Tag Archives: ideas

Make Absentions Count?

I’m usually quite sceptical of a lot of the schemes you read about on tinternet for solving our problems with democracy in this country, but this idea is at least worth debating:

I want to see political parties get penalized for a low electoral turn out. In other words, if we are fed up with them to the back teeth, I want to make our voting abstentions count. My proposal is somewhere along these lines:

If the national turnout at a general election is lower than 60%, then the next general election must be called within 4 years.

If the national turnout at a general election is lower than 55%, then the next general election must be called within 3 years.

If the national turnout at a general election is lower than 50%, then the next general election must be called within 2 years.

If enough people like this idea, then we have a hope of getting it through. As a suggestion, you could visit www.writetothem.com and ask your elected MP what they think of this idea. My guess is they probably will not like it! So maybe someone out there can think of other ways to push for it.

Not sure I’d have all those different tiers, but the basic idea has appeal. What does the panel think?

Not dead yet

I’ve been terrible at blogging recently – it’s amazing how quickly you can get out of the habit. I’ve been attempting to write a piece for Hands Off Our Future only to keep getting side-tracked (this evening my excuse being the need to watch the third part of the excellent Tory! Tory! Tory!).

A couple of things:

  1. Get this week’s New Scientist while you still can. A fascinating feature about eco-cities. The broad thrust of this article is absolutely correct – we need to make our cities radically more green to survive – but the devil is very much in the detail. It leads me to ponder if we should be attempting to squeeze ever more people onto brownfield sites at all – wouldn’t we be better turning them into parks and agriculture and instead building purpose-build ecological mini-suburbs in the greenbelt.
  2. Doctor Who was great this week – completely left field. Like Will (whose site seems to be down again atm), it got me whacking on my ELO CDs (never far from my hifi). Still think Horace Wimp would have suited the story better than Mr Blue Sky though. It strikes me that the critics have been giving series two a quite unwarranted mauling, although admittedly most of the reviews I’ve read tend to like the episode they happen to be reviewing this week, just not anything else. Personally, I’ve found the excellent has vastly outweighed the mediocre. It could do with a little more bite, but I get a sense we are leading up to something rather bitey indeed…

Oh, and don’t forget Liberal Drinks this Wednesday.

The BNP, the Left and the need for reform

Following on from my rant yesterday, tenuously connecting the foundation of the Euston Manifesto with Charles Clarke pissing over every civil liberty within reach, here’s another example of how the left is just obsessed with itself:

Leaving aside the question of just how well the BNP might do in next week’s local elections, I’ve got little time for the consensus that seems to have emerged that the BNP’s alleged rise is due to Labour ignoring its traditional working class base, moving to the centre and being too friendly to rich people.

Except that this is only the consensus amongst the left, and Harry’s alternative formulation – that people just vote BNP because they’re racist – is equally over simplistic.

To be clear here, it is pretty undeniable that the vast majority of people who vote BNP do so because they accept the BNP’s scapegoating on racial and religious grounds as essentially correct. Harry is also spot on to point out that the failure of RESPECT and previously the Socialist Alliance to capitalise on the demise of Old Labour shows how the “Labour has abandoned the working class” theory is equally unsatisfactory. But if Harry’s argument is correct, we would be seeing a much bigger rise in the BNP vote across the country, and be facing a much greater threat.

There isn’t a big groundswell in support for racist policies. What we’re seeing is that in a few places people see voting BNP as the only way of having their voices heard. Yes, the fact is that their racist views (which are more widely held than we might like to think) mean that voting BNP is not as anathema to them as others, but wherever there is a vigourous political culture, the BNP do not gain a political foothold.

The real problem in these areas is that in electoral terms, they simply do not matter. Labour councillors can generally take people’s votes for granted there, but this creates a political vacuum that will either be filled by an established political party, or a fringe group, which is increasingly the BNP. In most places, it gets filled by an established political party and the result is political earthquakes such as Newcastle in 2004. But low levels of political participation means that the main parties can only focus on a limited number of places.

The real answer then is a revival of political culture. A big step forward would be electoral reform for local government, which would end one party rule; another would be a form of state funding of political parties that financially rewards mass participation and thus gives political parties an incentive to engage in the expensive business of recruitment and direct political engagement.

We have to be careful however because the wrong kind of reform in either case would do little to improve matters. Replace first past the post with a closed list system would inspire justified cynicism to breathtaking new levels. Introduce the sort of party funding that means the party’s national HQs get a big fat cheque every month for them to spend on their existing targeted and highly centralised campaigning (i.e what the Tories are currently proposing), and all you will do is seed resentment at the fact that taxpayer’s money has been lavished on ensuring the status quo.

I’m hopeful we will see progress on this over the next few months. I’m hopeful but as yet, I’m not at all confident.

Policy making as if it mattered

We’re all modernisers now, then. Personally, I detest the word. I don’t want to come over all Hoggartesque, but would anyone in politics ever claim to be an antiquator? It is a banal label that is used to present yourself as dynamic and forward looking, regardless of what you’re actually proposal.

The problem is, a lot of “modernisers” seem to be stuck in a very antiquated vision of party politics. I’m not making cheap jibes about “modernisers” wanting to emulate Gladstone, my concern here is the disdain a lot of self-appointed “modernisers” have for observing a formal policy development process, and a preference for a model whereby MPs essentially dominated political parties and members were merely keen supporters.

