Monday, 29 June 2009

Interactive Democracy and Money Bills

The Parliament Bill of 1911 replaced the Lords' power of veto with the ability to delay legislation for up to two years. It also removed their power over money bills - those associated with taxation.
Should Interactive Democracy allow the majority to vote on money bills?
It seems to me that an important aspect of democracy is a balance of power, so that one faction doesn't become too self possessed. Power corrupts! I think the population could handle Money Bills and should be allowed to vote on them. This may help to prevent the sort of debacle that occurred with the proposed 10% tax rate.
Using the ID system we could all decide if Money Bills should be open to Interactive voting, passing Parliament Bills of our own to curtail our own collective power. There may be good reason to do this, if the majority vote for their personal financial benefit without regard for the wider picture.

Monday, 15 June 2009

John F Kennedy

"We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people." John F Kennedy

Never The Twain Shall Meet

"The government is merely a servant -- merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn't. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them." Mark Twain.
This ideal, this myth, is such a part of our collective subconscious that many accept without question the concept of government as servant of the people. Yet in today's Parliamentary Democracy we elect rulers who have no way of knowing what the will of the majority is. No way of taking orders. They sometimes, but not always, pursue their manifesto commitments. They sometimes, but not always, try to represent their constituents. MPs sometimes, but not always, follow their own consciences. They more often vote in accordance with the Whips. Interactive Democracy is closer to Twain's ideal.

Thomas Jefferson

"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."
Similarly, we should recognise that we are better educated and informed than people 50 or 100 years ago; communication facilities have improved many times over; we are better educated. Interactive Democracy doesn't advocate the destruction of democracy as we know it today, but hopes to build on it with new technology that will empower, enable and enhance.
Here's more on Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of America. (Earlier, as minister to France, he expressed sympathy for the French Revolution, not knowing into what depravity it would sink.)

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Flint Sparks Debate

Ms Flint resigned from the cabinet a day after she pledged her loyalty to it in a TV interview.
On breakfast TV she suggested that women should be better represented in politics. Interactive Democracy can't guarantee that there would be more female politicians, but does guarantee that every women can contribute their ideas and votes, issue by issue.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Baby P, Baby Politics

The press, and then the politicians, vilified social workers for their failure to defend Baby P. It seemed as if public anger at this tragic death was focused away from the criminal(s) who perpetrated this barbarous, bullying outrage and instead attacked the social workers without really getting to grips with the real dilemma: as a society, do we take children from their families on the basis of inconclusive evidence, possibly ripping innocent families apart and psychologically damaging them, or do we leave children in situations where we suspect, but cannot prove, they are at risk?
There are other questions here. When the public are angered, can there be a rational and balanced debate that may employ Interactive Democracy to improve things? Do vitriolic campaigns by the media skew our thinking even more when we feel outraged? Is it the role of politicians to pander to public opinion or to act to check and balance public passions? Are scapegoats inevitable?
In my opinion the Interactive Democracy system should benefit from politicians debating issues and from detailed studies. This may be a slow process... time is a great healer and the ID system should be slow enough to allow passions to give way to rationalisation.
Ultimately, after due consideration, if a referendum is required, it may be wise for parliament to present widely disparate alternative choices as a way of "playing devils advocate" and improving the quality of the public debate.

The Blame Game

The blame game seems to be endemic in our society. We blame politicians, bankers, social workers. Sometimes even victims of crime for not taking adequate precautions. Following trends set in the USA, litigation is on the increase. Blaming the government for pretty much everything has long been the norm.
Interactive Democracy means that everyone must take more responsibility for public life. To use the cliche, with power comes responsibility.
Will a continuing willingness to blame the government perpetuate demand after demand for dissolution of the government in the Interactive Democracy system? If it did, this could seriously hamper social progress, like adding grit instead of oil to a machine. However, there is hope that this wouldn't be the case: it always amazes me that out of the bickering, Yaa-Boo Parliament the opposition rally behind the government on issues of national defence and foreign policy. In a similar way I would hope that they would support the smooth running of Interactive Democracy rather than use it to agitate for the demise of the government. Looking to their own future as a government they would be wise to set the right president.

Friday, 5 June 2009

57% Choose Not to Participate in Democracy

According to this Hansard Report, 57% of people may choose not to participate in Democracy, 40% of them blaming lack of time as the reason.
Interactive Democracy, with a web, text or phone based IT infrastructure, makes it very quick and easy to participate. It empowers and motivates voters. But it can also make democracy very effective at a local level (assuming postcodes are used to identify a voters location). For example, if you want more bin collections you can vote for it; if you want a new speed limit on your street, you can vote for it; if you want a salt bin at the top of the hill, you can vote for it. You can even knock on your neighbours doors and encourage them to vote for your petition. This isn't the Ya-Boo politics that may alienate some, but the practical local policies that can make a meaningful difference to communities, and it may breed renewed interest and involvement in National or international politics.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

5 Steps to a Digital Britain

This report about eDemocracy, by Andy Williamson of the Hansard Society, identifies 5 steps for a Digital Britain. Please click on the link to read all about them.
It seems to me that much of what is suggested (access, information literacy and content) will develop over time, but it is a concern that a digital divide could disenfranchise part of the population from the Interactive Democracy model. Ease of access to the ePetition and voting systems is important, but it is also worth remembering that a trip to the local library, where Internet access is usually free, is hardly more difficult than a trip to a polling station. And in my experience, librarians are usually very helpful when it comes to getting on-line. I don't believe we need to wait until everyone has personal Internet access before implementing Interactive Democracy.
Also, giving people power is, in its self, motivating. Just look at all the management stuff on empowerment!

