Harrogate (III)

“In this country we are accustomed to fight our political battles in terms of socialism and capitalism, a controlled or a free economy, the state versus the individual; but behind all this terminology the careful observer will perceive that on both sides, indeed almost everywhere, a common assumption is silently shared. It is the assumption that the citizen cannot, must not, fix his own goals or choose his own good. This is not surprising. Only exceptionally in human history has that assumption been challenged at all. Much more exceptionally has any society or nation conducted its  affairs upon the opposite assumption – that the citizen may, nay must, fix his own goals and choose his own good. This country was one of those very rare exceptions during one or two generations in the last century, though today only those in extreme old age can remember it personally. Throughout the lifetime of most of us the normal presumption, that the aims of the individual are set by the state, has re-established itself triumphantly. We do not usually notice this, partly because the modern state uses the vocabulary of individual liberty (‘human rights’, etc.), just as the totalitarian state uses the terminology of democracy.” – Enoch Powell: The Monday Club, Painters’ Hall, London, 13th July 1971

The latest in Richard North’s ‘essays‘, post Harrogate, is on the subject of Members of Parliament of whom the majority attending Harrogate wished to control, limit their powers and make them more responsive to constituents wishes. It was also agreed, I believe it correct, that limitation of government into our lives must be reduced. Yet is not the system of representative democracy, to use the words of Enoch Powell, based on the assumption that the citizen cannot, must not, fix his own goals or choose his own good. Politicians of late have an inherent trend for coercion when considering the art of government. In attempting to regulate our lives, first they ‘suggest’, then they ‘cajole’ and lastly when that does not work they ‘enforce’ by means of law. They loudly proclaim the freedom of the individual but when a wish to exercise a freedom appears, immediately a law is passed to limit that particular freedom. That our country is in decline cannot be in doubt and yet we still accept the illusion that a change of the party in office with a different ideology and even more laws can remedy our continuing demise as a country. How can our country recover when the political class has ceded not only the country’s sovereignty and thus the ability to make law unhindered but also their own honesty and morals coupled with any sense of duty. It must follow, therefore, that if it is intended to bring Members of Parliament ‘to heel’ then the system of democracy must be changed – yet comments to date on Richard North’s latest essay appear not consider that point.

If people, to again use the words of Enoch Powell, wish to fix their own goals and select their own good (which encapsulates the wish of at least one attendee) then it is necessary that they also have control over their national and local government due to the fact that so much of what national and local government does affects how people can fix their own goals and select their own good. In other words people wish for freedom to exercise initiative and choice in their lives – but does not organization from above (politicians) limit and destroy initiative and choice?

Another accepted ‘demand’ of those attending Harrogate was the need for “Referism” on the national budget, but if we are to demand referism on that subject it must logically follow we also have a need for referism on any law the political class wish to impose, either nationally or locally – a question I have posed on may occasions previously and to which I still await an answer.

In the comments to Richard North’s latest ‘essay’ there have been calls to limit the tenure of MPs but as he notes, if that were to happen how would MPs gain experience in their jobs? There were also calls at Harrogate for political parties to be banned – that only ‘Independent’ candidates should be allowed to stand. If constraint of MPs is the aim, what difference does it make whether an MP is a member of a political party or is ‘non-aligned’, if they enact that which for their constituents wish?

It is necessary to repeat something else I have stated, post Harrogate. Those wanting people power, devolution of power, referism, less centralized government and government interference are, in effect, advocating the adoption of a form of direct democracy. I would humbly suggest that that realization needs to be confronted – otherwise the discussion on separation of powers, the constitution, elected representatives and reforming local government ain’t going anywhere.

Just saying………..


21 Responses

  1. graham wood says:

    David. A quick respone to your comment:
    “If constraint of MPs is the aim, what difference does it make whether an MP is a member of a political party or ……”

    Slightly tongue in cheek. Answer: The Whips.

  2. david says:

    Oh, Clever……..

