A humble proposal for getting parliament in order

This follows on from A Proposed Solution to Political Parties.

The nature of the suffrage

Let’s look at Nigel Sedgwick’s paragraph:

Well, firstly, my analysis of the problem is different. The primary problem is not the existence of political parties; that is only a secondary or tertiary problem. In so far as it is a problem, what is required is a weakening of the influence of political parties – particularly the larger ones. It will not be possible to do away with them; nor is it really desirable. They are, after all, just examples of political cooperation and compromise between individuals – taken to an undesirable extreme by central control.

With all due respect, I feel Nigel [S] is agreeing it is a problem but he is placing its priority order lower, which is not to say it’s not a problem and I illustrated in my opening paragraphs practical examples of where such formalized parties have caused untold problems which could have been otherwise avoided.

One example is the current French impasse where one faction leader who wants to be the Big Leader has separated his faction in the Assembly from the actual Big Leader who was elected and there is schism.   I pointed out that parties have platforms and leaders and do not represent all points of view, necessitating the good will of members plus the Whip.  That is a ludicrous system.

Nigel says that there’ll always be collusion and parties – many people are “clubbable” and like to be part of something bigger than them.  Fair comment but in parliament, it leads to the type of abuse we see, not forgetting the lower quality of parliamentarian – it can be no other way.

If you have formalized parties, then you get the parachuted dross and the deadwood, whereas if you don’t formalize them, then candidates must stand on their own merits, even if backed by money, i.e. the talent net is cast more widely and the quality of candidate stands a better chance.

An objection not raised so far is that this plays into the hands of a largely silent PTB.   If bloggers hadn’t uncovered Mark Carney, we wouldn’t have known just how dangerous this man is in his granted role for the next few years – the New Order he writes of.   Parties would seem the only bulwark against such as him but they’re still a pretty corrosive bulwark which asphyxiate the community they’re trying to protect.

The lower house

Nigel [Sedgwick - that other one is not in this] appears to me to play down quality for quantity in that he adheres to one man one vote for his lower house:

There should remain, election of MPs to the House of Existence by the concept of one citizen, one vote; this is because it is necessary.

… but he does not say why it is necessary.  I am not saying that there should not be universal adult suffrage but that it should be earned.  He says it is open to abuse.  I say all systems are open to abuse and the issue is – which abuse is worse?   If the suffrage still exists, which it does with a system of qualification for the vote, open to all and costing virtually zero after the initial setting up costs, as it would use a black box system [The Ivan System, I call it], then it is the best compromise between two opposing views:

1.  that most voters are cretins and if they have suffrage, you will get governments in their image;

2.  one man – one vote prevents tyranny.

I believe the Ivan System is the least worst compromise on that and could be applied to Nigel’s House of Existence. The charge of the listing of questions to ask being open to abuse – depends how you go about it.  You need only go to one of the older bunches of GCSE exam papers from yesteryear and there are your questions – as Ivan pointed out, why need they be political questions at all?   naming the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is pretty universal I should have thought.

The upper house

Nigel Sedgwick again:

a fully elected House of Taxpayers, where electoral votes for that House attach to each pound of tax paid by each citizen, rather than to the existence of each citizen.

We’re presuming here that it is elected by taxpayers alone.

This addresses a fundamental problem of the payments to government by the most productive people in society and is a failsafe stopping socialist governments appropriating other people’s personal wealth, i.e. it leaves the final word to the most productive as to where their resources are allocated, whilst allowing them not to have to do the spade work itself, on the grounds that these people are out working and earning.

Good system.  It also breaks the nexus betweeen the houses, in that no one is automatically kicked upstairs and the Leader of the House of Experience cannot control the House of Taxpayers.

How to get there

Many fine schemes fail because they do not take into account political realities.   Much as I hate to give any credence to a self-confessed Blairite who wishes UKIP ill, he does have a point though:

It’s a false dawn. However noble their cause, or steely their resolve, Nigel Farage and his irregulars are marching towards defeat.

Ukip are not a political force, but a political curiosity. In years to come many a pub quiz trophy will be won by those who can correctly answer the question: “What was the name of the guy who ran the anti-EU party? Begins with an N.”

