What would I change?

In a previous post, I asked what you would change about the political system and what you would put in place, in an ideal world, starting from scratch. These questions weren’t rhetorical, but if I expect my readers to consider them seriously, it’s only fair that I attempt to answer them myself!

The initial choice in any political system is between:

1) a monarchy, where an individual rules by birthright

Monarchy

2) a dictatorship, where an individual rules as the self-appointed head of state

Dictatorship

3) a democracy, where the people rule themselves: in a representative democracy, they are ruled by a group elected by the people.

representative democracy

[N.B. The stick figure represents people of all genders and ethnicities, not just bald white men with their limbs locked in position who look strangely like they’ve been copy-pasted from the bloke standing next to them.]

Hypothetically, if we could have a benevolent dictator, that would actually be the best system. A single person taking decisions would massively improve efficiency, and if the dictator had absolutely no self-interest and was striving every day to achieve the best for his/her people, policy would be fair and sensible and consistent. In the real world, this may be achievable in smaller scale situations (think of managers, teachers, parents, etc.) but it’s not likely to be workable at a national level. The flip side of efficiency and consistency is entrenchment and zero accountability. If the dictator starts to act violently and irrationally, there is very little that can be done about it, and it would take a person of exceptional moral character and level-headedness to resist *any* temptation to misuse their absolute power. Added to which, you would need to have not just one such exceptional person, but a succession of them over the lifespan of the country.

Democracy comes in many shapes and sizes, and none are perfect, but at least have the advantages of increased representation and accountability. A direct democracy is the purest form, where each person has a vote on each decision. This can work for every aspect of policy in small-scale communities, but on the national scale in the UK it is reserved only for the major decisions, e.g. each Scottish voter being given the Yes / No choice on independence in the 2014 referendum. A representative democracy is what we have in the UK House of Commons and in the European Union, where we vote for people who then represent us, and hold them to account at the next election.

So, if it was an *ideal* world, my first choice of system would be benevolent dictatorship, followed by direct democracy. But in the real world, it would be representative democracy which is largely what we have in the UK, but with the House of Lords and monarchy tacked on.

That said, there are a lot of changes I would make if we look at what we currently have. As an absolute minimum, I see the following as necessary:

  • political education to be a compulsory part of the school curriculum
  • anyone standing as an MP must have held a non-political job for a minimum of 3 years
  • anyone becoming a cabinet minister must have had at least 1 year of relevant experience in their assigned field
  • change the voting system for general elections from first past the post to proportional representation
  • lower the voting age to 16

If we had widespread political education, we’d truly get a diverse mix of people interested in going into politics and a well-informed electorate; if we had MPs who had all had a job in an area other than politics, there would be less of a separation between politicians and the people; if we had cabinet ministers with relevant experience, there would be more expertise and less cherry-picking for friends of the PM; if the voting system was proportional, everyone could vote for the party that best matches their views instead of having to vote tactically to keep the worst option out; if we had a voting age of 16, everyone who can legally work full-time or join the armed forces can have their say at the ballot box on taxation and foreign policy.

So, that’s what I’d change. Your turn!

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6 thoughts on “What would I change?

  1. Isn’t there enough in the curriculum already? A little snarky of me, I know, but I think that’s how teachers tend to feel when someone says “make x a compulsory part of the school curriculum.”
    I’m not against it being part of citizenship/PSHE/whatever you want to call that time in school, but I think it’s worth being careful about what and how you add to the curriculum.

    Of course if you do lower the voting age to 16, then fitting political education into Year 11 sometime before May is fairly well timed. I’m not sure what lowering the voting age to 16 is supposed to accomplish though? If an average 18 year old doesn’t exercise their right to vote, how is giving it to them two years earlier going to help?

    With respect to PR, I’m guardedly in favour, but the real question is what kind? I personally see a lot of value in maintaining a local link between MP and constituency, so I would be all in favour of STV, bluntly. Have constituencies of somewhere between 4 and 8 seats so that they can have sensible geographic boundaries (I also note that based on 2010 vote totals any 4 member constituency is likely to have mixed representation. Engagement is likely to be much higher if you know for a fact that your party will be getting one representative in your area and with a little help from you they might make it two, rather than knowing that if you’re a Labour supporter in the Shires, a Tory in the North, or a Lib Dem almost anywhere your chances of any kind of success are minimal.)