    Of course, if ‘Harrogate’ finally realizes that what it is they actually want contains elements of Direct Democracy then politicians will be more answerable to their constituents and Whips will be a thing of the past.

    If you go back to Tuesday 17th and read the last post you will find out why Whips are redundant.

  3. Peter S says:

    “The latest in Richard North’s ‘essays‘, post Harrogate, is on the subject of Members of Parliament of whom the majority attending Harrogate wished to control, limit their powers and make them more responsive to constituents wishes.”

    In a nutshell – a candidate is at liberty to change his/her mind after he is first past the post and becomes a constituency representative. In turn, the voters are denied any mechanism to do this – even though it would be a natural response.

    Introducing the Rolling Recastable Vote would solve this anomaly. Empowering voters with the ability to change their minds would give them equal rights to the representative. The representative would know he can change his mind (for whatever reason), but that it may result in his voters doing the same – and that could lead to serious consequences for the position he holds.

    • david says:

      Yes I have read previously your proposing this system. Question: the administrative cost of keeping a rolling tally of the transfer of votes, who would do this?

      Does not a recall system give exactly the end solution in one go with a recall poll if one is requested?

      • Peter S says:

        There’s only 2 pieces of information on each constituency ballot paper:

        1) The cast vote
        2) The numerical code.

        At election night, ballot papers are already counted into piles according to party.

        So the only effort required is to open the PC’s ‘Conservative’ database and scan (or type) in the code number for each paper in that pile. Repeat for the ‘Labour’ pile, LibDem pile etc.

        Once entered, the system is up and running. At any time thereafter, if a recast vote is presented at the Town Hall, admin staff simply type the code into the database and change the vote and it’s done. Or ‘recasts’ could be collected in a permanent ballot box in the Town Hall’s reception area and entered on the last Friday of each month (for example).

        Very simple and cost-effective.

        It’s funny that all other areas of life advance as technology permits – only the ballot paper has remained as a dumb slip with the space for an ‘X’ on it. I wonder who’s interest this is in?

        • Peter S says:

          “Does not a recall system give exactly the end solution in one go with a recall poll if one is requested?”

          I can see problems with recall.

          Who calls the recall?

          How would it deal with massive voter inertia?

          Once it had notched up a few scandalous results (with only a handful of voters forcing a by election) would it become ‘that mechanism’ no one dared use again?

          How would the process survive a few by elections where a representative sacked by a tiny recall vote was voted straight back in again on a different ticket?

          With the RRV system – a representative can keep track of falling support and unpopularity and use it as a caution against representing views counter to those the electorate mandated to him. He would be well aware that the consequences of ignoring voters are rapid, decisive and real.

  4. Anoneumouse says:

    Just like Euroland, Switzerland is a federal construct which is based on 26 constitutions (EUland 27).

    Swiss style direct democracy would work on a Euroland basis but I doubt if it would work in a nation with a single constitution who have a proper ‘separation of powers’.

    • david says:

      For the last time I am not proposing a cut ‘n paste of the Swiss system.

      With the introduction of referenda, referism and initiative the politician is well and truly ‘trussed’ and it would also negate the power of Whips which would be consigned to history. Their power to coerce would not withstand the politicians fear of his electorate giving him a P45.

      With the limitation of responsibility areas to central govt and devolution of all else to local authorities and further down to towns and parishes the separation of power is then carried all the way down to the lowest possible level. The fear of losing ones job extends right down to county, town and parish councillors. Whats not to like?

      • Anoneumouse says:

        David, We are not a million miles away, with regard to party, see my comment at EUReferendum.

        I still believe that a firm grasp of the testicles is the ideal solution (grasp not squeeze)

        • david says:

          And what I propose does not put those in a vice? I’d rather a vice than a firm grasp – especially where politicians are concerned!

  5. Letmethink says:

    I agree with everything you say but can’t quite bridge the gap to your conclusions (after all, we had a representative democracy for the “one or two generations last century”)

    I fundamentally believe in the freedom of the individual in the widest sense – including, in this context, freedom from government tyranny and freedom to exercise control over how our money is spent by others.