In life there are rules. What goes up will come down. The Earth rotates around the Sun, not vice versa. And come election time, minor British political parties get squeezed out of existence.

It may not be fair. It may not be healthy. But them’s the facts. And unfortunately, they are immutable.

Sorry, he’s right about his corrupt system.   Truth is, UKIP are not going to get in because of:

1.  the nature of party politics, which is what we’ve been saying;

2.  the idiocy or ignorance of the electors under one man one vote, which is what we’ve been saying.

One way to get to a desirable situation is to modify what is already there.  Nigel S:

As some might know, in the UK, the current House of Commons is an excellent basis for the House of Existence; reform of the House of Lords (fully elected and with reinvigorated authority equal to that of the other House) would be a very good way of getting a House of Taxpayers. And, largely if not totally, this takes nothing from citizens – it gives more to nearly all of them – if not equally, IMHO equitably.

And in this next, why “replaced”?  Why not “in addition to”, thus satisfying the broadest range of criteria possible in one fell swoop?

… value for money becomes a major issue – along with long-term economic growth.

Thus the dream of James’s ‘Immortals’ (with their apprentice ‘Journeymen’) and Plato’s ‘Philosopher-Kings’ is replaced by the reality of balanced self-interest: between the politicians (as chosen) by and for their favoured constituencies.

What we have there is my classical concept from antiquity versus Nigel’s bourgeois pragmatism – it’s only a difference of style, not of substance.  Call the houses or the voting system what you wish, make it as mundane as you like, as long as it is put in place.  Who’s the pragmatist now?  :)

One thing he is absolutely right about is that there has to be a practical series of logical steps by which the condition we’d like to see comes about.  The House of Taxpayers was an example.   The idea of one man – one, two or three votes is harder to put in place because, for approval, it depends on the vote of the one man – one vote devotees.

Unless of course your name is Mark Carney or Common Purpose.  Then it becomes a doddle, a fait accompli, transforming the face of public life as we know it.  But that’s the next post.

12 Responses to “A humble proposal for getting parliament in order”

  1. Nigel Sedgwick November 28, 2012 at 07:46 Permalink

    Thank you James. I shall balance those few somewhat undesirable adjectives against the view that all publicity is good publicity.

    A pair of minor points:

    (i) I think James’s argument of “style over substance” is distinctly weak: not one that I recommend using. It applies to his opening criticism of my case: the stylistic “with all due respect” reflecting back to me as better, what I have myself spoken for.

    (ii) Given the two Nigels, I suggest avoiding too much confusion by the use of more than just the forename. I’d like to avoid the risk of being pushed closer to any career politician than my usual barge-pole length.

    And one major point: James has not come back on the “negative feedback” aspect. I view that as very important. My suggestion is not based on wealth, it is based on the paying for government.

    Most people, of course, like to ‘hide’ when it comes down to discussing any weakening of the universal franchise. As we have here two methods of that, in opposition, it will be interesting to see if others will properly engage on the issue.

    Best regards

  2. James Higham November 28, 2012 at 08:56 Permalink

    Thank you James. I shall balance those few somewhat undesirable adjectives against the view that all publicity is good publicity.

    I presume, Nigel, that you mean “bourgeois pragmatist” – forgive me if I got that wrong.

    1. Bourgeois – I used it to mean of the middle-classes, the working people, the taxpayers in other words, whom you were supporting.

    2. Pragmatist – not dealing in rhetoric or “style over substance” but in plain speaking, wanting solutions or ideas in point form, shorn of any guff. Going for the efficacious solution, using KISS.

    Therefore, I felt those applied to you but I do see that when combined, there are political overtones and I apologize for those.

    (i) I think James’s argument of “style over substance” is distinctly weak: not one that I recommend using.

    Style over substance? Or style putting something which reads like a scientific report into a readable form for the layman out there, with the substance still in there and linked to by the style?

    Argument weak? How so? Ivan thought it was a good argument and so do I. How do you differ? If you’re worried about one man – one vote, it would still be at least one man – one vote. ;-)

    It applies to his opening criticism of my case: the stylistic “with all due respect” reflecting back to me as better, what I have myself spoken for.

