‘Parliament is broken’, is a statement which will not provoke much dissent. Most people, however, will attribute this to the avaricious behaviour of its residents, both elected and unelected. I suggest that the problem goes deeper and that the behaviour of many parliamentarians is a consequence of our broken democracy and not the cause. I will begin with the lower house, the “mother of Parliaments”.
There are currently some 646 Members of Parliament, representing a population of 61 million (1 MP for 94,000 people). Of these, around 20% have a defined job in Government and chairing some 45 committees. When not sitting on a committee, a non-ministerial MP can sit in the chamber and ...view middle of the document...
The main point, though, is the vastly reduced temptation to cheat. With a marginal constituency, it is both possible and potentially rewarding to rig the ballot. A few hundred “stolen” votes can change the political party who wins the seat – for up to five years. A few such “stolen” seats might even change the political party, which forms the government.
Votes cast by individual citizens, for particular legislation, would be in the millions. Even a 30% turnout would result in over 10 million votes. To influence such numbers would require fraud on a level which would be identified by the most rudimentary security checks.
This paper is not a proposal to eradicate MPs, rather to reduce their numbers to the point where all can be usefully employed. It seems reasonable, while depleting the numbers of MPs, to propose a system of direct voting, which is now possible as a result of new technology. Removing the requirement to vote on all legislation should take the heat out of Parliament. Parliament will propose legislation and the people will decide whether to adopt it. It should not be a resigning matter if the people were to reject some proposed legislation.
The need to appoint legislators, to vote on our behalf, was the inevitable consequence of increasing population size. The weakness in the early Greek model of democracy was the size of an arena large enough to hold all of the population. This led to representatives, who would vote, being selected by lot. The model broke down when Alexander the Great brought the region under central control.
Modern technology gives us the opportunity to introduce real democracy again, for the first time in some 2,500 years. For the first time in organised human existence we have the means to allow every citizen to vote directly on every piece of legislation. That technology exists through the internet and mobile phone networks. We no longer need to elect MPs to represent our democratic rights – we can exercise them directly ourselves.
There are, of course, some people who would find the technology beyond their compass, and it is not the purpose of this proposal to disenfranchise them. A room could be set aside in each council office and library, where an official could guide a member of the public through the process of voting – providing they take their unique voting code with them. Similarly, libraries and similar state funded institutions could make computers available for voters with no computer of their own. One hesitates to request any software from the civil service, but it is not exactly rocket science to write a piece of idiot-proof voting software that requires a “yes” or “no” decision at the end of it.
Once introduced, direct voting – on all new legislation – would overcome any current problems with equal rights. Some 50% of the population are female and all of them, above the voting age, would be entitled to vote; as would members of every other minority group.
An early question is, ‘does...