Monday, February 08, 2010

A DIY manifesto

Less than 90 days to the General Election, and everything seems a good deal less certain. A year back, a Tory landslide seemed a foregone conclusion and Gordon was indisputably headed for backbench ignominy. How different – and how uncertain – everything seems now.

Well, not quite everything. Mulling over the goods on offer, it’s hard to feel uncertain about one thing: whoever wins, the electorate will be hard pressed to have high expectations of the winner. And in a time of war, economic crisis and unearned wealth for the few and undeserved hardship for millions, that is surely the one thing we cannot afford.

Who should we take to task for this? Our uninspired, uninspiring political masters? The army of unelected, manipulating ‘special advisers’? The abything-but objective and balanced media? No. Democracy is rule of the people, by the people, for the people, so if what We the People are getting isn’t what we want, then We the People have only ourselves to blame.

But there’s the rub. Just how do we change things? The only mechanism on offer is the ballot box, through which ‘we’ supposedly send ‘them’ a ‘signal’ telling them what we think. Only it plainly doesn’t work that way. Maybe they will get the message – and maybe not. And even if they get the signal, they are all too free to interpret it to suit themselves. And while we are limited to the ballot box, it can hardly be otherwise.

So let’s not make the mistake of trying to use the system to fix the system. No, let’s turn the tables completely. Let’s decide that, here in the age of the internet, we can tell them what we want, and decide that the job of politicians is to tell us not what we can have but only how they plan carrying out our orders.

It’s a slightly bonkers idea, of course. To start with, there are plenty of things voters would never agree about in a million years, which leaves plenty of scope for the usual manifesto verbiage. It’s also pretty hard to believe that our media would make it easy for public opinion to be untainted by corporate propaganda and sectional interests.

But that still leaves all those things that plenty of voters agree on – regardless of what the lobbyists persuade politicians to think – but which stay off the political agenda for years and decades together because our political parties can’t – or won’t - fit them in?

So what do voters actually want? I’ve no idea, and it would defeat the whole point to try to decide for them. On the other hand, if anyone would like to set up the website, database and voting system, here is my personal Top 10 (oh, all right, 11) for starters:


  1. Government ministers and senior civil servants should be forbidden to personally use private health or education. Yes, I know, quite a few ministers sincerely believe in the right to go private, but it’s the public system we pay them to run, and I can’t help feeling that they’d be a little less inclined to treat public services as political footballs if, as their business pals like to say, they had a little more skin in the game. Politicians need to know that, when they cut health budgets, this means them.
  2. The children of all MPs who vote for war are immediately conscripted to the front line. And if, in this age of political babes-in-arms, the MPs themselves if they are 45 or under, off they go too. If a cause is worth having someone else’s kids die for, sacrifice closer to home is surely warranted - and required.
  3. Replace the voting system with one that tells our representatives what we think of them –scores for each candidate – positive or negative - and if the ‘winner’ is the one we think least badly of, so be it. And instant recall if we just don’t think they’re up to it. Enough of ‘respect’ for the ‘authority’ of Parliament: MPs are our employees, and should expect to be fired if they’re not good enough.
  4. And on the voters’ side? Mandatory voting. I haven’t voted in years (who was there to vote for?), but if I were voting for what the people really wanted, what right would I have to keep silent?
The media
  1. Prevent any single individual or company from owning more than one television station or one national newspaper, or both a television station and a national newspaper. Enough of corporate bias and propaganda. (I’d probably extend this to state funding for Private Eye, just to make sure that the mass media also got their fair share of attention, but Ian Hislop would probably rather die than accept.)
  2. Replace the Press Complaints Commission with a truly independent body with real teeth. (And an independent Independent Police Complaints Commission too, while we’re at it.)
  1. Stop business turning schools, hospitals and society’s other key institutions into ‘business opportunities’. There’s little that annoys me more than the commercial prostitution of everything in sight, but when it comes to my children’s education and health, advertising is straightforward pornography. (Banksy has the right idea – if an advertisement is shouting in my face, I have the right of reply – including scribbling all over it if I want. They started it.)
  2. Get serious about corporate crime. Any director of a tobacco company should be tried for manslaughter. Anyone who was still a director after the tobacco companies’ own research showed that tobacco was addictive and poisonous should be tried for murder. As for the advertising agencies, the lobbyists and all the rest who prostituted their talents to help tobacco companies sell their poison, perhaps a little tar and a few feathers? (Could be worse – what I really meant to write there was ‘public stoning’.)
  3. Place much firmer controls on business influence over politics. Business people are people but businesses are not, and are entitled to precisely zero representation in our political system. Put an end to lobbying of political bodies, corporate funding of political parties and all the rest of the sleaze. And if trades unions and other corporate bodies are busy doing this too, include them in the same controls.
The environment
I could go on and on about global warming and climate change, but really, after Copenhagen, does anyone really think any government has any intention of doing what is needed, no matter what the public pressure? Puh-lease…

All the same, how about:
  1. Real public education on climate change. That’s what governments signed up to at Kyoto, but I haven’t seen it yet. Maybe they forgot to read the small print, but meanwhile the nutters and the lobbyists are getting the upper hand.
  2. A serious plan to cut our national carbon footprint. No, we don’t have to wait for the Americans or the Chinese – even if Beijing and Washington won’t help make things right, we can at least minimise just how bad things become.
Perhaps it can’t work – a political nirvana, in which the government of people can be replaced by the administration of things, because, to quote the famous Zapatero slogan, ‘Here the people give the orders and the government obeys’. Well, perhaps it’s all a bit too un-British. But surely we can give them a few polite hints?

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