How do we make our MP’s more democratically accountable?

This is a late reminder of the public meeting tomorrow at St Johns Hall Penzance 7pm – but it is also to throw out a couple of ideas which we may or may not have time to talk about.

Local Vote Swap site

The first is a local initiative for a local online vote swap site. This is purely at the ideas stage and may or may not happen. More ambitiously, the originator of this proposal (who lives in Cornwall) also suggested combining it with a “constituency multi-party based college”, one which “would include representatives of the minority leftish parties -Greens of whichever hue and MK basically“.

I know many  people, especially Labour party members (but not supporters), find the whole idea of tactical voting anathema. But voters will continue to wring their hands and resort to such measures so long as we have a broken election system that wastes millions of votes and awards absolute power  on a minority of votes.

As a Labour supporter, I fear the greatest danger for Labour is to assume that the massive increase in vote share is a given – that all it takes is one last heave. It is not –  many  votes are on loan – and in a highly volatile political environment, they can be taken back.

To give you the scale of tactical voting in the 2017 election, the Electoral Reform Society has estimated that some 20 percent of voters voted tactically. As their report says:

Despite Labour and the Conservatives gaining over 80 percent
(82.4%) of the vote share between them, a look under the surface
shows this was no return of two-party politics. Our research
suggests that voters did not flock back to the two largest parties
with enthusiasm. Millions of voters planned to vote tactically
this election, with twenty percent saying they would be choosing
the candidate that was most likely to beat the one they disliked
This is over double the proportion who said they would do so in
2015. Projecting this onto actual turnout would equate to nearly
6,500,000 people voting tactically.

Now apply that figure of 20 percent to Cornish constituencies and in particular to your own party – work it out, I don’t have time!

Bottom line: We desperately need proportional representation and Cornwall now has its own Make Votes Matter group 

Local Constituency Compact

Quite separately, I have aired the idea that local people need to be more active agents in the political process. If democracy is to mean more than putting an X in the box once every five years then we need to move away from retail politics in which we are passive consumers of political messages, to one where we are active agents. After all, we in Cornwall voted to #takecontrol! There is a clear desire for greater control in our own affairs but this is cancelled out by a deep disenchantment with politics and a distrust of politicians in general.

The constituency compact is divided into two parts. Part A might be a list of five priorities that local constituents agree on while Part B is a code of conduct. Ideally the compact would be signed by every prospective candidate at elections and the winning candidate would be obliged to post it on the front page of their website and not take it down.

Not much has come of the local constituency idea so far but you can see a draft here.

Local Constituency Community Advisory Panel

This is really a variation on the first idea of a ‘college’ but instead of making it a cross party forum, it is carefully chosen to recruit representatives from local business, trade unions, the arts, local charities and residents associations. They meet as a forum and advise and update their MP on key issues of concern that affect their community. They also hold their MP to account and insist he or she reports back on progress made as well as promises kept or broken.

This is the opposite of what we have now in my constituency: a very controlling MP who insists on meeting individuals, will not meet or talk to groups, is great on photoshoots for paper columns and whose strategy is to carefully  manages relationships in her constituency – a classic example of our  ‘managed democracy’ as opposed to a real one.

The advantage of a community panel is that  panel members would have to have difficult but important conversations with each other, not just with their MP. A trade union rep may well cross swords with a local businessman who complained about the minimum wage. But isnt this what democracy should be about? Shouldnt we all be adult enough to face each other and have those difficult conversations and find the necessary common ground as the basis of sustainable, progressive politics? Such deliberative democracy may also be the basis of restoring greater community cohesion and appreciation of diverse points of views and needs – the very opposite of our polarised tribal politics.

The community panel would not replace annual open public meetings with an MP – but they may be more constructive.  The danger with open public meetings is always the dominance of complainers and losers – those who voted for different parties and who want to vent their spleen at the candidate who won, rather than have real conversations.

All thoughts on these ideas welcome. I will keep you posted on developments.

Article is a personal blog by Gavin Barker, it does not represent the views of any political party

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