lead to more diverse candidates and possibly more independently-minded candidates as well. However, as long as MPs have to place themselves under the party whip, the main problem remains and we do not regard open primaries as a solution on their own. Primaries that produce independent MPs capable of dealing with the needs of their constituents are the real answer.
Would your proposals cause fragmentation or parochialism without national parties to maintain uniformity?
No, you would get a diverse country rather than a fragmented one. If you put a similar range of questions on issues such as employment, tax, education, housing and healthcare, to people as far apart as the UK and Australia, you will get broadly similar answers. The basic needs and aspirations of people are the same across the world so there need be little concern about different counties or regions in our own country acting in a significantly different or insular manner. Diversity is to be welcomed and a Free Parliament sits very well with the first principle of Localism, local accountability. Any area that did make poor choices would have the example of nearby communities profiting from sounder decisions. Diversity is to be encouraged and is a vital tool to drive innovation.
What is your view of parliament’s place in our society?
We value the role of parliament highly and wish to see it restored to being a respected institution rather than a Punch & Judy show. We do not support direct democracy, the direct election of prime ministers or any other measure that would bypass parliament. Once the present destructive and self-defeating political tribalism is replaced by free parliamentarians working together for the common good, the House of Commons will once again become a world-leading parliament.
Should constituents be able to tell their MP how to vote?
No, MPs must decide for themselves how to vote after having looked at the evidence and attended any debates on the issue; that is what we pay them for. They are our representatives not our delegates, a very important distinction. As an MP, it is their duty to act in the wider national interest as well as the interests of their constituents. Sometimes this might mean going against local opinion, with the risk that entails in terms of their re-election.
Would the threat of recall not impair the ability of MPs to vote freely?
Our proposals will restore parliamentary sovereignty and protect MPs from undue influence. If we look at other countries, such as Canada, the threat of recall is not routinely used to pressurise an MP into following a specific course of action.
Do MPs have anything to fear from your proposals?
No, on the contrary, our proposals would enhance the status of MPs; give them more job satisfaction and greater autonomy. From responses received so far, we are hopeful that a number of MPs might sign up to our proposals ahead of the 2020 election.
How would the integrity of a free Parliament be protected?
Concerns have been expressed about the possibility of independent MPs forming groups, or cabals, to have a particular policy adopted or another prevented from becoming law. Given the new mood that would infuse a Commons freed from political gerrymandering, not to mention the constant presence of television cameras, this should not be a problem. That said, it would be sensible to future-proof reform by requiring MPs to sign up to simple protocols with penalties for non-compliance. We therefore propose:
- All policy-making shall be carried out in plain sight, either by debate in the Chamber or in open discussion in Committee, having due regard for issues of a confidential or sensitive nature.
- No MP shall accept a commission, paid or otherwise, from a third party to influence the opinion or behaviour of fellow MPs unless any such commission is recorded in the procedural register.
- Any MP found to be in breach of these rules by the Standards Committee would be subject to sanctions including an unlimited monetary penalty, expulsion from the House or by-election being ordered in their constituency.
The European Union
What is your view on our membership of the EU?
The logical course of action is for the government to set a deadline for Brexit negotiations. Any proposed deal should then be debated in the House of Commons with a free vote. Once this has been done, a second referendum can be held if the public demands one. However, the EU is now coming under intense pressure from countries such as France, Holland and Italy and could materially change. If this happens, negotiations will need to be put on hold until the new order emerges.