Handy Hansard

Hansard is the printed transcription of Parliamentary debates. You can find it here.

Mandate, Trustee or Delegate?

In 1774 Edmund Burke explained to his constituents that, should they vote him into the House of Commons, he would act as a trustee of their faith in accordance with his own conscience. He asked them to trust him to do the right thing: The Trustee Model.
This is in contrast to the notion that an MP is a delegate of his constituents, voicing their concerns and voting in a way (s)he believes the majority of the constituents would want. This is sometimes know as The Delegate Model.
Alternatively, if an MP believes that they won their seat because they belong to the party with the winning Manifesto they may act to bring those election pledges into being: The Mandate Model.
Interactive Democracy recognises that MPs are torn between conscience, party and constituents on some issues. Yet they have no simple mechanism for measuring the will of the majority of their constituents and must make assumptions about what they want. ID provides that mechanism and at the same time frees MPs to debate and persuade as their party and conscience dictate.

The Speaker

The Speaker of the House of Commons is appointed by a ballot of its members and is required to resign from their political party and become politically impartial. Speakers only cast their votes in the event of a tie and then they are guided by the president set by earlier incumbents to that office. Despite the claims in this document from, if the speaker doesn't take part in debates, how are their own constituents represented?
Interactive Democracy side steps this issue by allowing constituents to represent themselves. Instead, Parliamentarians will be expected to debate bills, form a government and hold it to task as their conscience dictates. I'd expect the Speaker's role and responsibilities to continue but some may consider that a speaker could be appointed from outside of the House, so long as they acted within tight rules and regulations, or be dismissed by a vote of no-confidence. This would allow all MPs to act in the role they were appointed for by the public.


Demagogy is a strategy for gaining political power by appealing to prejudices and fears. Would this become prevalent in Interactive Democracy?
I'm sure it would, but I believe that the vast majority of British people would not be swayed by such crassness anymore than our politicians are today. After all, MPs need the support of the population if they are to stay in office.
It is the role of moral leaders everywhere to oppose base instinct and false logic, and to build empathy. There are many people within our society, leaders in positions of authority, who are well positioned to maintain our moral compass. Interactive Democracy gives them another tool to oppose prejudice and fear.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Whose Interests do MPs Represent?

In a BBC commissioned poll by Ipsos MORI the public showed little belief that MPs represent constituents. (Click here for the article.) In four polls taken between 1994 and 2009 no more than 10% believed that MPs represented us and it's worse now. Typically 50% thought that they represented themselves and 20 to 30% thought that they represented their party!
Is this what you call representative democracy?

Supervision of Parliament

Nearly 50% of people believe that half or more of MPs are corrupt according to a BBC/MORI poll (June 2009, in light of The Telegraph's expose of MPs expense claims). You can see the BBC report here. "It also points to strong support among the British public for taking away Parliament's power to police its self."
The appointment of Parliamentary Supervisors seems to me to be a step away from democracy, unless, of course, they are elected, but there is nothing to suggest that that is what is on the public's mind. And even if the supervisors were elected, who would supervise their pay and expenses? Would they cook up a cosy deal with the MPs for mutual benefit? And, by the way, what about the expenses of the Lords in the higher house?
My preference is for public information on expenses and Interactive Democracy, so that we can keep politicians in check.
In the ID system the public could call for a General Election if Parliament behaved scandalously or we could just dismiss corrupt MPs one at a time. Or perhaps make other suggestions to bring them to justice: a police investigation for example.

Public Service Announcements

Could public service announcements be created by government to sway the public's vote on an issue? How would Interactive Democracy deal with the prospect of a government using public money to get their point across?
For example, does something as simple as warning the public of the health problems associated with smoking have an impact on possible future ballots about smoking on the streets, tax on cigarettes or smoking near children?
I don't believe it matters, so long as the adverts are factually correct. If they aren't, then the government should be held to task by the Advertising Standards Authority (backed up by public power exerted through Interactive Democracy).

Increasing Political Party Membership

Interactive Democracy can increase the general population's involvement in politics and this may actually increase their interest in joining a political party (or parties), both as a route to garnering support for their ideas and as a means of debating and learning about political issues. I believe this would be good for democracy.
(The above graph does not confer support for any particular party from this web site.)

The Demise of Political Parties?

Would Interactive Democracy (ID) mean the ultimate demise of political parties?
There is a role for them in ID, to put forward the best candidates to become MPs, to debate political issues, create ideas for improvement and to solve national problems, to put forward theses ideas in the ePetition (Ideas Engine) system and to vote together en-mass to effect Interactive ballots. Also, people who want to be in government are likely to need to belong to a political party - the winning party in a general election. So, there are still very good reasons for parties to continue to exist.

In ID the power of political parties may be somewhat diluted among the population as a whole, as everyone can vote on each issue. However, this means that individual party members actually have more power, both as party members and normal voters. Their leaders have less power except for their powers of persuasion.

The Political Parties could also use the Interactive Democracy infrastructure for internal polls, perhaps improving the efficiency of there own operations.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009


Despite its flavour of communist dictatorship (Stalin was a Bolshevik) the word actually means majority in Russian. Its communist overtones come from its use to describe one side of a split in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1903, the other side being the Mensheviks or minority.
Interactive Democracy relies on the power of majority but should never be associated with Communism, the political views of the Bolsheviks or the bloody days of the Russian Revolution.