The current political system is a system that supports the elite and the status quo. Whilst the wealthiest grow ever richer, the country’s debt gets ever larger and the state gets ever smaller. As the wealthiest control the system it seems almost impossible for outsiders to bring about the desperately needed reform we need to bring about balance and harmony to society. The UK's media and much of the West is also controlled by people with extreme wealth, you’ll find that any major opposition to the current model meets strong resistance from the press. How long the media have this influence for is debatable but I would argue at present they still have enough clout to win a party an election or hound an MP out of office.
The radical solution I offer is a political system without political parties and the introduction of job sharing as an MP allowing for a better standard of life which will lead to better decisions made for the good of society. I know that this is not something the political parties would agree to or even give time to debate – so why do I mention it as a solution? Because I believe it is the only way we can change the system in a single generation. If enough people join a political movement or alliance supporting independent candidates both here and abroad, who become elected or make the switch from elected parties, we can create a coalition made from independent politicians who share the same values. These MPs can form a government who can change their political system from within, both peacefully and legally.
Without political parties you are left with an independent government, independent politicians, independent councils and independent councillors and a governing body that can truly collaborate and work together, rather than the partisan competing which leads to poor and damaging legislation, petty point scoring that leads to disgust and distrust from the electorate and the childish squabbling we see all too often.
We are also subjected to pointless questions during debates and wasted opportunities to use Parliament’s time to improve the lives of its people. With an independent House of Commons you are left with an infusion of political ideologies that no longer need to compete but can evolve together. Members of the House will be free to vote in what they believe in. They would have the time to exam complicated legislation and make informed decisions, they would be free and encouraged to challenge legislation in a more productive and professional manner.
Views of Big Ben and Westminster, London
In any committee you are bound to have disagreements and it is healthy to hear from other opposing points of view. At present, when two opposing parties face each other, it is important for the party in government to pass its legislation and win the argument at all costs. The Prime Minister needs to be seen as strong and in control - winning. At present the media coverage of a government that loses a vote receives so much negative attention around its leader that it becomes imperative to win; so much so that their own elected politicians are told how to vote or to face the wrath of their own party including being harassed or deselected at the next elections.
When a government has a clear majority it can pass laws easily and without effective scrutiny from within Parliament. The opposition may well point out the obvious flaws with the bill, yet the government can still force it through and find a way to get it through the House of Lords. Some may argue that the system works as the people have given the government a clear mandate to make the changes. I would argue that the electorate often think mainly of what is best for themselves rather than the collective and are influenced and manipulated by politicians who often lie, social media which is full of fake news and the partisan press.
The majority of the media especially those with a political leaning, have played a role in creating this toxic atmosphere, as they shamelessly try to bring down politicians who offer a way forward that does not aid the creation of wealth for the likes of the media moguls and big business. Journalists have been known to entrap politicians and create scandals and shame for MPs and destroy their lives in doing so. Politicians have learnt to work within the system; they will often build strong networks within media, become columnists like Boris Johnson for the Telegraph and gain favourable coverage giving them a huge advantage in finding their way to the top of the pile.
We also have a system that asks far too much from our politicians at both a national level and local level. I have run for election as a local Town Councillor for The Liberal Democrats in 2019 and have seen firsthand the enormous amount of unpaid work that goes into campaigning and serving your community. I cannot begin to imagine the work that goes on for politicians at a national level. In the excellent book, Why We Get the Wrong Politicians by Isabel Hardman she writes in great depth about the enormous struggles facing MPs. When a new MP arrives at Parliament they feel lost, unprepared and unsupported. They rely on the party’s whips to tell them how to vote on new legislation. Currently independent politicians are at such a disadvantage as they are left to read each new bill and understand it to a high level despite often having little knowledge on the subject.
Part of our campaign material when I stood in 2019
The pressure that is put on a an individual and their family is just too much to endure. This pressure includes death threats and in 2016 Jo Cox the Member of Parliament for Batley and Spen was murdered whilst speaking to members of her constituency. The threat is real and hard to escape, especially now with modern methods of speaking to your constituents through social media, people can get their message to you directly and unfiltered.
The tragic murder of Jo Cox is not an isolated incident. In 2010 MP for East Ham, Stephen Timms was stabbed twice in his stomach in constituency surgery in London and in 2000 Lord Jones and his aide, Andrew Pennington were attacked by a man with a sword in Cheltenham. Andrew Pennington was killed and Lord Jones wrested with his attacker before escaping. The threat to life is real and one facing our MPs on a regular basis.
Imagine how you would feel when you open up your Twitter account after a long and exhausting day to find that your recent post highlighting your opposition to a bill is met with words from an internet troll telling you that you are useless, pathetic, critiquing how you look or even threatening to rape or kill you. This experience is common and politicians even have people knocking on their front doors to offer up abuse.
As you would expect with any job that requires people to work in extreme conditions with long hours and high levels of pressure and scrutiny, MPs find it hard to have a normal family life. Their children can be targeted in their community and bullied at school and in extreme cases by their teachers. MPs find it hard to spend enough quality time with their partners and their friendships are often made up of people within the Westminster Bubble. Many feel terribly isolated and lonely. Alcoholism and unhealthy lifestyles are common place and mental illness is only just becoming acceptable within the Bubble and talked about.
