Monday, June 25, 2007

To the river.

There’s a supportive link on Baggage Reclaim back to this post. And beneath it, the comments have turned largely into a debate about the rights and wrongs of protest restrictions in Westminster in general, and Brian Haw in particular.

As regular visitors may know, I have a template that I use to determine my position on almost everything; In a nutshell, if you continually improve the quality of representative democracy, all other aspects of public policy will improve by themselves (see section 4.1.22 onwards here).

So, applying it, I think that there is a case to be made for treating Parliament more like a court of law than we have done in the past. The nature of representative democracy in this country is like lots of other aspects of the unwritten constitution - a bit ambiguous.

We have over-powerful political parties, pressure groups, journalists and bureaucrats because we use imperfect means of electing politicians, and imperfect means of influencing them once they are elected.

So, we should elect people who have personal qualities that appeal to us, instead of attempting to imagine how their manifestos will translate into action. In my case, I’d always vote for someone who generally understands democratic socialism and is at least lukewarm towards it. The warmest candidate gets my vote, but you can chose your own yardstick, however stupid it is – don’t let me stop you.

Once elected, all lobbying should be conversational. The rest of us have a duty to support MPs by providing conversational forums that they can eavesdrop upon. Their actual decisions, however, are their business. This is an old theme here.

In this sense, I think that MPs should be treated bit like jurors. They should be constantly invited to use their skill and judgement to spot the interests of the nation as a whole. And as jurors, they should conduct their deliberations free from the harassment of twats with megaphones and personal shanty towns.

This position is, of course, open to the criticism of being based upon an unattainable ideal. MPs aren’t jurors at all. They are, for the most part, unimaginative middlebrow party bureaucrats who want a combination of a quiet life, local celebrity, career advancement and (in the case of male members) a damn good blowjob ASAP.

I would reply that any form of political campaigning that doesn’t pressurise MPs to behave like jurors – and that doesn’t oppose the rivals that MPs have in seeking to tilt the playing field in their favour (lobbyists, journos, bureaucrats etc) is ultimately an attempt to damage democracy. Someone has to make the first move, and this is one responsibility that the voters should shoulder.

So, returning to my template, I should add that it’s not one that should be over-simplified. For example, I’m in favour of public protests in general, mainly because they backfire and undermine the case that they purport so support. Under normal circumstances, I’m all in favour of helping Brian Haw to weave whatever length of rope that he needs to hang his own brand of pacifism with. But Parliament Square is the one place that he shouldn’t be allowed to do it on.

A country that understands and values representative democracy would have kicked him into the Thames a long time ago.

I hope this clears up any confusion.

2 comments:

dsquared said...

In this sense, I think that MPs should be treated bit like jurors. They should be constantly invited to use their skill and judgement to spot the interests of the nation as a whole. And as jurors, they should conduct their deliberations free from the harassment of twats with megaphones and personal shanty towns.

ought not your priority to be the abolition (if not outright prohibition) of political parties then? It's hard to take seriously your claims about the iniquitous effects of journalists, bloggers and campaigners in this context if you don't even mention that there are these things called Whips' Offices.

Paulie said...

I wouldn't immediately support the abolition or prohibition of political parties, but it is a constant theme of this blog that political parties are far too powerful and that elected representatives should assert their independence from them a good deal more than they do.

They exist largly because of the flaws in representative democracy, and I'd suggest that they would be weaker if journalists, pressure groups and civil servants were weaker than they are. Parties are often the only refuge that parliamentarians have from their rivals.

Broadly, I'd agree that - were democracy perfectable - then there would be little place for political parties.

That said, as long as the association of an MP (for example) weren't particularly coercive, parties do have the ability to allow nations to do things that they may not be able to do if they had representatives who were all acting free of any peer-pressure.