    My problem is the notion that referenda or other forms of voter approval/veto of individual policy/budget is the solution to our corroded system of governance. What encourages me is that you have introduced the concept of a “form” of direct democracy.

    • david says:

      I too wondered about that phrase – unfortunately the chap who said it is no longer with us, so neither of us can ask for clarification.

      In response to your last paragraph:

      Where is the ‘corrosion’ in government? It is that we are unable to stop any elected government implementing law we don’t like, we cannot stop them signing treaties we may not like, we cannot stop them engaging in wars we may not agree with, we cannot stop them changing our society (immigration), etc etc,for a period of 5 years. With referenda we can call a halt to any proposal when we like, especially if we impose a period twixt a bill passing its final reading and Assent in which time a referendum could be called and held.

      With the ability to raise an initiative we can force politicians to implement a law they may not want put on the statute book. For example in 2010 the Swiss voted for the immediate deportation of foreign criminals denying any judicial review. It caused a headache for the legislative legal eagles – but that was an example of people power.

      Refer to my reply to Anoneumouse above – with those sort of constraints on political behaviour any politician is severely constrained where his behaviour is concerned.

      • Letmethink says:

        Thank you for taking the time to reply to my comment.

        Yes, Enoch Powell is dead but if his speech is to be referred to then it should be referred to in its entirety.

        I couldn’t agree more with you that the fundamental nexus between those who govern and those who are governed has perhaps irretrievably broken down. In fact, I think your list only scratches the surface of the corrosion.

        My point is though that, much as I understand he strength of your argument, I still remain to be persuaded that referenda are the answer.

        I did live in Switzerland for a number of years and, as you are no doubt aware, there are very strong regional and within that cantonal affiliations, together with a body politic that is entirely different to our own. When I lived there it was necessary to obtain 100,000 signatures to trigger a referendum. Scaled up that would require something like three million over here. Not saying that would be insurmountable but it would make it extremely difficult.

        Speaking of scale, I also don’t think the idea of referenda as a solution to the ills we are discussing is scalable. Yes, I can just about see the logistics working for referenda an major government policy or their annual budget but the corrosion spreads much wider than that – to local government; quangos; regulators; education & health services, etc. Any body that receives our money should come under the same scrutiny and challenge.

        I strongly believe in the notion of direct democracy but I just can’t see it working through repeated visits to the ballot box.

        I’m afraid I still can’t get past Madison’s belief that ‘pure’ democracy will result in factional interests holding sway. In fact this was borne out to me when in Switzerland and circles back to your point that they have recently voted to deport foreign criminals. When I was there it was common to see massive billboards showing a count of the number of aliens (not guest workers) living in Switzerland at any given time. This would have required a considerable amount of money and would have dramatically swayed public opinion.

  6. Jo says:

    David said:

    “Those wanting people power, devolution of power, referism, less centralised government and government interference are, in effect, advocating the adoption of a form of direct democracy”.

    I want all of the above .. but I don’t know if I could be bothered with direct democracy (and I’m not sure the general public could either).

    What I want is a government and a Parliament that understands the exquisite virtue of all of the above, and which wants to give it to me because it’s the right thing to do .. and because it simply cannot, and should not, be otherwise. I want a Parliament where truth and honour and integrity matter, and a government I can trust.

    Why is that so hard for them to grasp? Why do we have to fight so hard for what is so patently good and honest?

    What is WRONG with them?

    Yessus! I could spit I’m so angry, really I could.

    • david says:

      For things we want, we have to fight. For things we wish to preserve, we need to take an interest.

      There has been, no doubt, times when government has proceeded down a path you strongly disapproved yet you had no way of expressing that view other than by protesting. With this element of direct democracy this would allow you to put your name to a list of others and with sufficient signatures that piece of paper would allow you to say to your government: stop, we’ll decide this.

      I would not wish to be involved in every issue Government takes, some I know nothing about, but there will be many who do. Why cannot we have the same brake for local affairs and constrain our local government? I am sure you would like some choice on how your council tax is spent?

