Wednesday, 16 January 2008

The People Into Parliament

An anonymous comment yesterday asked my specific proposals for increasing working-class representation. So, without claiming at this stage to speak on behalf of anyone except myself, I propose the following non-exhaustive programme for reform.

The restoration of the supremacy of British over EU law, and the requirement that the latter be passed by both Houses of Parliament exactly as if it had originated in one or other of them. No ruling either of the European Court of Justice or of the European Court of Human Rights to apply in the United Kingdom except by resolution of the House of Commons. No court in the United Kingdom to have any power to strike down any part of the Statute Law. A statutory ban on any British Minister’s attendance at the Council of Ministers until it meets in public and publishes an Official Report akin to Hansard. The Parliament of the United Kingdom routinely to exercise its right to enact legislation supreme over that enacted by any devolved body.

A new and powerful second chamber, the Senate, taking over the existing powers of the House of Lords, and also exercising the same revising powers in relation to devolved bodies. The Senate to have an absolute veto over any Bill passed by the House of Commons (or any devolved body) without a vote, including any EU legislation passed by negative resolution of the House of Commons. And the Senate to have the power to require a referendum on any Bill already designated as constitutional for the purposes of the procedures of the House of Commons.

Each of the ninety-nine areas having a Lord Lieutenant to elect six Senators (who would have to have been registered voters there throughout the previous five years), with each voter voting for one candidate by means of an X, and with the six highest-scoring candidates declared elected at the end. The whole country to elect a further six Crossbenchers by the same means. The Senate to have a fixed term of six years, and Senators to have the same remuneration and expenses as MPs.

The country to be divided into one hundred constituencies, with as near as possible to equally sized electorates, and with their boundaries straddling the United Kingdom’s internal borders wherever possible. Each constituency to elect six MPs, with each voter voting for one candidate by means of an X, and with the six highest-scoring candidates declared elected at the end. Replacement of the deposit with a requirement of nomination by five per cent of registered voters, also applicable to other elections. The House of Commons to have a fixed term of four years.

In the course of each Parliament, each party to submit a shortlist of the two candidates nominated by the most branches (including those of affiliated organisations where applicable) to a binding ballot of the whole electorate at constituency level for the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, at county level for the Senate Candidate, and at national level for the Leader. All the ballots for Prospective Parliamentary Candidate to be held on the same day, all the ballots for Senate Candidate to be held on the same day, and all the ballots for Leader to be held on the same day. Each of these ballots to be held at public expense at the request of five per cent or more of registered voters in the constituency, the county, or the country, as appropriate.

Each candidate in each of these ballots to have a tax-free campaigning allowance out of public funds, conditional upon matching funding by resolution of a membership organisation. The name of that organisation to appear on the ballot paper after that of the candidate. A ban on all other campaign funding, and on all campaign spending above twice that allowance.

In the course of each Parliament, each party to submit to a binding ballot of the whole electorate the ten policies proposed by the most branches (including those of affiliated organisations where applicable), with voters entitled to vote for up to two, and with the highest-scoring seven guaranteed inclusion in the next General Election Manifesto. All of these ballots to be held on the same day, and each of them to be held at public expense at the request of five per cent or more of registered voters in the country. The official campaign for each policy to have a tax-free campaign allowance, conditional upon matching funding by resolution of a membership organisation. The name of that organisation to appear on the ballot paper after that of the policy. A ban on all other campaign funding, and on all campaign spending above twice that allowance.

Each MP and each Senator to have an annual tax-free allowance transferable to the political party or other campaigning organisation of his or her choice, conditional upon matching funding by resolution of a membership organisation. The name of that organisation to appear on the ballot paper in brackets after the party or other designation. A ban on all other party funding, and on all party spending per year above 2400 times that allowance.

A system of party caucuses, and also of other caucuses, such as that of Independents, or that of more than one party banded together for the purpose. Caucuses to be made up of MPs and Senators. No MP or Senator to be a member of more than one caucus simultaneously. Each caucus including one sixth or more of the House of Commons to be entitled to a number of Ministers at each level proportionate to its numerical strength (among qualifying caucuses) in the House of Commons. The caucus to elect annually its nominees for office at each level, with each member entitled to vote for up to one third of the requisite number.

