4 ideas to make our political system more democratic

The Telegraph reported yesterday that a House of Commons committee has called for the abolition of the monarchy’s role in signing off new laws. The Political and Constitutional Reform committee said that the role of the monarchy in giving approval to new legislation was “arcane and complex”.

The Queen and Prince Charles are still asked to approve laws which relate to royal powers, and Whitehall documents published last year (after Freedom of Information requests) showed that 39 bills have been subject to Royal approval.

The committee also claimed that government ministers are using royal approval as an effective power of veto over private members bills, by advising that royal consent should be refused.

The abolition of royal consent is a much-needed democratic reform. There are others though, such as the following:

1. Proportional Representation

The oddities of the current First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system mean the amount of support which a party has across the country does not directly translate into the number of seats it gains at Westminster. In other words, the political make up of the Commons does not accurately represent the views of the country at large.

FPTP also means voters who live in safe seats do not have a real chance of making their vote count, with political parties instead concentrating their resources on marginal seats.

The way to change this situation is to introduce a system of Proportional Representation (PR). One of the most prominent models of PR is the Single Transferable Vote system, which is used in local elections in Scotland, various elections in Northern Ireland (Assembly, European and local elections), most elections in the Irish Republic, and in the Australian Senate.

Other models include the Additional Member System (a hybrid of FPTP and PR, used in elections to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Greater London Assembly), and party list systems.

Speaking to Left Foot Forward, Will Brett, head of media at the Electoral Reform Society, said the current system resulted in “wasted votes”:

“Parties continue to focus all their time, money and effort on a handful of marginal seats, so just a few thousand voters can decide who runs Britain. And whole parts of the country are ‘electoral deserts’ where parties have no representation despite having real support. Just ask Labour supporters across the South or Conservatives in Scotland and Wales.”

2. The Right to Recall

The right to recall would revitalise democracy by making MPs more accountable to the electorate, and providing a strong incentive against corruption. The Conservative 2010 manifesto and the coalition document included commitments to introduce the right to recall MPs, but the government has not delivered on this.

When the government was thinking about introducing this policy back in June last year, their plans were criticised for placing the power to recall MPs in the hands of a committee of MPs, rather than the voters.

The most common proposal to implement the right to recall is to enable people to trigger a by-election in their constituency if they can get enough voters to sign a petition. Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, who is a long-standing campaigner on this issue, argues that this should be 20 per cent of voters in a constituency.

3. An elected House of Lords

Various attempts at Lords reform have been made from the early 20th century onwards, but the anachronism of an unelected upper house still exists. The most recent failed attempt to reform the Lords took place in 2012, when the government dropped its plans for reform.

It is often argued that Lords reform is seen by voters as an irrelevance. However this has not always been the case. At the start of the 20th century, the Liberal Party’s campaign to reform the Lords gained widespread support by focusing on the theme of ‘peers versus the people’.

Guy Lodge and Michael Kenny also argue that Lords reform could strike a chord with the electorate, if it was tied to public concerns about unaccountable government and excessive power wielded by political, economic and media elites.

4. Scrap the Lobbying Bill

The Lobbying Bill, which passed through the House of Lords at the end of January, has been widely criticised as a draconian piece of legislation that will restrict the ability of charities and pressure groups to carry out their campaigning activities. The bill will place limits on the amount of money charities can spend on campaigning on political issues in the run up to a general election.

The campaign against the Lobbying Bill involves a diverse range of organisations, some of which have sharply conflicting views (for example, the National Secular Society and the religiously conservative Christian Institute). However all of these organisations are united against the Bill because it would make their campaigning work more difficult, no matter what cause they are trying to advance.

To make matters worse, the Bill will not even deal with the lobbying abuses which it was supposed to crack down on. It was reported in the Independent earlier this week that senior Tory peer Lord Blencathra has signed a £12,000-a-month contract to lobby MPs and peers on behalf of the Cayman Islands, a known tax haven. Representatives of the lobbying industry pointed out that the Lobbying Bill will do nothing to stop this kind of behaviour.

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12 Responses to “4 ideas to make our political system more democratic”

  1. failquail

    Looks good, number one is especially important. I’ve never had a vote that counted in my life because of FPTP

  2. Norfolk29

    I cannot see the proportional representation bill coming up again as it revealed, more than anything else, the lack of ability of many people to understand how we vote and how votes are counted. People like Lord John Reid also showed that they could not count That (apart from his treasonable willingness to share a platform of the NO Campaign with David Cameron) should have sunk the No Campaign but it boosted it.
    However some remedy to the current FPTP is required and I think the French system is as good as any, with two votes, two weeks apart. After the first vote, if no one gets 50% of the total votes, all but the top two candidates are eliminated and the top two go into the next vote. Then people have to make up their minds what type of candidate they really want.