    Where I completely support your intentions is in making would-be MPs have real jobs first, but I see trouble ahead. For example I can imagine a huge bunfight over whether working for a Trade Union is a “political” job? How about a think tank? Does doing a funded PhD count, as it’s paid work and lasts three years, or does that not count because it’s in academia? Personally I’d want to put a limit on how many e.g. lawyers we could have in the House, but I’m not sure how it would be enforced…

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    • I think if 16-year-olds had already had a basic introduction to politics in school, they’d be more likely to vote than the average 18-year-old now. Within citizenship/PSHE classes would be absolutely fine; it doesn’t necessarily need to have multiple lessons a week set aside for a whole year, or to have homework and exams. Just enough to cover the UK structure, voting systems, who represents you at which level, and broadly how the EU works.

      The main reason I think the voting age should be 16 rather than 18 is because if you’re considered legally old enough to work full-time, you may well be earning enough to be paying income tax, and it seems unfair to have absolutely no say on how that money is spent.

      On proportional voting systems, STV would also get my vote. I grew up in Northern Ireland, and it’s the method used there to elect MLAs to Stormont. To use it in a General Election would take a bit of work both in allocating regions and extra time needed to count the ballots on the day, but well worth the result of knowing your vote won’t be wasted.

      Okay, so on reflection the real-job-for-3-years idea is definitely more idealistic than realistic! I’d just like to see something in place that turns back the tide on career politicians.

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      • Fair enough, though with compulsory education to 18 maybe that ship has sailed? Dunno there.

        I’m almost tempted to get really pie in the sky, say that anyone can stand to be an MP, but that only people who have spent something substantial (10 years? 20 years?) in a trade or profession can stand for election to the Upper House, and you’ll be voted for by your fellow professionals. So for example a brickie could be a member of a Builders Trade Association of some kind, an engineer would be part of IMechE, ICE or etc, teachers have their unions, lawyers have the Law Society…
        You’d probably need something to mop up the odds and sods who don’t fit into any box (some places for those on long-term disability? How to deal with non-working parents? Working-in-fast-food? People who have “portfolio careers”?), but it would handle reforming the House of Lords and keeping career politicians out of half the legislature in one fell swoop…

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  2. It’s now compulsory to 18 in England, but I think you can still leave school at 16 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland… added to which, the legal age at which you become an adult is 16 in Scotland, so they should definitely have the vote! (They did in the Scottish referendum, but as far as I’m aware it hasn’t been extended to elections.) Fair point though that 16 and 17-year olds in England will no longer be able to work long enough hours to pay income tax. But on the plus side they can have an extra 2 years of politics lessons! 😉

    Very interesting idea for House of Lords reform! I like it. It’d definitely be better to evolve the upper house into a panel of experts respected within their industries/sectors of the community who can modify and improve policy, rather than getting rid of it altogether.

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  3. I agree with everything Carrie says and believes. And No, not just because we are friends! So start learning a bit faster please MS /Mr Slow Learner. Actually, I fear that adding Politics to the school curriculum would simply see that very curriculum politically interfered with by politicians, and students will mostly be taught to tow the two/three party system that the wider public have been ever since we, the working class and female citizens, were so kindly granted suffrage.

    I would far rather see Philosophy taught in schools from the day that we start until the day we move on. People taught to think for themselves.

    As for the House of Lords reform, a certain friend of mine suggested that the seats should be filled at random, by computer-a truly democratic idea. But then again it wouldn’t be the House of Lords then, and the very idea exposes the insanity of such a system(House of Lords) in the first place.

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  4. Perhaps I was just lucky, but my politics classes were pretty balanced and the textbook very much encouraged hypothetical and comparative thinking. Old-style philosophy teaching is getting pretty rare, but most schools have ‘critical thinking’ which is supposed to get the challenge-everything approach going. I’m not sure how well it’s taught, though.

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