The Prime Minister (though still formally appointed by the monarch) to be elected by the caucus having the most members in the House of Commons, or, where two or more caucuses have equally the largest number of MPs, by the caucus whose members in the House of Commons received the highest number of votes at the preceding General Election. Portfolios to be allocated by the Prime Minister (always a member of the House of Commons, and limited to two terms as Prime Minister) to those thus elected. No caucus to have more than one Minister in any one Department. Any sufficiently large caucus which refuses to participate to be replaced with the next largest in terms of numerical strength in the House of Commons.

In each House separately, every caucus to elect a number of members to each Select Committee proportionate to its strength in that House. Select Committee Chairmen to be elected by secret ballot of the whole House. Select Committees to have power to propose amendments to legislation, and to introduce legislation of their own, within their respective policy areas. Restoration of the situation whereby any Bill is lost of it runs out of time in either House at the end of a parliamentary session.

Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and each of the nine English regions (with their boundaries adjusted in line with the county boundaries used to elect the Senate) to elect six unpaid and politically independent Tribunes, for fixed terms of six years. In each area, two Tribunes to be elected by and from among voters in social groups A and B, two by and from among voters in social groups C1 and C2, and two by and from among voters in social groups D and E. Each voter to vote for one candidate by means of an X, with the two highest scorers declared elected at the end. The county areas used for electing Senators to be grouped into nine groups of eleven from the most urban to the most rural, with two further Tribunes to be elected as above by each of the three categories in each of the nine groups.

Each candidate for Tribune to have a tax-free campaigning allowance out of public funds, conditional upon matching funding by resolution of a membership organisation. The name of that organisation to appear on the ballot paper after that of the candidate. A ban on all other campaign funding, and on all campaign spending above twice that allowance.

Any forty-two Tribunes to have the power to require that, before being submitted for Royal Assent, the final text of any Bill be confirmed by a resolution of at least five hundred Senators (except for Money Bills) and at least five hundred MPs (for all Bills).

Each person first elected as an MP, a Senator or a Tribune to name as Guardians of the Realm (GRs) five constituents and five others (or ten constituents in the case of Senators elected by the whole country, who would be required to name one resident in each of the ten areas set out below for use in electing BBC Trustees and others). Guardians of the Realm to be unpaid, to be politically independent, to hold office for life, and to protect moral and spiritual values, with any third of them having the same power as any forty-two Tribunes.

The powers of local government to be restored as far as possible to the form that they took in 1978. Each local authority to comprise an equal number of Councillors and Aldermen. Councillors to be elected by each voter voting for one candidate by means of an X, with the six highest scorers declared elected at the end. Two Aldermen to be elected by and from among each Ward’s voters in social groups A and B, two by and from among each Ward’s voters in social groups C1 and C2, and two by and from among each Ward’s voters in social groups D and E.

A proper committee system to be restored, with each committee containing an equal number of Councillors and Aldermen, and an equal number of Aldermen from each of the three categories. Committee Chairmanships and Vice-Chairmanships to be allocated as above for Ministerial office. The number of a local authority’s nominees to any body dealing with education (including any school’s governing body), health, transport, housing, policing or any other matter to be three or a multiple of three, with mandatory equal representation for the social groups A and B, the social groups C1 and C2, and the social groups D and E.

A mixture of property-based and other forms of taxation in order to fund local government. Central government’s powers over local government to be handed over to a wholly independent Local Government Commission elected as below for the BBC Trust and other bodies.

Television licence fee-payers in each of ten areas (formed from those used to elect the Senate) to elect two politically independent BBC Trustees by voting for one candidate by means of an X, with the two highest scorers declared elected at the end. Those ten areas to be: the Highlands, Islands and North East of Scotland; Northern Ireland and the West of Scotland; Cumbria and the South West of Scotland; Lancashire, Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and North Wales; the West Midlands, and Mid and West Wales; South Wales and the West Country; London, the South East and East Anglia; the Eat Midlands and Yorkshire; the North East of England and the South East of Scotland; and Lothians, Fife and Mid-Scotland. A Chairman to be appointed by the Secretary of State with the approval of the relevant Select Committees of the Senate and of the House of Commons.