  3. Barry Scarfe

    I agree. I live in Eric Pickle’s seat of Brentwood and Ongar in Essex. It has always been a very safe Tory seat and at the last election his majority was 16,920 and a percentage majority of 33.4% over the Liberal Democrats. He got a 56.9% share of the vote compared to the LD share of 23.5% so it would take a huge swing of nearly 17% to the Lib Dems for him to lose the constituency to them. I believe Brentwood and Ongar is roughly in the top 35 or so safest Tory seats in Britain. My local government ward is also safely Tory. To put it mildly, if you are not a Tory in this seat you may as well stay at home.

    FPTP is also damaging to the unity of Great Britain. It doesn’t do the Union much good if the Conservative and Unionist Party can’t obtain many seats in Scotland due to the fact their 412,000 voters are represented by just ONE MP.

  4. robertcp

    The French system could be worth a try, although it is actually very similar to AV.

  5. Conrad

    I think AV+ would work better in our country better than PR, but would welcome either over FPTP. But why always jump to more representative government? The US has an elected upper chamber but it doesn’t stop the corruption, if we actually wanted a real democratic shift then why not make an upper house whose vote is decided by the people? It would require little more than a well monitored site that puts up legislation and a voting option somewhere and if we set up hubs to cope with the traffic you would have a directly democratic legislative body that would give we the people a direct means of holding our representatives to account? I don’t think direct lower house would work well because it’s good to have representatives who are paid to think about legislation, but it would stop the government pushing through repressive terror legislation that everyone largely agrees is undesirable. If we trust in democracy and we have the technology then why should we always compromise with elected representatives that no-one really knows. Everything else seems like good ideas though, but i’m not sure they would have much impact on their own without something truly radical and democratic.

  6. failquail

    I live in a borderline tory/labour seat. But as i consider both to be offshoots of the same rightwing party, my ‘choice’ is rightwing, rightwing or have my vote discarded by FPTP :/

    The most annoying thing is though, if i lived just 20 miles away i could vote for the greens AND have my vote count.

    The whole fact your vote is so incredibly dependant on whereabouts you live is the most undemocratic part of our voting system :/

  7. uglyfatbloke

    We won’t get democratic reform because it does n’t suited either of the big parties.

  8. Barry Scarfe

    Indeed. The value of somebody’s vote shouldn’t depend upon the very arbitrary factor of where you live. The seat underneath me (Thurrock) is the FOURTH most marginal Tory-held seat in Britain with a Tory majority of just 92 votes over Labour (and a percentage one of just 0.2%). Putting it at its most basic, our geographically-based FPTP electoral system is more like a lottery than a fair means of representing the people’s will! It’s a disgrace and my civil rights are being undermined when my vote is of so much less value than another British citizen who lives just 15 odd miles down the road.

  9. Barry Scarfe

    AV+ is certainly better than the undemocratic farce of FPTP but I would prefer a version of PR (my preference would be the Additional Member System as used in Germany)

  10. Barry Scarfe

    With respect, we have NEVER had a referendum on PR. The vote was on AV which is a PREFERENTIAL system. No system for electing MPs can ever be proportional if it is based-upon single-member constituencies as AV is.

  11. Norfolk29

    Perfection is impossible so we need the nearest alternative to a representative system. However that means multi-member constituencies and the British like their MP’s to represent them so additional members elected to balance the vote are not allowed. That still allows for the French system as in the second run-off vote there are only two candidates. The alternative would be multi-member constituencies with the MP’s being elected as they are for the EU in May. Its make up your mind time.

  12. Barry Scarfe

    I agree that there is no such thing as a perfect electoral system. The Lib Dem’s prefered PR system of the Single Transferable Vote requires large multi-member constituencies but having these could pose some difficulties in drawing them up particularly for large areas which are sparsely-populated like the Highlands of Scotland. They would have to be huge. My own preference would be for the Additional Member System of PR as used in Germany where you still get a local MP but there is an additional ‘top-up’ regional or national list so the overall number of MPs a party has is broadly proportional to its vote share.

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