Constitution (4)

Posted over at my place:

Government is actually the worst failure of civilized man. There has never been a really good one, and even those that are most tolerable are arbitrary, cruel, grasping and unintelligent.” H. L. Mencken

From time to time, we have been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?”  Ronald Reagan

For some time now it must have been obvious to everyone that there is something rotten in the state of the United Kingdom (to paraphrase Shakespeare) in that our system of democracy has been but a sham. It has been a sham based on a premise that we, the people, are the masters and that those we elect to represent our views are our servants, when in fact the exact opposite has been the truth; a truth that those we elected to represent our views have managed to deny; and one that we, the people, have chosen to ignore – and which has meant that we have lived under a system of democratised dictatorship or, as some would maintain an oligarchy. Those that we have elected to represent our views have, due to the control exerted by the leaders of their parties, been subjected to following the diktats of their leaders and party whips, to the detriment of the duty imposed on them by their office; a situation that also brings discredit to those individuals as they appear to have no sense of duty, honour or principle.
Allow me to ask a question: who amongst you would agree to pay someone, together with their expenses, to carry out work on your behalf without having first obtained an estimate or quotation? Yet is that not what we do at general and local elections, wherein we provide a blank cheque to political parties – both national and local – if elected, to ‘manage’ our nation and community? Do we not agree to a blank ‘conditions of employment’ because, actually, their duties are unspecified? Do we not agree to be governed, or ruled, with no caveats imposed? Do we not agree to the concept that we are content to be regulated in thought, word and deed without any indication as to the constraints to be put upon us? Every one of us wishes to be ‘free’ to choose our own way of life, yet we agree to accept unspecified shackles imposed on us. Every one of us also agrees to manifestos offered us by political parties, manifestos which are in effect contracts of employment, yet knowing full well from previous experience, that the promises contained therein are meaningless and can be ignored or will be broken.  Another question: if we wish to be ‘free’, to make our own decisions about how we wish to lead our lives and the society and country in which we wish to live, why do we agree to be ‘governed’ or ‘ruled’ by ‘government’ in the first place? Why do we agree to those who are meant to represent us being constrained by political ‘rules’ which mean they are unable so to do, as when accepting ministerial office they are forced to support government policy and consequently must ignore the wishes of those they are meant to represent? To agree to such conditions means, to misquote Enoch |Powell, we must indeed be truly mad.
It is beyond doubt that the present two Houses of Parliament require considerable change in their composition and their membership. The House of Lords has become a placement for political appointees, those appointments being made by patronage exercised by party leaders as has the House of Commons through candidates being shoehorned into what were considered safe seats, again at the behest of party leaders. Suggestions have been made for reform of the House of Lords by means of elected members in order that it may retain its existence as a revising chamber for government policy. Reform of Parliament per se has become necessary due to the botched and ill-thought through policy of devolution instigated by the last Labour government under the premiership of Blair and most importantly to rectify the West Lothian Question.
That which follows is but a suggestion for how change might be introduced, once we are free of the European Union, to negate the situation that we now have, one that I term an ‘elected dictatorship’, thus returning power to where it belongs, namely the people.
Starting with the premise that for individual liberty to exist it becomes necessary that government intervention be limited and the first requirement of any suggested change is to constrain those matters for which a national government is responsible. It then must logically follow that the patronage and areas of decision making exercised by party leaders be limited, together with that of party whips, where candidates standing for any political party is concerned be that at national or local level. The next limitation on misuse of position to be addressed is the ability of an electorate to have the choice of recalling any elected candidate for failure of acceptable standards of behaviour, coupled with the failure to represent the majority view of his electorate. Finally, the people must have the right to challenge any decision made by those elected representatives. Consequently, with the intention that the United Kingdom remains just that, a united kingdom and one with the minimum of government, it is proposed:
  • National government will be responsible for foreign affairs, defence of the realm, immigration, national resources, energy and taxation in order to finance only the foregoing, with all other areas of responsibility being devolved to county authorities, including taxation thus making them self-financing. As the area of responsibility is severely curtailed so can the number of elected representatives be curtailed and thus reduced to say 300/350¹, coupled with the point that as the areas of responsibility have been curtailed, so the number of ‘sitting days’ can be curtailed.This curtailment of ‘sitting days’ would also negate the necessity for ‘second homes’ as the cost of hotel accommodation could be claimed for any overnight(s) that may be necessary. Also as the responsibilities have been curtailed, so would the existing responsibility to individual members of the electorate thus lessening any workload.
  • All elected members, both national and local, should be answerable to their electorates, so it is logical to require that political parties allow an electorate of a constituency, or local ward, to choose the candidate from a list supplied by each party, ie by the system known as Open Primaries. Likewise it is important that electorates have the right to recall their representative, without any political interference/intervention, by means of a petition signed by say 10% of the electorate.
  • No decision that affects the United Kingdom, its independence, security or its peoples can be made law without the agreement of the people by means of a referendum called by a petition signed by say 10% of the total electorate.
  • Any decision made by the national elected representatives can be challenged by the people, again by means of a referendum called by a petition signed by say 10% of the total electorate.
  • Proposals for taxation to pay for those areas of responsibility mentioned above must be presented by political parties at general elections in the form of an estimate/quotation in order that the voters can see where and how their money is to be spent.
  • All manifestos to have the legal status of a contract, one twixt political party and the people, with the right of redress where any section of that contract is broken.
 Reverting to the question of the House of Lords and what changes are necessary, many suggestions have been forthcoming from an elected assembly to the recent proposal by Ukip that the House of Lords becomes the House of Legislature and the House of Commons becomes the English Parliament with another layer of government which would include a First Minister, more politicians and the necessary bureaucratic support. In view of the flawed devolution process which created the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly one can see the idea that an English Parliament would ‘level the playing field’ – yet if all ‘local’ matters were to be devolved to county authorities why would it be necessary for any ‘national parliament’ to exist? The House of Lords was originally conceived as an amending chamber, one to check any possible ‘excesses’ by the House of Commons, yet if the people have the ability to check any ‘excesses’ by their elected representatives (see above) then why is such a chamber necessary either?
The argument will no doubt be made that people are not sufficiently interested in politics to perform that ‘checking’ function and it is an understandable point of view to a certain extent but, conversely they have never been given the opportunity, so who is to say? Inexperienced they may be, but could they make a worse job of governing themselves than politicians have made governing us? Keith Joseph said something that is very true, which is by giving people responsibility you make them more responsible. By handing back what is, in effect, the governance of the nation to the peope will negate the political ability to play fast and loose with our nation, it’s finances, it’s society and it’s future because whichever political party has a majority and whatever their political beliefs as a party, they will be unable to impose that idealogy on the electorate. On the subject of imposing idealogy, one asect of political life that would cease under my suggestion is that state funding of quangos/ngos/fake charities would immediately cease. Of course such organisations wishing to influence public opinion should have the right to exist – however they will do so by a reliance on donations, a method which should soon ‘sort the wheat from the chaff’, so to speak.
Some may say that the above suggestion is far too simple, but then is not simplicity a factor in the best of methods? What more is needed by way of embellishment as those elected would be but managers of the people’s will – and how many managers does one need?