All Trustees to hold office for four years. The same means to be employed, with universal suffrage, in order to elect such bodies as Ofcom, the Press Complaints Commission, and the Human Fertilisation and embryology Authority. All such bodies, including the BBC Trust, to meet in public under any circumstance when a local authority would be so required.

No person or other interest to be permitted to own a stake of more than twenty per cent in more than one national daily newspaper, or in more than one national weekly newspaper, or in more than one television station (counting ITV regional franchises separately for this purpose).

And the networks of local and regional newspapers to syndicate nationally a columnist from each of their respective titles (perhaps in the form of a weekly supplement), and to seek such an outlet in the national Press as such. Radio and television panel-based discussion programmes that tour the country to be firmly expected to visit in the course of any two-year period all the areas used for the election of Senators, and to feature as panellists both elected representatives and other public figures from the area in question in each case.

These reforms would restore the very purpose of Parliament, and require it to sit with decent frequency. They would challenge the authority of the House of Commons precisely by challenging it to exercise and to guard that authority. They would guarantee representation to the natural communities still given ceremonial, but often no other formal, expression.

They would ensure that there were never fewer than six parties in Parliament, that a dozen or more parties (none of them the present ones) could flourish in practice, that Independent voices were heard, that any party or other grouping having significant representation in the House of Commons was represented in government unless it chose otherwise, that that representation in turn reflected that party’s or grouping’s internal diversity, that any party or other grouping desiring such importance would require substantial support in every part of the country, and that no one could any longer make frivolous or malicious use of money in order to disrupt or demean the electoral process.

They would require candidates to have strong local bases and strong ties to wider civil society, the former in order to secure selection or re-selection, the latter in order to secure funding. They would compel parties both to choose Leaders and to formulate parties acceptable to mainstream public opinion. They would give real power to individual parliamentarians and to Select Committees. They would necessitate that legislators take into account the potential impact of their proposals on all classes, and on all areas from the most urban to the most rural, informed by necessary attention to the wide variety of moral and spiritual values held in the population at large.

They would re-create local government properly so called, encourage people of talent and experience to stand for election thereto, preclude one-party fiefdoms at local level, and prevent the restriction to 'the great and the good' of the opportunity to serve in local government and in the positions dependent on it.

And they would make the BBC answerable to those who pay for it, various other public bodies answerable to those affected by their decisions, and the wider media safe from monopolisation, with those who would wish to be informed people in each part of the country having access to perspectives from every part of the country.

The United Kingdom is one of the world’s most pluralistic societies, and accordingly has one of the world’s most critical (including self-critical) cultures. It therefore needs and deserves a pluralistic and critical (including self-critical) Parliament and Government, pluralistic and critical (including self-critical) institutions generally, pluralistic and critical (including self-critical) political parties, and pluralistic and critical (including self-critical) media.

Any thoughts?

13 comments:

  1. Break Dancing Jesus16 January 2008 at 17:24

    Yep, you wrote the anonymous comment you ridiculous man!

    Stop ripping off David Hume's "Idea of a Pefect Commonwealth".

    ReplyDelete
  2. No, I didn't, but that would be a futile argument.

    As for Hume, that's certainly the first time that I've ever been compared to him!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I can confirm that I wrote the comment, not David. And I am reminded of jg's words yesterday:

    "You could be describing the attitude of David's extremely New Labour main critic: the working class are just kaffirs. This person wants to succeed Hilary Armstrong, but will probably be deemed too local by New Labour and passed over for someone even more like that from inside the Westminster machine."

    It seems that "this person" now has a name: break dancing jesus.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yes, bdj (as David would no doubt prefer us to call him on this blog) does seem to be "this person".

    Either that, or bdj is the artist formerly known to anonymous posters here as "Mockney Public School Tw@t". I must confess that I have never met MPST.

    Anyway, I defy bdj to tell us anything about David Hume or his 'Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth'. We'll be checking for copies and pastes from Wikipedia and the like.

    The commonwealth set out in this post strikes me as perfect indeed, which is why it is such a threat to the likes of bdj. Any thoughts as to what the party composition might be?

