Opinion from Lord Digby Jones

And we call this democracy!

Published Wednesday 3 July, 2013

The current electoral system is not delivering experienced quality into the gene pool from which the British people can choose those who can lead our Nation. This is a Century which not only presents the UK with staggering global challenges but socially, environmentally, culturally and economically the need for the best to rise to the challenge of leadership has never been greater or more urgently required.

But what do we have?

A system where our political leaders are coming from the same assembly line:-

University.

A research assistant to a political party.

Promotion to Special Advisor to a Minister or Opposition Spokesman.

Adoption (by a small group of activists) as the prospective parliamentary candidate for a safe constituency where they weigh the vote rather than count it.

Election as an MP, effectively by a small cabal of activists rather than the Electorate.

Becoming parliamentary cannon fodder to turn up and vote for motions you know nothing about, have never seen, when you haven't heard a word of the debate about the subject on which you will vote, just doing as you're told by the Party Whips,

Keep your nose clean and get re-elected every few years without a doubt, such is your local majority,

Get promoted to junior Minister, then Cabinet Minister and hopefully (after decades of crawling up the slippery pole of party preference)............

Have a pop at The Big One in Number Ten...........so long as your Party is in favour with the Electorate when your time comes. If it isn't, then all that creeping, crawling, keeping quiet, voting with the party diktat not your beliefs....turns out not to be worth a row of.....ballot papers.

So we end up with the Governing Class being cocooned from real life; they've never done anything before becoming someone who votes for legislation of which they know next to nothing. They have never taken a risk, hired anyone, fired anyone, worked in a hospital or a school or a prison; if they were brought up in South-east England and went to a University south of an imaginary line from Bristol to the Wash and are the MP for a southern constituency, they are fully paid-up members of the metropolitan elite before they get to Ministerial rank!

And we call this democracy! No wonder UKIP are doing well.....people are forming the conclusion they don't matter any more and that their views are being patronisingly written off and discounted because "you don't understand".

At the last General Election, that great class warrior and self-appointed champion of women, Harriet Harman, foisted all-female short lists on Labour Constituency groups from which they could choose their Labour Candidate .....er.....except in Erdington, Birmingham where for some strange reason such a ruling didn't apply. Why? It couldn't possibly have had anything to do with the fact that retired Trades Union official Jack Dromey wanted Route One into Parliament so a safe Labour seat had to be found and the good voters of Erdington were, in reality, told who their MP was going to be since anyone wearing the Labour tag there was assured of election. Oh! and Mr Dromey just happens to be Ms Harman's husband!

And we call this democracy!

Things must change; for the good of our Nation, for the survival of democracy, for the success of political engagement by the next generation.

So let us consider three seriously major changes:-

1. Call the General Election for what it has become, in reality if not form. We nowadays elect a Leader, a Prime Minister. We have a televised debate by just the three main party leaders, each wearing the stamp on their collective forehead of "make me PM". So let's have an Election for one! Let anyone born in our Country (of any colour, religion or creed) stand to be the Prime Minister and let us have a direct election for the position. No longer must a candidate have spent years trying to be the leader of a party which then gets more seats than any other at a General Election; no longer will that person become Prime Minister because those MPs who vote for him or her as their leader have been elected through a discredited system of safe seats and cocooned participants in isolated party political careers. The Electorate will vote directly for their National Leader, who may or may not be supported by, or lead, a political party. People from all walks of life could stand; people who have done something with their lives; people who are refreshingly not contaminated by the current rotten party system.

2. Such a Leader would then choose her or his Cabinet from all walks of life; none need be (although some may be) Members of Parliament; hopefully all would be skilled in, and have experience of, the subject over which he or she would preside. A Secretary of State for Health who has worked at the sharp end of Medicine and seen the inefficiencies and waste in the NHS every day. Now that would be refreshing!

3. The Prime Minister (and the appointed Cabinet) would be accountable every day in every way to Parliament.

The House of Commons would be elected along constituency lines as now, but there would be Primary Elections at local level so all Registered Party Members could vote for their local candidate, not just a committee. The gene pool would be deepened and someone on the party ticket would at least have got there by being chosen by a much wider and disparate group. And there would only be 400 of them. A billion Indians elect 500 MPs every four years; why do we need 650 of them? They would be paid properly (that is, substantially more than they receive as salary today) but all expenses would be on a receipt-only basis.

The House of Lords would still be appointed (keeping the pre-eminence of the Commons and its democratic mandate) and bring loads of independent expertise and experience to advising, revising and delaying legislation but not over-ruling the Commons; it would be a bit like the Country's non-executive Director. But five reforms would be enacted forthwith:-

a) an age limit of 80 would apply
b) regular attendance would be a condition of continuing membership
c) the 92 hereditary peers would go
d) those convicted of an indictable offence would go
e) appointments to the Lords would be only by an independent commission and there would be no Prime Ministerial or political leaders' patronage exercised in any of appointments to the Peerage.

Would that mean that a Prime Minister thus elected (for a fixed five year term) may be of a different party to the majority of the Commons, or indeed be of no party political affiliation? Possibly. Probably. So what? The quality, the relevance, the connection of our leadership to the National need would be so much better and arguments would have to be won, rather than whipped through.

One last thought......perhaps we should have a rule that, whilst anyone can stand for Parliament over the age of 18 (except in Scotland, where the obvious consequence of the lowering of the voting age to help the SNP win next year's Referendum is that anyone will be able to stand to be an MP once they go to School) they cannot participate in the legislative process until they have done something with their lives other than live, breathe and eat (and more likely, drink) the Westminster Bubble.

But then that would need Westminster to change from within ............. and turkeys don't vote for Christmas!