Friday, 18 December 2009

Political Meritocracy

Representative Democracy may be considered a political meritocracy. Politicians are chosen by their party and, in theory, win elections based on their merit. The best of them gain the support of their peers to become leaders and senior figures. Long standing and experienced politicians may be appointed to the House of Lords.
All good stuff on the face of it. But being good at one thing, indeed many things, doesn't make you good at everything, and politics is a vastly diverse subject. No one person is likely able to master all of it. In reality meritocracy is more complicated and corruptible than the ideal:
  1. How does the old boy network effect who is chosen to become a candidate?
  2. Does the electorate vote for politicians or parties; do they judge the candidate effectively?
  3. Does the best funded or the most capable candidate/party, win?
  4. Can students of Machiavelli play the system and gain power?
  5. Are Honours given fairly or is there bias in appointments to the Lords?
  6. If meritocracy was perfect, wouldn't we be able to find the single best candidate to make decisions for us (someone the ancient Greeks called the aristoi, root of the word aristocrat)?
Though imperfect, I think the current political meritocracy needs to be a key element in the Interactive Democracy system because we need politicians to formulate laws, man committees, debate proposals, form governments and act in opposition. ID just allows public sentiment to flow into this process and check the results of it.
Interactive Democracy adds a meritocracy of ideas to the meritocracy of politicians, where the best proposals can jump through hurdles of debate and ballot to become policy.


Anonymous said...

It does seem on the face of it that there is some danger of those who are not at all fit to lead finding themselves in positions of power and influence. But I think you would agree that this isn't saying a very great deal about our system of government? Rather, it says more about the complexities of human interactions, of course you may favour a friend or family member over a stranger you may even (if you have the power ) award honours in return for favours or even money, but these all to human tendancies have been largely expunged in modern politics by means of independant committies set up to make recomendations on those who should be properly concidered for a position or honour. At this point we can pause and let you recover from the fit of mocking laughter brought about by the last sentence. Yes I do think that standards are generally higher than elsewhere and the recent scandal was a scandle because our sense of justice was offended. There is much we can do to mitigate the worst tendancies of polititions, however there is little we can do to cure democracy of its tendancy to elect people and parties who are not up to the jobs they covet.
People are often promoted until they find their personal limit of competance and it is often at least one level above the level in which they could exell. Many ideas extolled by parties are untried or at least untried in the current economic climate and they may even be bad ideas, the trouble is we never truly know until they are implimened, and it is the same for a new Minister of state.
What I hope we can agree on is that we should not expect to get too close to some mythical perfection in politics. Politics according to Bismark is the "Art of the possible," but this is really only a part of the story. Politics is also a testing ground where all the hair brain schemes known to man are, if you wait long enough, tried out. Ideas and aproaches, dogmas and ideals. It is messy and it is just as "Red in tooth and claw" as A.H.Hallum saw nature. In closing I should say the addition of a "none of the above" option on the ballot slip would do a lot to motivate people to vote.

About Interactive Democracy said...

I like your idea of voting "None of the above" and quite agree with the concept of each Politician being promoted to their level of incompetency, all "Red in tooth and claw". But I'm not sure about the real independence of Westminster committees given the tangle of political power and political finance. Just the threat that the electorate could wield their power quickly and decisively may scare many politicians into doing a better job. I'd also hope that Interactive Democracy would float more ideas, and eliminate the bad ones quicker, than the current system. Nevertheless, I quite accept that it's always going to be a bun fight.