    Your father would have made an excellent Guardian of the Realm.

    Why aren't you Prime Minister, David? Why?

    ReplyDelete
  5. You are very kind about my father, jg. Actually, prompted by an email, I am musing about whom I would nominate as a GR. Not that I'd share any such thoughts over the Internet, obviously.

    As to parties, I'd expect the major powers in the land to include a High Tory paleocon party, an Old Labour Left party, an Old Liberal party, and a party of economically social-democratic, morally and socially conservative British and Commonwealth patriots.

    Less mighty, but still significant, would be a Europhile/Atlanticist SDP/Tory Reform Group party, a party libertarian both economically and socially (and as neocon as anybody by then in foreign policy terms), and some sort of Green party (though not the present one).

    But there'd be lots more. They might not all be in Parliament all the time, but that way General Elections would be real contests.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Some questions:
    1.) Why keep the BBC, and why is it so important?
    2.) Why divide suffrage by social class?
    3.) Why necessitate such huge numbers of political parties?

    ReplyDelete
  7. 1. Anything else would be even worse. And the best of the BBC is still the best in the world.

    2. Although the ABC1C2DE classification is far from perfect, it's the best available. All classes - among other categories - need to be able to protect their interests within the constitutional framework.

    3. They would simply reflect the reality of public opinion. At present we have one party with three names, and that's it. That party's position bears no resemblance to any substantial body of public opinion on any subject whatever. No wonder that hardly anybody votes.

    Furthermore, as proposed here, national parties really would have to be exactly that: guaranteed ministerial office only if they won one of the six seats in each and every one of the hundred constituencies into which the whole country had been divided, and requiring support in the most urban areas, the most rural areas, and everywhere in between, in order to have any real influence in the Senate.

    In practice, governments would have to do something for (or at least not do something to) the supporters of each of the four, and possibly five or six, largest parties in order to be able, politically, to do anything for the supporters of any of them. Those somethings would not necessarily need to be related to each other.

    So Farepak would have been sorted out long ago, there would be no hunting ban, nobody would be talking about ID cards or locking people up for weeks on end without charge, there would certainly have been no British participation in the Iraq War (of the seven parties that I suggested, only one might even possibly have supported any such participation, and that was one of the three smaller ones) - make your own list.

    ReplyDelete
  8. How about also electing six people each of whom would have the right to require any Bill to receive the support of 500 MPs and 500 Senators before being sent for Royal Assent?

    The 10 people with the most nominations would be the candidates, we'd each vote for one, and the top six would get in. Four year terms, I think. And they could also perform some ceremonial duties around the country.

    Also, how about abolishing regional and district tiers of local government, and massively increasing the number and powers of Parish and Town Councils, in urban as well as rural areas?

    Now that this is pretty much what's going to happen in County Durham, are you going to put up for the new unitary authority?

    Given the boundaries of the Lanchester ward, we're back to your father again, still much more popular even in death than the current County Councillor is in life. And down the hill you're a much more popular figure than he is yourself. You'd walk it.

    ReplyDelete
  9. The first idea is worth thinking about, yes.

    And so is the second, although I'm not sure how you'd get the class mix to work at Parish level, and we'd need allowances if we were going to have to give up that much more time.

    As for the unitary authority, it depends who the other candidates are. But I take your point...

    ReplyDelete
  10. break dancing jesus17 January 2008 at 17:22

    He came last when he stood for the District Council last year.

    ReplyDelete
  11. But that didn't include his father's old parish (where he was greatly revered), and it wasn't against the current County Councillor, who didn't even dare defend his Parish Council seat on the same day.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I've been thinking about p's first idea. Perhaps it would work better if a joint session of the two Houses elected, from outside the membership of either and by secret ballot, eight such persons? What might they be called?

    ReplyDelete
  13. PLEASE stand in May, David. Burnhope and the council estates in Lanchester are crying out for a true friend like you.

    You would carry Burnhope on name recognition alone. And your only enemies in Lanchester are the most reviled and ridiculed people in the place. Even most of the Labour Party there would vote for you rather than for Forster or Fleming.

    Are Certain Forces still trying to drive you out of your home?

    ReplyDelete