NB: The author is Tim Hewish, who I am glad to welcome as a local contributor. — Steve
Next week, the Conservatives will announce their new policy document on raising public participation in politics. It is true that we live in a representative democracy whereby MPs are elected with the responsibility of acting in peoples’ interests, however declaring our vote every 5 years and walking away from the political process often causes a disconnect between voter and representative.
This perception is something that we want to alter. With regard to the notion a ‘safe seat’, Conservatives will empower local people to cast a vote of no confidence in their elected representative if any MP fails to deliver on issues close to the constituency’s heart. This proposal will make MPs directly answerable to their constituents over the whole of a Parliament – not just every five years.
This sentiment is echoed by our local candidate, Steve Baker:
I am delighted that the concept of the ‘safe seat’ would come to an end under a Conservative government. People deserve better than Parliament has given them over recent years and this measure is an essential component of restoring trust in democracy. I welcome it.
Building on this theme of political breakdown between the People and Parliament – new forms of media as well as old have a distinct role to play. Take for example, the gladiatorial confrontations with Jeremy Paxman and John Humphrys, they are often too indigestible for all but the political obsessive. There are valiant attempts to appeal to a wider audience such as The Daily Politics and This Week, however it is acknowledge that pressure to appear jokey and fast moving can discourage exploring subjects in length.
The Conservatives are proposing a new type of service that would offer ‘Radio Three Politics’, allowing ministers a good ten minutes to explain their proposals, followed by ample responses from opponents, professionals, and members of the public. There is nothing unbearably highbrow about such an approach. It is, after all, the staple fare in any decent conference or seminar.
At present, the case for Parliamentary debate is being marginalised by the media as they are terrified of being thought boring. In fact intense and prolonged discussion can be much more absorbing than the routine trading of sound-bites.
From the Conservative Democracy Task Force:
The cheapest and easiest solution would be to establish a full-scale on-line presence for Parliament: interspersing clips from speeches in the Chamber or from Select Committees with round-table discussion and a suitably monitored chat room. For instance, The Daily Politics often becomes more entertaining when a sheaf of emails from viewers are read out whose instant responses often vary quite markedly from those of his studio guests.
Another key sea-change should be the returning value of the public petition. The public petition is an ancient tradition of Parliament but one which has fallen into disuse. Scotland and other northern European nations are using public petitions as a way of remedying their perceived remoteness and inaccessibility of their respective political culture. This isn’t a call for mob mentality to enter politics, but rather that channelling public clamour towards its proper destination: a debate in the nation’s forum.
Currently, we have Downing Street petitions which many millions will sign, but will often get an arms length response from Government spokesmen and nothing in reality gets done. A satisfactory procedure needs to be devised for the collection and assessment of petitions on subjects worthy of debate, with a view to finding time to debate them in Westminster Hall.
These ideas laid out above are just a small selection of what can be achieved with real dedication and drive to re-calibrate politics towards the public and away from political centralisation. In light of this, I urge voters to take time to read our People Power manifesto document next week for more details.