      As to how much interest the public will take in the idea of direct democracy, we shall see if and when it is put to them.

  7. Stuart says:

    I believe Einstein once said that to define temperature as minus or plus is incorrect. In truth, temperature is just a scale not necessarily with a beginning and an end.

    If anyone is following my thinking and I haven’t gone stark raving bonkers, I think of democracy as the same. 100% direct democracy is where all 60 million of us sit around debating and creating law. Naturally we would all be starving and the GDP would be zero. The other end of the scale is where one person makes all the law I guess, and we all get on with our lives. That is simple dictatorship. I am not aware of either of these cases to exist on earth as even in dictatorships, one person does not create all the law. Maybe there are a few islands in the Pacific with a small enough population that law can be made with all the citizens having a say. So everyone else is on a scale somewhere between outright dictatorship and outright direct democracy. Representative democracy fills the gap between the two extremes.

    Can we evaluate the extremes? It is obvious that outright dictatorship would only be desirable if the single law maker had the morals and wisdom of God. As that is impossible, human dictators tend to feather their own nest and execute anyone who threatens their position. Many would criticise 100% direct democracy saying that inexperienced people make bad law-makers, the rule of the mob etc. I think on some of those islands in the pacific, law-making might be restricted to elders, people who have gained some wisdom. As this option is impossible for us, we are restricted to some level of representative democracy anyway, and always have been with our population. Yet for the last thousand years, we have been moving in a direction, towards more people having voting rights. Now everyone has them and still we are misgoverned. The reason being, that although we are governed by around 1300 people nationally, they do not have the morals or wisdom of God, any more than the rest of us. It is only natural that they want to feather their own nests and maybe not execute those who threaten their power, but then the system means they do not need to. The people, simply having the ability to vote, do not threaten their power. There are three parties and although only one can generally be in government at once, and they do fight each other for that privilege, they are never far from power. It is not as though a party ever dies or gets booted out of parliament. On the same token, no party ever enters parliament, significantly. I don’t think this is ever likely going to change. So we need to pursue our direction of travel. Voting is no longer the issue as it was in the Chartists day. The issue now is making our representatives work for us rather than themselves. We need to move the slider towards direct democracy by including the right of recall and veto referenda powers so that we can have referenda without the “permission” of parliament as my MP put it. From where we are at the moment with all three parties being completely incapable of controlling the nation’s finances, we need Referism on the yearly budget. Maybe, even moving further along the scale, and having law created by citizen initiatives via referenda? Personally I am against that last option.

    So giving the people greater control is one way of overcoming our representatives’ human weaknesses. The other is I guess improving the system with a codified constitution to stop them changing the system, which they would only do to benefit themselves. Separation of powers also makes sure no small group of people have too much power, which they will abuse no question. Separate out the electoral cycle if we separate the executive from the legislature. It all weakens their power. Bringing more power to a local level. Making sure MP’s are local produce rather than the product of the political supermarkets.

    I rest my case, for now.

    • david says:

      Agree that government is needed however that government should at all times be under the control of the people – and for that we need referendfa. We should also have referism, not just on the budget, but in any proposal politicians have. There is no need for endless referenda purely because politicians will soon learn that when formulating proposals those they need to ‘consult’ are not civil society but the people if they wish to get proposals accepted.

      I see no problem with peoples initiatives as we all know there are some laws politicians will not propose but the people would like to see – and that goes not just nationally but locally. People are not idiots, they will not support stupid proposals.

      People may say that they cant be bothered with voting say once or twice a year – but they have never had the opportunity and I believe it reasonable to think that once the idea catches on you may find public interest in matters politic rise somewhat.

  8. Stuart says:

    I have to say that the more I learn about Enoch Powell, the more I realise what a giant the man was, in my opinion on a par with people like Jefferson. In such an unprincipled institution such as the Houses of Parliament, it is no wonder he never attained the heights he deserved. The man was nothing less than a genius.

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