We need intelligent, enthusiastic people from a cross section of our population. Ideally as many women as men and all our minority groups represented in the proportion in which they exist in our society. To use a silly analogy, if we have a population consisting of 15% who identify as being Martian, then we should aim to have 15% Martians represented in the House Commons. In the system I propose this will become easier to construct and we will benefit enormously from not having our politicians coming from a small pool of rich, privileged white upbringings often leading to pompous attitudes and decisions favouring the upper classes and wealthy.
By making active involvement in politics accessible to more people we would broaden the knowledge and attitudes of the members of Councils and Parliament alike and the decisions made would come from a more diverse network of people which would help us to build a fairer more inclusive society.
If we ditch the party structure it is my belief we can engage a lot of disenfranchised individuals who have turned their back on politics as a result of the hypocrisy, lies and broken promises our traditional political class have at times been responsible for. I'll mention the expenses scandal as an example but there are plenty to choose from. I am not saying all of our politicians are like this, it is my belief that most go into politics with all the right intentions, however enough of them have acted in their own or party's interests to muddy the waters and create a culture where honesty is replaced with spin and point scoring. The modern politician is trained in the art of avoiding questions and giving answers to the questions they want to be asked. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear a politician say that they didn’t know a particular answer? Have you ever heard one say that the opposition was right?
One of the biggest problems with our current system is that in order to get on in politics within its current structure you are expected to do exactly as you are told to do by the party whip, whether you agree with it or not. This means towing the party line, and asking pointless supportive questions in the debate chamber. And joining legislative committees and being expected not to challenge the bill but to support it through the process. If you are unwilling to do so you will be left out in the wilderness on the back benches. As a member of the Executive you receive more money, more media attention, increased respect and a clear path to even greater positions within government. You can also expect to receive a high paying job when you hang up your political boots. This is not the case to for a politician who resides on the back benches.
We must create a system that allows our representatives to be able to live a life that allows for them to find a peaceful balance within themselves, not only for the politicians but also for their families and the people they govern. We have a system that requires potential MPs standing for election to take on a huge financial risk, with a typical outlay for a candidate being in the tens of thousands of pounds of their own money, regardless of whether they win or lose.
The current system at both local and national level means that representing the community is a luxury of the rich or a stepping stone for a career politician or somebody who has retired. Not a realistic option for a working parent or someone struggling on the border-line.
I believe that MPs and Councillors should be treated as regular employees of the state and have their working hours capped and optional job sharing introduced to ensure a healthy lifestyle. Job sharing as an MP would open the door to so many worthy candidates, like working parents and disabled people. If the job takes 80 hours a week, why can't that job be shared between 2 people. Whilst one can scrutinise legislation the other can be working in their constituency and dealing with the issues their constituents are facing. They can share the late nights in order to have time with their families. A tired exhausted and stressed politician will not make better decisions than one who is able to stay in harmony with themselves, their families and their colleagues. Our politicians make decisions that impact our lives, whether we go to war, how much support the state can offer us, how much of our wages is taken in taxes. Let us create the environment that will encourage people from a diverse background to get involved and lead us through these difficult times.
If we are able to make the job of being an MP more appealing and more secure, we will not only gain a wider pool to select from but we will also be able to keep MPs in their posts longer. We are seeing a big churn of politicians who serve in the Executive and once demoted to the back backbenches in a reshuffle decide to stand down at the next election, taking with them a wealth of experience and knowledge that Parliament would benefit from. A Parliament where more people are able to build on their knowledge and experience and develop relationships with a wider group of people over a longer period of time would offer us something new and exciting. We currently have a culture more in keeping with the Premier League managers where Minsters take on a department, hope to make a mark with sweeping reforms and find themselves moved on within a couple of years. Surely there is a better way, experience must count for far more than it currently does. This system also means that politicians are not accountable for their mistakes as their reforms take time to come to fruition.
There is corruption within our political systems. This was exposed dramatically during the expenses scandal, but also can be seen with cronyism, lobbying, the honours system, government contracts, party funding, political donations and laws and regulations passed which benefit just a small number of people financially. Firms that employ ex government ministers or family members of government ministers who end up receiving lucrative government contracts, loop holes left in tax laws to be exploited by the very people who advise upon them.
By bringing an end to political parties you also bring about the end to political donations and this will help towards cleaning up corruption within our political systems. An example is how it is often the case that political donors regularly find themselves among the New Year’s honours list. There have also been plenty of rumours and allegations of the promises of life peerages that have lead to both financial support and bargains being met. The current types of corruptions seems to be conveniently ignored by government and accepted and used as leverage by the same people who are exploiting the system. I believe that there is a place for the House of Lords, but the appointment of the Peers should be taken away from the Politicians who have shown over the years to have exploited the role and should be given solely to an independent body. This will stop the Prime Minister of the day awarding this great privilege to their loyal supporters, their favourite sportsperson, actor or singer but be in the hands of a professional independent body who will way up the merit of a wide number of people and follow a fair criteria.
The act of governing a Nation State or Local Council should keep evolving with the world around it and not to be an institution that stands still. As a result our future democracy should build bridges with other democracies who share the same values and learn about their innovations in leadership and governance and trial those that may be an improvement to the current system. A review of other successful parliaments and councils could be conducted every 4 years with new ideas put forward to the house.
Article and Photography by Ben Molyneux