Part (5) will deal with local responsibilities and will, logically, be longer in content and with more detail. I would also hope to include a draft Constitution for consideration.

¹ The figure is suggested to cater for the fact that there are approximately 130 counties in the United Kingdom, plus cities such as London, Manchester, Birmingham etc. Whilst this would mean a representation factor far beyond the Electoral Quota of +/- 5%, this matters not as with the majority of functions presently carried out by MPs being handed to local MPs (or councillors) it would be the latter who would be dealing with constituents individual local concerns. What it allows for is one elected representative per county and possibly 3/4 per large city.
Afterthought: There may well be other areas that national politicians would need to manage – the thought has just occured about state pensions – but as I intimated, this is but a ‘draft’ of an idea, so comments are more than welcome (which no doubt will be forthcoming…….)

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15 comments for “Constitution (4)

  1. ivan
    September 14, 2011 at 1:03 am

    Why not, in this electronic age, go the whole hog and do away with parliament and local government and just put in a board of directors to oversee the running of the country and have the qualified people* vote directly on everything.

    * Qualified people, residence of at least 10 years, paid taxes for at least 5 years ….

    • September 14, 2011 at 7:34 am

      A few problems there: first I’d recommend to everyone in favour of qualification to live, work and pay tax in a country where you can’t vote, at least initially. I chose to knowing that I’d have no vote but it made me all too aware that I was at the mercy of those who did and had to trust that they not vote in anyone who was going to do anything too shitty to those who had no say.

      Second problem is that those with the vote invariably vote in someone who is at the very least slightly shitty, and usually gets worse as they spend longer in office (or on the board in your example). This doesn’t go away with direct democracy and everyone voting on everything and could conceivably get worse. Would, for example, free education, free school meals, free milk, free healthcare and so on all still be proposed and voted in favour of? I suspect they probably would, but the majority that vote for free things are effectively voting for the minority to pick up the bills. The old tyranny of the majority thing, and I’m still unsure if that’s a bug or a feature.

      Third problem is the tax qualification. Since everyone who’s ever bought anything with VAT on it is a taxpayer I assume you’re just talking income tax. But then anyone who raised the tax threshold – and it wouldn’t need to be anything like as low as it is under what WfW proposes – would disenfranchise everyone who benefitted from it. Why should someone who’s found a way to live and make ends meet just below the tax threshold, especially if it’s raised to a level where benefits wouldn’t be needed, be deprived of a vote?

      Now if you suggested that benefit recipients had no vote, that it’d be a simple choice of either franchise or financial support from taxpayers and if you want one then you must exchange the other for it, that’d get me reaching for the thumbs up smiley (which unfortunately we haven’t got – I’d shrug but we don’t have that either).

      • Bill
        September 14, 2011 at 8:28 am

        Pay your tax and you get a vote
        Don’t pay tax and you don’t get a vote

        Now that would be interesting.