Over the past year, we’ve been moving increasingly towards a system of policy making by spokesperson diktat. We had it with David Laws’ pensions review in November. Increasingly we’re seeing major policy announcements being made in press releases without recourse to the party’s policy committee. It remains to be seen to what degree the new management will encourage or discourage it.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m no fan of the status quo. Over the past few years I have become less and less tolerant of policy making by conference resolution. There are three reasons for this: firstly, conference doesn’t adequately represent the whole membership and is under no pressure to do so. Secondly, it is uneccesarily divisive. Thirdly, it doesn’t change hearts and minds – it has the effect of entrenching opinion. You can win all the conference debates in the world and still never get anywhere. Trust me: when I worked for LDYS I had a proud record of never losing a single conference debate, yet the party’s 2001 manifesto had virtually none of the education policy we spent so long getting passed at conference in 1999.

However, it would be a mistake to replace it with a Tory-style system of whatever the leader says. I get the impression that some people in the Lib Dems, mainly Tory defectors, go all a-quiver at the prospect of being told what to think by a bunch of MPs. Yet it needs to be remembered that it hasn’t done the Tories many favours in the past. Labour, which has a formally very inclusive process which is generally ignored by its leadership, is now facing itself in a crisis with only activism decreasing at a faster rate than membership. What we should be moving towards is a policy development system that is more deliberative, more inclusive and is hardwired into the party’s communications strategy. It’s a tough challenge, but it can be met.

Meeting the Challenge has been a small baby step in that direction, but while some senior party officers appear to think it is a radical shift, we need to recognise that it doesn’t nearly go far enough. We need to do much more than simply produce a pack for local parties on holding a consultation meeting to adapt as they wish, and instead provide some leadership. We need a much easier “in” on the website than a series of long essays that will simply put the majority of people off, and provide a forum for people to discuss simple issues. We need to be using the process to at all times sell the party itself, our values and the fact that membership buys you a stake in the party. In short, we need to borrow shamelessly from Labour’s Big Conversation, only without the stage management and spin.

And yes, to pick up on an earlier debate, we do need to include qualititive and quantitive opinion polling in the policy development stage. The alternative – and the current situation – is far worse. If this sort of analysis is left until the end, we get what we had in 2005: a series of policy bites that don’t string togethert which happened to be the most popular in an opinion poll. Instead of settling for the fact that very few people are interested in constitutional reform, for instance, we should be exploring how it can be made more of a popular issue. Polling makes a poor master, but it can be a useful servent.

Let’s have a situation whereby the final “white papers” at the end of a consultation process don’t simply make policy pronouncements but are required to summarise the responses received and any polling data commissioned. Let’s have formal submissions posted on the party’s website for people to read. After all, we believe in openness and transparency don’t we? Let’s encourage people to both take part in the debate and have an informed opinion, rather than accept whatever the final report tells them.

Let’s have less policy at conference – after nearly 20 years, one thing the party doesn’t lack is policy. Move the consultation sessions from the graveyard slots and into the heart of conference. Allow for regular, “open mike” sessions on general themes such as education and crime which don’t make specific policy but the minutes of which will be formally tabled at a subsequent policy committee for consideration. If we have less space for policy, let’s have some kind of prioritisation. If you ask me, yes, we should replace the current “18” registration for films to be replaced by a “16” rating, but I don’t consider it to be a priority for a Lib Dem government. Ditto abolishing the monarchy. Ditto boycotting Nestle (mea culpa).

In short, we should have less policy, and do it better. There remains the issue of “interim policy” where a spokesperson has to come up with a response to a topical issue which the formal processes are simply too slow to handle. We need to see the parliamentary party to stop seeing the Policy Committee as an obstacle and instead work with it. Generally speaking, the spokespeople who do tend to get their way in any case, while the ones that don’t cause unneccesary irritation.

One change I think the party needs to consider is whether it was wise to prevent MPs from being able to stand for direct election onto federal committees. The thinking behind this in 1998 was that the parliamentary party was a small, fairly homogenous group, which managed to dominate federal committees disproportionately. Yet, the parliamentary party is no longer small, and is subsequently far less homogenous. This ban has institutionalised a “them vs us” culture which I don’t think is helpful. It is time we went back to the old model.

Having read Ming’s manifesto, I expect to see some significant changes over the next few months. I agree with the analysis that “activists” currently have too much say in the process, but it would be a gross mistake to conclude that we subsequently need to shift everything to the MP’s favour. Rather, we need a new contract that gives MPs, activists and other members a stake and ensures that when a decision is made, it is meaningful and consensual wherever possible.

Parliament should have more say over fun

Given my previous posting about scrapping the Ministry of Fun, I think this story is worth linking to.

I remain sceptical as to why the Government needs to be involved with culture and sport at all, and why it can’t be devolved to Parliament, especially while we have a license fee funded public service broadcasting service. As the Lords say, the relationship between the Beeb and government is just a little bit too cosy.

UPDATE: I appreciate this story is about the DTI (which itself bring the DCMS into question), but can anyone explain to me why the music industry can’t sort this out itself and needs government intervention?

Scrap the Ministry of Fun?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and this story (via this bloke) has got me thinking again: if the Lib Dems would abolish the DTI, then why not abolish the Department of Media, Culture and Sport at the same time?

I’m not suggesting, as Tim seems to imply (not that I’m putting words into his mouth), that we should abolish all arts subsidies, but it does make me wonder what the DCMS is actually for. Gambling, licensing laws and smoking could easily be passed onto the ODPM. The Olympic bid would suggest there is some sense in having a government interest in sporting matters, but it could easily be part of another department. Indeed, given the importance of its impartiality, I would have thought that not having a whole department with responsibility over the BBC would actually be a desirable thing. And not having a whole department with this responsibility would decrease the possibility of taxpayer’s money being wasted on something like Icons (why not just ask the BBC to do this if you’re that bothered FFS!?).

Before the Kennedy Assassination, Chris Huhne was asked to find £15bn in spending cut commitments. I think he could do worse than to look here, but I’d be really interested to know what other people think.