Monday, 31 August 2009

The PM's Office

The PMs office is split into 4 departments:
  • Private Office
  • Political Office
  • Press Office
  • Policy Directorate
Under the Interactive Democracy (ID) system I would expect that this structure would continue. Much of the governments agenda would be set through the ID system and I would imagine that the Political Office and the Policy Directorate would work closely together to encourage votes from party members, in order to create a majority that would push the desired policies through the public ID system. Us voters would decide if we liked them or not.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Prime Minister's Questions - PMQs

Would it be useful to allow PMQs from the public?
Perhaps Interactive Democracy (ID) could be used for this. Perhaps the 10 questions with the most votes would have to be answered by the PM in the House of Commons and on the No.10 web site.
Or would this absorb too much of the Prime Minister's time?
Public PMQs may evolve once the ID system is in place.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Presidential Prime Ministers

In the past we have had Prime Ministers with many different styles of leadership; some have been criticised for surrounding themselves with "yes men" and steamrollering their colleagues. By appointing loyal and grateful politicians to cabinet positions, PMs can reinforce their own power, undermine collective cabinet government and become more presidential.
Interactive Democracy introduces a different power balance. This power is much more immediate than in a Parliamentary Democracy that is dominated by infrequent General Elections and it can be wielded precisely on specific issues. At any time the electorate will be able to call for a change of government, sack individual ministers or call for a change of government policy. This counter balances presidential power.
The ID system may be less appealing to egotistical Prime Ministers who want to exert their will, because much of Parliamentary business will be driven by voters. However, the public can still have a Presidential PM, if that is what the majority wants: they can vote in a Presidential figure and allow him or her to set the agenda.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Counterbalancing the Prime Minister's Powers

The Prime Minister has the power to
  1. Appoint ministers
  2. Chair cabinet meetings
  3. Set the agenda
  4. Appoint senior civil servants
  5. Award peerages
  6. Decide when to call a general election

I'd expect most of those powers to continue. However, the governments agenda would in part be set by the demands made by the public through the ID system and partly by national and world events. And without a House of Lords, peerages will not have the same relevance.

With ID the PM would need to keep a watchful eye on public opinion while making decisions because a majority could, in theory, countermand his/her decisions and ultimately call for a general election or the sacking of ministers and senior civil servants. These sanctions would likely only be employed in extremis, but their existence would be an influence on No.10's operations, without voters continuously meddling in the day to day operation of government.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Law Lords

Could Interactive Democracy (ID) take over the role of the Law Lords?
There are 12 Law Lords who used to sit in the House of Lords (but have now moved) and are the highest court of appeal in the land - the supreme court of appeal. They are experienced senior judges and have a wealth of legal experience.
Even if ID eliminated the need for a separate House of Lords (counter balancing the power of The Commons and saving £60m a year), I would expect a continued requirement for the Law Lords to operate the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Technology Savy Demographics

Interactive Democracy has an inbuilt bias for those with Internet connections and IT skills. Information Technology facilitates cost effective voting but it is essential that everyone has reasonable access to both the equipment and training needed to make ID work. I suspect that that point has almost come, given the access to public libraries that we can all enjoy, each with an Internet facility. Undoubtedly this technology favours those who are familiar with it. However, I make no apology for the natural bias ID offers to those demographics that own a computer and know how to use it. There has always been this type of bias in democracy, a bias for those that could read in the early 20th century, those that owned a wireless in the 1930s or a TV set in the 1960s. Always a bias for those with the mobility and the time to get to a polling station.

Citizen Journalists

As we have seen after the Iranian general election, anyone with a video camera and an Internet connection can air footage that can effect political debate. Any blogger can express their opinion. However, this information, for all its impact, may not be verified as a report from the best journalists would. Reports may actually be corrupt interpretations or may even be orchestrated by those with hidden agendas.
I don't believe that such concerns are a significant problem for Interactive Democracy, which balances public opinion with Parliamentary expertise and Bloggers with Professional Journalists.
It could be argued that a deluge of information from citizen journalists may add diversity to the debate and thus enhance it. Even though no one person could view every report, a large number of individuals may collectively absorb the information and act accordingly, the Interactive Democracy system collating their opinions.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Donations to MPs

Donations made to MPs, exceeding £1000, must be declared, but there is always the worry that money can "buy" policy. Interactive Democracy may make such corruption meaningless as the public have the final vote on new laws.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Two Job MPs

It has long been the case that MPs have been able to have two jobs and lucrative sources of second income, sometimes associated with their Parliamentary responsibilities. One of our best loved leaders, Sir Winston Churchill, wrote several successful books that provided him with extra cash.
It may be argued that MPs' second jobs anchor them in the "real world", forming a connection to the general public that can so easily be lost in the Westminster Village. For example, Sir Paul Beresford has continued to practice as a dentist. The counter argument is that MPs should really be concentrating on politics and their Parliamentary responsibilities, not using their position to make more dosh as nonexecutive directors and the like.
Interactive Democracy feeds everyones' real life experience into the political mix. Every type of democracy needs politicians to be professional and responsible law makers, focused on their jobs as Parliamentarians.
For an Independent article about MPs' second jobs please click here.

MPs Attendance

It is important for Interactive Democracy (indeed any democracy) that MPs attend debates and ballots - that's their job. Perhaps they should be payed for attendance? Or perhaps a record of attendance should be published on the web?
But Cabinet Ministers are also MPs and if they attended every session in Parliament, who would govern the country?

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Lords that Govern

Peter Mandelson, among others, have positions in government, not through election but by appointment. They are Lords that govern.
George Bernard Shaw said, "Democracy is a form of government that substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few." Yet the "many" aren't as incompetent or ill informed as in Shaw's day. Today we are far better educated and have access to a wide range of sources of information and opinions. Interactive Democracy is a form of government that substitutes the will of the educated majority for the appointment of the corrupt few.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

John Gardner

"The citizen can bring our political and governmental institutions back to life, make them responsive and accountable, and keep them honest. No one else can." John Gardner, founder of Common Cause.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Noam Chomsky

"States are not moral agents, people are, and can impose moral standards on powerful institutions." Noam Chomsky.

Interactive Democracy gives people the power to impose those moral standards.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Time Limits

The No.10 ePetition system allows you to select how long you would like your petition to run, up to a maximum of 1 year. The Interactive Democracy system requires no such time limits as whichever petition has the most support goes before Parliament. This has the advantage that ideas can hang around long enough so that they may reach a tipping point where support suddenly blooms; they may quite suddenly have their day as new and unpredicted events focus public interest.