Saturday, 21 July 2012

Parliament's Powers to Prosecute Liars

This article in The Independent looks at Parliaments ancient powers to prosecute liars and those in contempt, last used in the 1880s. There have been new calls to employ such powers after witnesses provided contrary evidence to Parliamentary Inquiries.
"In the US anyone found in contempt of a Senate or House Committee can be reported to the US Attorney..."
For Interactive Democracy I propose much wider sanctions against lying in public life to keep public debate clean. This could be operated in a similar way to the Advertising Standards Authority, which responds to public complaints. It could have legal powers to investigate deceit and use a variety of powers, everything from a public warning to jail.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Blood Serotonin and Power Seeking

Douglas Madsen from The University of Iowa reports that whole blood serotonin seems to be linked with power seeking personalities of the type common among politicians. You can read the whole report here.
It seems to me that, though biochemistry may drive people to seek power, it does not necessarily correlate with intelligence, morality, empathy, creativity or communication skills; all things we may prefer in a politician. It reminds me of the old jokes:

"... it is a well-known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it."
Douglas Adams.

 “In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.”
Napoleon Bonaparte.

"Devil's Bargain? Energy Risks and the Public"

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published a report on risk communication, "Devil's Bargain? Energy Risks and the Public".
"Independent regulators should take a more prominent role in communicating the risks associated with energy generation and distribution because the government is not seen as an impartial source of information, MPs... have concluded." Reported in Nuclear Engineering International.
It seems to me that our distrust of politicians comes from many sources. We may suspect the political class of spin, manipulation, partial truths, hidden agendas, dogmatism, hubris and power seeking. I suggest that, although politics may attract a certain type of person, the adversarial nature of the political arena creates a political culture that is detrimental to public trust.
Interactive Democracy would change the political culture, with every chance of creating the respect enjoyed by Swiss politicians (described by Fossedal in Direct Democracy in Switzerland) and, at the same time, facilitates the limitless contribution of experts relevant to the field of discussion - experts identified by their qualifications in the subject.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Lobbying by the Finance Industry

"An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has revealed the firepower of the City's lobbying machine, prompting concern that its scale and influence puts the interests of the wider economy in the shade", according to The Guardian.
"The British financial services industry spent £92m last year lobbying politicians and regulators...
"...129 organisations engaging in some form of lobbying for the finance sector...
"... the recently departed leader of the City corporation, Stuart Fraser, had contact with the chancellor, George Osborne, and other senior Treasury ministers and officials 22 times in the 14 months up to March this year.
"Beyond the corporation, there are 26 industry bodies lobbying government... with a war chest of at least £34m.
"A total of 124 peers, equivalent to 16% of the House of Lords, have direct financial links with financial services firms.
"Political donations by firms aand individuals connected to the City contributed £6.11m in 2011 to the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties."

I expect that, in my proposed system of Interactive Democracy, lobbyists would spend some of the money spent today on influencing politicians, instead on the public. That's probably a good thing for promoting debate and understanding, transparency and the common good.

"A Tsunami of money hits US politics"

According to Richard McGregor in the Financial Times there are three ways of funding US Presidential candidates. Both donations, capped to $40000, and uncapped super-political action committees, must be disclosed. But "non-profit social welfare bodies... can take as much money as they want, anonymously. These are supposed to operate exclusively for social welfare reasons, but everyone knows their sole purpose is to win elections" (quoted from MoneyWeek 6/7/12).
The problem of hidden vested interests buying political support has the potential of corrupting democracy. If individuals vote on each issue, as I propose in Interactive Democracy, the problem becomes far less.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

"British democracy in terminal decline"

British democracy in terminal decline, warns a report by the Democratic Audit. Juliette Jowit writes about it in The Guardian and there's a data report here, where you can access the image above.
"A study into the state of democracy in Britain warns that it is in 'long-term terminal decline' as the power of corporations keeps growing, politicians become less representative of their constituencies and disillusioned citizens stop voting or even discussing current affairs."
Interactive Democracy allows citizens to vote on policies and politicians in a simple, easy access and cost effective manner. As many TV reality shows have shown, easy access to voting fosters involvement. ID also forces politicians and corporations to engage with the electorate, who hold the real power in the land. Apart from the ID web site that fosters questions, ideas, debate and voting, there are ancillary policies that enhance democracy: laws against lying in public life, rules against media monopolies, mandatory reporting by the state media on the issues raised by the public, sanctions against uncivil contributions to debates and votes automatically devolved to your representative if you don't want to participate. Together such policies enhance the democratic ideal, quash mob mentality and demagoguery, facilitate better decisions by tapping into the immense experience and knowledge of the electorate, and educate us all through debate. Politicians, the media and the electorate can all benefit from the interaction.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Democratic Reform: Silly Games

"Tory opponents of House of Lords reforms are playing 'silly games' that could threaten the coalition [minister warns]" writes Nicholas Watt in The Guardian.
Some Conservative Party MPs are opposed to Coalition plans to reform the House of Lords, making it 80% elected. They are worried that elected Lords will challenge the primacy of The Commons, potentially lose the vast experience of today's appointed Lords and reinforce Lib-Dem power, but their views may be quashed by a three-line-whip and their coalition agreement.
"Nick Clegg's outgoing strategy director warned that the Liberal Democrats would block Tory plans to reduce the size of the House of Commons if David Cameron fails to persuade his MPs to support the measure." (Redefining the electoral boundaries was mooted as equalising the number of voters in each constituency as well as reducing the number of MPs, making each vote more equal to each other.)
So here we have the workings of democracy: coalition horse trading, whipping party members into line against their judgement and reinforcing party power by manipulating the way that elections work. Where are the electorate in this process? Were these things wanted by the majority? Do politicians represent their constituents or their party? Do they vote in line with their convictions or their career prospects? All problems famously defined by Edmund Burke in 1774.
Interactive Democracy is very different. It would allow us all to propose, debate and vote on each issue as we see fit. And, by dint of web based voting, it would facilitate other voting options such as automatically morphing electoral boundaries to make each vote equal or approval voting for "Lords" from different electoral regions, each presenting their CV on the voting site.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Sock Puppets: Government Charities

MoneyWeek comments on Christopher Snowden's "Sock Puppets" report for the Institute of Economic Affairs:
"For example, anti-smoking group ASH is entirely funded by various government bodies. In turn it uses this money to influence public policy. Regardless of your views on smoking, it does seem odd that the government spends our money to lobby itself. More sinisterly, it also means that such charities can potentially be used as a smokescreen for unpopular government policy objectives, concludes Snowdon, by making it seem as though the government is simply yielding to pressure from well-meaning charities, which are in fact acting as "sock puppets" campaigning for greater state power."
Is this yet another corruption of democracy? Death by a thousand cuts!
(Extract from Money Week article "The trouble with charities".)