Britain was once the undisputed world leader in science, engineering, education, communication and the armed forces however we have thrown it all away. Why on earth did such an accomplished and capable nation allow this to happen? One day historians will chart the milestones on the road to our decline but a major factor will undoubtedly be a deeply-flawed political system that has consistently worked against our best interests.
The House of Commons is widely referred to as the ‘Mother of all Parliaments.’ However, it is neither the oldest parliament nor a particularly good example of how a democracy should work. It was specifically designed to promote adversity and has a rectangular debating chamber with government and opposition MPs facing each other two sword lengths apart. The theory at the time was that the physical separation of opposition and government MPs would polarise debates, thus ensuring that governments were held to account. In reality however very little proper debate ever takes place and the House of Lords spends most of its time having to cope with ill-conceived and politically-motivated legislation.
Adversarial debate often produces the best possible outcome and not just in government. It is the basis for making decisions in courts of law, boardrooms and even in family homes. However, when debates become tribal, rather than being based on fact, experience or expert testimony, outcomes are seldom good. Not only does the unremitting need to defeat the other side prevent honest debate, but MPs are often told which way to vote before the debate has even taken place. This leads to an empty chamber with no incentive to take part if your choice has been predetermined by others. This became very noticeable when TV cameras first arrived in Parliament but we were told that MPs were gainfully employed in offices nearby whilst watching the debate on their own screens. Perhaps they were but it doesn’t alter the fact that important legislation is often formed without being properly tested.
The Palace of Westminster is a historical building but traditions, such as its State opening and Black Rod, give it an air of authority, stability and gravitas that it no longer merits. Its history has been one of cynical politicking, electoral bribery and wild swings between class-based tribal parties. Over time Conservative and Labour have moved closer to the so-called ‘centre ground,’ to maximise their vote. Both parties therefore offer similar manifestos, ‘better everything,’ funded in the manner least likely to upset their own supporters.
Under the present system, policymaking is based on chasing votes rather than facts and the results become increasingly obvious with each passing day. Every aspect of our once vibrant country has been compromised by politicising the lowest common denominators and electoral bribery. Our economy is heading for a cliff with uncontrollable borrowing and impossible pension commitments, credit card consumerism has replaced manufacturing, many of our services have been overwhelmed by uncontrolled immigration and our lives are at risk from UK-based terrorists.
Until the Conservative party sidestepped its own leadership contest, it was headed for a similar fate to Labour; being torn apart in a power struggle between the party and its members. However, its reprieve is temporary and, although they are presently riding high, the Tories will eventually have to accept that reform is unavoidable. The necessary measures have been discussed many times over the years and are straightforward. Governments should allow a free vote on all issues except clear manifesto commitments, MPs should be subject to recall by their constituents and all candidates should be selected by their constituents in primary elections.
These long-overdue reforms would revitalise our political system and allow government by consensus rather than the constant need to overcome the other side. The big problem for any Prime Minister is that these reforms would also diminish their own power. It will therefore be up to the electorate to conclude the process now underway by voting only for proven and accomplished independent candidates from now on.
At present we have 650 MPs and all bar one had to stand under a party banner to get elected. Individuals have little chance of competing with hardened professionals, plus many others working behind the scenes, and the media will either ignore or ridicule them. Parliaments dominated by political parties have consistently failed to act in our best interests. It is therefore time for the electorate to take back control through independent MPs empowered to act for the common good. Britain might actually then have a ‘Mother of Parliaments’ to be proud of. The primary purpose of the Free Parliament campaign is to help our elected representatives overcome the political tribalism that has turned the House of Commons into an undemocratic parody of what a parliament should be.
Conclusion: To arrest our decline and get our country back on course, we will have to elect the best people we can find and incentivise them to work for the National Interest rather than the survival of a political party.