    “With all due respect” now inserted.

    Did I misconstrue your comment in any way?

    (ii) Given the two Nigels, I suggest avoiding too much confusion by the use of more than just the forename. I’d like to avoid the risk of being pushed closer to any career politician than my usual barge-pole length.

    Now amended.

    And one major point: James has not come back on the “negative feedback” aspect. I view that as very important. My suggestion is not based on wealth, it is based on the paying for government.

    Also amended.

    Most people, of course, like to ‘hide’ when it comes down to discussing any weakening of the universal franchise.

    Absolutely.

    I thought AKH’s comment [below] was apt about people with good intentions. Thanks for this, Nigel as it lifted it from a mini-treatise into a good point[s] of discussion.

  3. A K Haart November 28, 2012 at 10:31 Permalink

    Interesting issues. For me, the problem in devising modifications to our electoral system is predicting the outcome of proposed changes, which I suspect is impossible.

    People are the problem – too many of us just don’t put in the effort to understand while others put all their efforts into corrupting and manipulating. The latter are a moving target we’ll never pin down.

    Meanwhile, people with good intentions find themselves disagreeing.

  4. ivan November 28, 2012 at 11:52 Permalink

    A question for Nigel S. Who make up the members of your ‘House of Taxpayers’? If they are politicians then I could foresee a worse situation than we have today. With two elected houses of politicians what is to stop them getting together on party lines, and they will, to screw over the population.

    In my opinion we need less politicians rather than more and this could be brought about by the use of ‘black boxes’ that allow the population a direct say in government, the voting being weighted in the direction of excellence.

  5. Amfortas November 28, 2012 at 12:06 Permalink

    Add in a few ‘conditions’, such as – you cannot vote for anyone to be in the House of Taxpayers if you have a job paid by the taxpayers;

    ‘Elected members’ of any House will be paid at the average wage and not a penny, pence, cent or a sniff of a note more;

    they will not be permitted to take any gift, emolument, stipend, whathaveyou from any other source;

    a term of Office of a ‘Member of any House’ will not exceed five years, after which no other public job may be taken and no job or earnings of any sort may be taken on the strength of having been a ‘Member’.

  6. Nigel Sedgwick November 28, 2012 at 12:53 Permalink

    I note Ivan’s point on who might be the candidates (less political ones) and plan to come back to it later, not least using stuff I wrote for “Burning Our Money”, which is so old that the comment website has been deleted (very sad).

    I also agree that this sort of additional aspect should be covered

    However, I see that both Ivan and Amfortas are not writing on the issue of the electorate (£taxpaid versus ‘better’ people). The principal issue here is moving away from universal franchise: whether, and more broadly how. These comments are, I fear (and as I mentioned above), ‘hiding’: even if it is by the subtlety of diversion, into detail or otherwise. Perhaps we could leave such detail (which does indeed have its relevance) until we have at least some other opinions on the primary issue between me and James.

    Best regards

  7. James Higham November 28, 2012 at 14:25 Permalink

    I do believe, having just read these, that we are thereabouts. I really believe something could be tweaked here or rather thrashed out and it could be a practical compromise, which is the only way we can move from one to the other without the sorts of ultimatums going on at this second in Paris. What a mess.

  8. Nixon Scraypes November 28, 2012 at 21:11 Permalink

    I can’t help remembering what pragmatic old Joe Stalin said about voting- he was only interested in who counted the votes.There is only one reason for secrecy and that is to deceive.The only votes I trust are those I can see ,not a secret ballot.

  9. Nigel Sedgwick December 2, 2012 at 12:11 Permalink

    Well, universal suffrage and how best to avoid it are clearly not high on the public agenda.

    I am disappointed, but no so much as I was with the referendum vote against AV: there clearly the electorate overall wanted to be left alone with the minimum ability to express their political views.

    Best regards

  10. Nigel Sedgwick December 2, 2012 at 12:13 Permalink

    I sort of promised Ivan a response on who might be the candidates for my suggested House of Taxpayers.

