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
2) a dictatorship, where an individual rules as the self-appointed head of state
3) a democracy, where the people rule themselves: in a representative democracy, they are ruled by a group elected by the people.
[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!