Getting Better Governments
How do we make democracy better?
A serious question: How do we improve the quality of elected politicians?
Democracy is under threat from many sources, more so than since armed conflicts of the two world wars. Now the enemies are not openly fascist and marching with guns or Bolsheviks waving a red flag; they are far more subtle but just as dangerous. Now the enemies are those who control vast fortunes and seek, understandably in some ways, to ensure that all governments act in ways that ensure these vast fortunes and the mega giant international businesses keep on growing and are not hindered by considerations and concerns of the people.
Powerful elite groups can afford an army of research assistants and the most devious of political lobbyists, they can hire people to change the wording of just about anything so its original truth is distorted. George Orwell warned this would happen (the author's real name was Eric Arthur Blair; which is ironic since Britain's former prime minister, Tony Blair became one of the politicians most able to twist truth and use “new speak” to distort truth).
Democracy is also being undermined by false news, political lies, and deceitfulness. A tiny example in the last election in Britain, the Labour party claimed if elected they would abolish fees for students. It is claimed large numbers of younger voters believed this and voted labour. After the election, the truth became known that they knew they could never have delivered on the “promise.” It is not just the labour party but all parties, all politicians are fond of making promises during an election campaign and then afterwards claiming it was an aim, an intention, not a firm promise.
Social media has to accept some of the responsibility. They may not invent the lies and deceits but they do enable these to be spread. One favourite deceit is to claim an opponent is intending to do such and such; while knowing full well that have not even considered this. When the opponent refutes the lie, the originator claims they have changed policy because they exposed it. Some people will believe this.
Another factor that is undermining democracy is the growth of career politicians, people who have gone from school to university to study politics, then on to a "job" with a political based organisation, either a union or one of the main parties, sometimes with a media outlet which is known for favouring one or other side of the political spectrum. These people then get chosen, by the party machine, as a candidate in an election, often pushing out candidates chosen by local activists. They have no loyalty to the constituents, even their own electoral supporters, only to the party head office. They have very limited empathy with the majority of voters and even less understanding of those who live below the poverty line. This applies to those claiming to be socialists, just as much as to those from other parties.
How do we alter this sad and, I am afraid, worsening situation? We need to have candidates for election with real life experience, we need to free these from the party machines, we need independently minded people to represent the voters not just the party.
Pre war — WW2 — it was not unusual for an elected member of a party to so disagree with the policies being proposed by that party that they changed sides. In England, even Winston Churchill did this. Can you imagine any of the elected members of any government anywhere in the world today having the courage to do this?
We need better people in power and we need them to be free to act in the best interest of the voters.
How do we attract independent, life knowledgeable people and free them from the party machines, and those who finance (and so control) these party juggernauts?
It will not be easy as the powerful will claim any attempt to weaken their power is an attack on democracy, they will pay the best lobbyists to ensure no worthwhile changes get through to the electorate.
Two possible ways to weaken party control of the elected politicians: firstly devolve actual day-to-day control of peoples lives away from the bureaucrats at the centre of government and into the smallest possible local unit, bring back local control, accept that the experiment of centralising everything is failing the needs of the majority, and go back to local people controlling local lives. That way neither rural nor urban communities will have rules imposed on them which are not suited to the environment they are part of.
The other way is to reduce the power of parties by law. They have a limit on what they can spend in each constituency. Make it law that elected members are responsible to their local electorate, not to the party. Reduce the power of the party to discipline those who disagree with their leaders. Stop the practice whereby the leader of the party can dismiss an elected member from a position of authority; it is only the electorate who can do this.
I am very hesitant over this next suggestion, since so much is being written and said about the need to provide younger people with more say in governance, but any government needs people with life skills that can only come from experience, not from a selected book, not from the very selective teachings of a popular lecturer. They need to have had time to suffer and recover, time to have learnt the consequence of believing what politicians say. They need to have had time to earn their own living and be responsible for their mistakes. The media and the electorate need to develop tolerance for the mistakes we all make in youth. These should not be held against a candidate.
No candidate should be under 40 years old and they must have had to earn a living in the real world, not the world of politics. They must have lived in the constituency, they seek election from, for at least five years.
In America and in Britain, we are being pushed towards election victory caused by money, not by policy. Governments are elected because they have the money to impress and command media coverage, not because what they wish to do is the best for the people.
This has to be faced and defeated.