        • WitteringWitney
          September 14, 2011 at 9:46 am

          It would but would be unfair in certain cases, as I have tried to explain to AngryExile.

          • September 14, 2011 at 10:53 am

            Yep, and you must have succeeded because it’s more or less what I said above. More to the point, if what you proposed ever happens it’d probably be unfair in quite a lot of cases. Cutting down on the role of the national government should vastly reduce the money it needs so it’s not impossible that you’d need to earn several times the six or seven grand that now puts you into the first income tax bracket. Pulling a number out of the air, why should people on £24,000 a year not get a vote because the government doesn’t need to start squeezing them until they’re on £25K? And if they’re able to get by on £24K, and without tax that doesn’t seem that unlikely, why should that cost them a vote? To take the problem to an extreme, what if the shrunken government was able to get by on, say, VAT and CGT and scrapped national income tax altogether? Would nobody have the vote? It’s also a little problematic that the UK now has so many taxes and stealth taxes that it’s pretty much impossible not to be a taxpayer.

            If there’s to be that kind of qualification I’d suggest it should ideally be a disqualification for being a net drain on the state. If your contribution is zero or greater, and due to indirect taxes anyone paying no income tax but receiving no benefits will still be a contributor, you get a vote. If your contribution is a negative number then you don’t. This might be difficult in reality which is why I suggested that maybe the franchise and welfare should be an either/or thing, but the tax and welfare system strikes be as having been overly complicated even before it got Browned. If both were reformed and combined into a negative income tax system (assuming income tax is kept – it was supposed to be temporary and 200 years later the bloody thing’s still here, so I’d like to consider ways to get rid of it) it would be easy to tie the qualification to vote to earnings.

          • Bill
            September 14, 2011 at 12:52 pm

            Fairness is a subjective judgement. We have had 30 years or more of socialists seeking fairness for all and look where its got us.

            Give most people a choice between no taxation or no vote and my money would be on a landslide win for no taxation.
            Voting perpetuates statism. Statism perpetuates the minority benefitting from the majority whilst giving the impression that it is democracy.

      • WitteringWitney
        September 14, 2011 at 9:45 am

        On the vote matter, I believe all should have a vote, after a qualification period for immigrants who can show a work/tax paying record – 10 years would be acceptable, I think.

        I would want a flat tax system, a tax threshold of £12k and benefits kept to a minimum level as an incentive to get off them.

        To deny a vote to benefit recipients would disenfranchise someone made redundant through no fault of their own and that would be unfair, would it not?

        That voting is tribal at the moment cannot be denied and is why idiots seem to get elected. With open primaries at least the people get to choose who goes forward, so that hopefully would break the tribalism.

        As to the majority holding sway thingy, surely that is what must happen? If a minority don’t like something and feel strongly about it they have the option to move somewhere else, don’t they?

        • September 14, 2011 at 10:23 am

          As to the majority holding sway thingy, surely that is what must happen?

          That is what does happen. I’m not sure why it is what must happen (apart from the obvious problem that all the alternatives tried have been worse) or why we accept that what the majority decide is okay. If the majority decide to re-introduce slavery would it be right or wrong?

        • September 14, 2011 at 10:56 am

          To deny a vote to benefit recipients would disenfranchise someone made redundant through no fault of their own and that would be unfair, would it not?

          Sorry, I missed that para and it’s an excellent point. But wouldn’t it also be an incentive to insure yourself against the possibility of redundancy and/or save money for rainy days as people often used to?

    • WitteringWitney
      September 14, 2011 at 9:34 am

      That Ivan is taking things to an unworkable extreme, methinks!

      • ivan
        September 14, 2011 at 10:19 pm

        Not necessarily. We have the technology to give everyone qualified the ability to vote on matters of state – something that would be much more representative of what the people want than we have today.

        Another thing. With the ‘government’ being the board of directors and the counties being area offices, both having to face an AGM of share holders every year – something that would concentrate the mind much more than anything we have today – the country should end up with people that know what they are doing running it, not the mindless party idiots we have at the moment.

        This proposal might not be the ultimate way forward but it has got people thinking – see the comments above.

  2. Voice of Reason
    September 14, 2011 at 3:10 am

    In the US, we have open primaries, and still the same buggers get in, or the apparently looney party members.

  3. Bill
    September 14, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    All taxation is theft. The state is unaffordable and it will never reform itself nor will it downsize itself so the only options are starve the beast to kill it off, (don’t pay its taxes) or sweep it away and replace it with something, smaller, more affordable, more effective, similar to the current Belgium system.

    They don’t seem to be doing too badly wthout a ‘fucntioning’ government. Or if having no government is too scary then replicate the Swiss model.That seems to work pretty well.

    • WitteringWitney
      September 15, 2011 at 11:36 am

      Replication allthough not total replication of the Swiss system is what I am proposing, as you will see in the next part.

      • Bill
        September 15, 2011 at 12:35 pm

        So at least two of us are drinking from the same cup!

Comments are closed.