    Here it is. I should add however that my view on this (unlike the concept of a House of Taxpayers) is dominated by trying hard not to take away those aspects of the House of Lords that are its stronger points. Also not to rock the boat (again) on issues other than taxpayers’ need for a higher ranking in national government – this where so much heat has been expended with little light to see for it. There is something in my second suggestion that I view should be transitory, say for 2 or 3 decades – then the issue might benefit from a revisit in the light of experience.

    The following, as I wrote a little earlier, is extracted almost verbatim from my comment on the Burning Our Money blog. This was back in June 2009.


    From where we are now, I can see no way forward for the Lords that does not include effectively a 100% elected chamber. This does make it rather difficult to retain one of the things that made the Lords so good at their job: a lack of political ambition. However, I have two suggestions for Lords reform that might help.

    Firstly, we need keep them differentiated from the Commons, and to serve a somewhat different purpose, while still being an elected chamber. My suggestion is that they should be elected by a different constituency of the people. Rather than having one vote for each citizen, have one vote for each pound of tax paid by a citizen (say summed over the previous 3, 4 or 5 years and, for practical reasons, limited to income tax and National Insurance). In this way, we retain, even re-establish, some interesting tension between the Lords and the Commons: those who pay and those who benefit (with most of us doing both).

    Secondly, and totally independently of the first, how about a House of Lords made up (largely) as at present by appointed worthies somewhat late in their lives, after they have demonstrated significant ability. However, let us restrict those who can vote, in a called-for vote on a contested matter, to a Senate of Lords: 100% elected (and you have to be appointed Lord before you can stand for the Senate of Lords). Other Lords may speak on any matter at any time, even join in a spoken vote by acclamation; just not vote on marginal issues. In that way, we would retain the expertise of non-political Lords and the experience of all Lords.

    On the issue of method of election, clearly the Single Transferable Vote would be vastly preferable to me, as allowing us to chose people largely for their own ability, and not just their political party, while supporting the party political aspect for all parties, not just the larger ones. I also have a favouritism for constituencies being based on our counties and metropolitan boroughs, with 1, 2 or 3 Lords Senator being elected per constituency, according to a combination of its geographical size and population.

    Best regards

  11. Nigel Sedgwick December 2, 2012 at 12:14 Permalink

    James wrote, by way of example for questions determining people of sufficient intellectual calibre to be numbered amongst his ‘Immortals’: “… naming the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is pretty universal I should have thought”.

    Well (and I know James will be disappointed in me), I do not keep top-of-the-head knowledge on such things.

    As an alternative, I do have to hand (or rather in my head) the ability to derive the differential of X squared.

    IIRC some of the questions about UK life, in the exam for citizenship, are not only things that now escape me, but are ones I never knew: as a general example, stuff about sport.

    The very concept of government-specified exams to ‘prove’ what I am, scares me rather badly. And surely the strongest marks of the English and the Scottish are independent bloody-mindedness.

    Best regards

  12. James Higham December 2, 2012 at 12:30 Permalink

    The differential of X squared requires aptitude as well as knowledge, whereas the Seven Wonders are readily accessible by google and only require memory.

    Remember, we’re only talking GCSE level, which many Year 6s could have a crack at. Differentiation and calculus only come in about A level.

    There’s also such a thing as coming up to speed and learning and someone who can’t do either of those – well, you’d draw certain conclusions about their ability to conceptualize anything.

    Not only that but it’s not like a one-off exam where if you fail, you’re out mate. It’s more like the driving test where you go away and sort out what you didn’t know, then come back again.

    As for the government, they’d be the last ones involved – look at their current level of ability and I feel you’re judging government, Nigel, on the current lot. We’re talking an actual walking, talking politician who is not so much a politician as someone from the working world who has life experience and is there more as a caretaker/administrator.

    It would be the commission anyway who would set it, to be drawn from old [pre-60s] exams of a general nature, which then go to referendum conducted in council offices, i.e. the proposed questions are up on the big board and people have X time to comment to the penpushers.

    It’s really something quite easily sorted and not the horror exercise some would like to imagine. Hell, I could get the whole thing set up in two weeks. Common Purpose would try to stop me though and that might add years and incarceration for me.

    “With due respect” :)

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