It’s time to change how we govern ourselves

Gordon Brown has urged the Prime Minister to set up a commission to review how this country is governed. This follows polling that suggests growing support for both Scottish independence and a united Ireland following our exit from the European Union. I think such a commission to be an excellent idea, but would call for it to have a really wide remit. Whilst Gordon Brown is in favour of a federal system of government with more power being devolved to the separate nations and / or regions, I would like it to consider applying the notion of subsidiarity to the UK. This would mean that government takes place at the lowest possible level; that a central government should only have a subsidiary function – performing only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level. This means that any review of governance should be applied to all levels, all the way down to town and parish councils. The aim would be to allow decisions to be made as close as is practically possible to those people affected by them; to make the whole process much more democratic. However, to really boost democracy, three other issues need to be thrown into the mix.

First, we need to abolish the House of Lords. I fail to understand how a country that regards itself as a model of democracy can have a completely unelected second chamber of government, let alone one that contains members who are there simply because they have inherited a title or have been awarded a title because of the money they have donated to the political party in power at the time. I know that not all members of the House of Lords have bought a place on the green benches, but I do not consider being ‘a national treasure’ a suitable qualification for membership either. And whilst there are a small number of very hardworking and competent members who have been appointed on the recommendation of smaller political parties, they have still been appointed – not elected. If we moved to a more federal system of government the second chamber could consist of members who were elected to represent a much larger area than that represented by constituency MPs – perhaps on a similar model to the Senate / House of Representatives in the US. But we do not need to imitate. We should have a thorough national conversation and devise a new model that suits our particular needs.

Second, we need to abolish the monarchy and establish a Republic. Whilst I realise that the monarch is only the formal head of state, and has very little real power, it is still an inherited role – not an elected one. It is a throw back to past times when the King or Queen was considered to be God’s representative on Earth and had divine rights. Or, more recently, to when the monarch was the pinnacle of a very strict social hierarchy that severely limited the life chances of the majority of the population. In my opinion the social memory of this royal history holds us back; it prevents us from evolving a new system of government – one suited to the challenges of the 21st century. Whoever is our formal head of state, even if their position is largely ceremonial and diplomatic, they must be appointed by a national ballot. It will be for the commission to decide exactly how much power they should have and how their position fits the elected chamber(s).

Third, we need elections (other than those for the role of head of state) to be conducted under some form of proportional representation. We must have all voices and opinions, no matter how minority, heard and represented in Parliament. My argument for this is largely philosophical. Quite simply, there is no definitively ‘correct’ political view point. I have a particular view of how I would like our government to operate, the laws I would like them to pass, and the type of society I would like to see them try and create. But how ever good I may consider my argument to be, it is impossible for me to state categorically ‘this is how things should be’. Why? Because the correct type of government / society does not objectively exist. It is all a matter of opinion based largely on what we are trying to politically achieve and how best we think we can achieve it. In this sense your opinion is as valid as mine, and the only practical way forward is for all (or as many as possible) viewpoints to be aired, discussed and debated, and a consensus agreed upon. Yes, decisions need to be made, and sometimes the situation may call for strong leadership, but none of these decisions can be definitively correct and all must be open to review. As a society we have not really accepted this relativity of opinion. We tend to form an opinion and then defend it ‘to the death’ as the correct one. We are not good at genuine discussion and debate. We are not good at constructively challenging the views of others and having them do the same to us. We are not good at reaching a consensus. We need to learn this fast. But to do so we need as many viewpoints represented in the debating chambers.

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