Members of Parliament
Most MPs are idealistic and enter parliament with the earnest intention of making their mark in a positive manner. However, the more talented and well-intentioned they are, the more frustrated they end up becoming. Some give up, to return to sanity, some persevere or simply have nowhere else to go, but few are happy in their work. Although their primary duty is to their constituents, they will not advance if they defy instructions and vote against the Whip. Although they can resign from their party at any time, very few do and there is currently only one independent MP in the House of Commons. The inevitable conclusion therefore is that rather than continually criticising our MPs when things go wrong, we need to look further.
We believe that it would be in the country’s best interests if as many MPs as possible were independents. Our parliament and offices of government would continue as before, the only difference being that they would now be staffed by those chosen on their merit rather than their political affiliations. A substantial influx of independent MPs entering parliament would signal a sea change and pave the way for others to follow. The electorate do have the power to achieve this by voting only for independent candidates. However, such is the degree of ruthless professionalism and cash that now dominates the electoral process; independent candidates have virtually no chance of getting elected. Not only will they be pitted against hard-bitten professionals working behind the scenes, but the press will either ignore or ridicule them. If we wish to break the stranglehold of the major parties, then we must level the playing field.
The Campaign for a Free Parliament will put up £10,000 cash prizes for the winners of ‘primary’ competitions to select independent candidates for Westminster. The scheme will be initiated by a 2016 by-election and be fully operational in time for the next general election in May 2020. These competitions will ensure that candidates are chosen on their merit from within their own constituency. The prize will be used to fund the candidate who goes on to fight the election proper. All those who voted in the primary will also be invited to crowd-fund the winning candidate’s campaign. As a condition of the competition losing candidates will not stand against the winner. This process will not only give voters more candidates to choose from, it will also enable candidates to stand on their record. The competition will accommodate a maximum of six candidates per constituency.
Two new secure voting platforms have been developed to enable the primary competitions to be held; Vote England and Vote Scotland. Every entrant aged thirty or more, will have their biography and beliefs published on a campaign website free of charge. Voters across the country will therefore be able to select the best possible candidate. All candidates must sign up to the Bell Principles and agree that they will not stand against the winner. Candidates will be expected to produce their CV along with a broad statement of principles rather than a manifesto. We believe that all policies should be formed in parliament rather than used as electoral bribery. Any candidate who becomes an MP will also be expected to agree to recall by their constituents but with the option of standing in the consequent by-election.
Once political parties lose their ability to stage-manage parliament, structural change to increase democratic accountability becomes possible.
- All Ministerial appointments including that of Prime Minister made by MPs.
- All MPs subject to recall by their constituents but with 10 year fixed terms.
- General elections scrapped in favour of a Continuous Parliament.
Yet again these boundaries are to be redrawn at the behest of political parties to make them ‘fairer.’ Towns and geographical areas are divided up to provide numerical equality. If political parties did not exist, constituency boundaries could more accurately reflect the identity and ethos of an area and those who lived in it.
At present the leader of the political party that wins a general election becomes the Prime Minister. He then selects favoured MPs from within the ranks of his own party to act as Ministers and form his Government. Patronage provides the base for political power but strangles democracy and initiative as dissenting MPs will seldom make it into the Cabinet. We propose that all Ministers, including the Prime Minister, are selected by ballot and subject to recall by their peers as well as their constituents.
MPs to be subject to recall by their constituents. An annual window would be opened in each constituency for a vote of confidence. In the unlikely event that more than 10% of constituents sought recall, a by-election would be held. In return, MPs would be offered ten year terms before having to stand for re-election, attractive salaries and a commercially proven and private system of expenses. This would link MPs firmly to their constituents but give them a much more rewarding and stable workplace whilst acknowledging their right to privacy and dignity. It would also solve the problem of the majority of voters not getting the government they voted for. MPs would become answerable to them alone and we would have government of the people by representatives they had themselves selected.
The purpose of holding a general election every five years is to hold governments to account by changing parties. General elections are hugely time-wasting and disruptive; not only does the entire government, including its Prime Minister, have to change places overnight, but the relationship between Ministers and their department is also severed. This regular bloodletting subverts democracy by giving the civil service the upper hand against a procession of unseasoned Ministers. It would make more sense to have a permanent parliament with its component parts being held accountable instead. The parliamentary term would become a settled and productive continuum marked only by the constant check and refreshment of its Members. The House of Commons would move from political chicanery, short-term fixes and mediocrity to become an institution we could all be proud of. The purpose of these changes is to ensure that the views, needs and aspirations of ordinary people are woven into the fabric of Parliament rather than being cynically exploited for votes.
These proposals would bring about the most radical yet democratic changes seen in this country since the signing of Magna Carta in 1215. Reform is plainly overdue but it will only be achieved by ordinary people making a collective decision to bring it about. It is therefore incumbent upon the political establishment and the media alike to make sure that these ideas are given a fair hearing.