What drives Unify?
At UNIFY we’ve repeatedly witnessed poor decisions taken for party advantage at a cost to the country and its people. We all believe in democracy and we all believe in our country but have come to the conclusion that tribalism of political parties is an obstacle to effective democracy in our Parliament.
If we wish our government to work effectively, and in our best interests, then we need to stop political parties stifling democracy to further their own ends. Not only do they prevent our elected representatives from debating and voting freely, they wilfully use parliamentary privilege to evade rules that they set for others.
There can be no doubt that energetic, intelligent and informed debate is the best way to arrive at the best-possible decisions. Unfortunately, the polar opposite is taking place. There are 650 members of parliament at Westminster charged with representing the interests of their constituents and the nation as a whole, but they are increasingly treated as delegates by the party they had to join to get elected. Out of all our MPs only one is an independent and political parties control their MPs with ruthless authority. Political advantage dictates decision-making, the electorate comes a poor second and, having already been told how to vote, few MPs attend debates.
It does, however, look as if this unhappy era is coming to an end and we may even be witnessing its death throes. Every one of the main parties is beset by fundamental and potentially terminal problems with many MPs at odds with their leadership. All political parties get into trouble from time to time but an across-the-board meltdown like this is unprecedented. Potentially one of the wealthiest nations on the planet, Britain is piling an enormous amount of debt onto future generations. Promising the impossible to get elected is finally reaching its inevitable conclusion and, with none of the parties now able to apply the corrective measures we need, the country is at risk of becoming ungovernable.
People feel disenfranchised, saying that there is no point in voting as ‘they are all the same’ and in many respects they are. Political parties exist solely to get their MPs into power and to keep them there. Oppositions do not oppose to produce better legislation, they oppose to get their own MPs into power instead – only to then adopt the policies they objected to.
Too many of today’s MPs went straight from university into politics with little practical experience of the outside world. Some MPs are better than others but all are constrained by parties giving priority to the pursuit of power rather than the national interest. Even when their inexperience is matched by a burning desire to improve the lives of others, the political manoeuvring that dominates the corridors of power defeats their best efforts. MPs will never hold a ministerial position unless they vote as directed and can be demoted or de-selected at will.
We live in a highly regulated world. The police tackle anti-social behaviour, the Competition and Markets Authority ensures big companies cannot conspire against their customers and Trading Standards guarantees we cannot be given short-measures or lied to for profit. These organisations serve a transparently useful purpose and we are happy to accept their control. Unfortunately these rules do not apply to political parties whose behaviour is generally unregulated.
There are plenty of rules governing the election of MPs and once elected their income, contacts and expenses are closely monitored. Meantime, however, political parties breach employment regulations and ignore the Competition, Bribery and Trade Description Acts with impunity.
As we all require the same things from life – security, housing, employment, education, healthcare and a future for our children – these basic essentials should not be used as political footballs. The simplest way to prevent that from happening would to take regulations that other organisations already comply with and apply them in Parliament as well.
All MPs must be empowered to debate freely and forcefully to the best of their ability and knowledge. They must then be able to vote for what they consider to be in the best interests of their constituents and the country as a whole. Attempting to coerce or induce an MP to vote in a certain manner in return for political patronage should be outlawed. It must also be made illegal for political parties to collude behind closed doors to achieve their preferred outcome, as Edward Heath famously did with the Labour Party in 1972 to take Britain into the EU. Such activities are not allowed outside Parliament and there is absolutely no reason why they should be tolerated in the House of Commons either. Political parties are not elected, they swear no oath of allegiance yet they are allowed to call elections, form governments and appoint prime ministers. They have no constitutional authority but are able to award honours to their supporters and sell ministerial access for cash. Political parties also misuse the House of Lords to influence policy and to provide a cosy retirement home for their chums.
An enormous amount of money, much of it public, is squandered in prolonging this outdated and destructive parody. The last General Election closed down government for seven weeks and cost the taxpayer over £140m, in addition to the private funding provided by supporters and those seeking peerages and favours. Meanwhile an army of special advisers and activists soak up taxpayer cash working for the benefit of the parties.
By any rational analysis, our democratic system would function much better if it was not constantly being hijacked by political parties jockeying for position. We have become disconnected from our politicians and them from us.
We need to reconnect with our MPs by selecting them ourselves in open primaries and setting them free to work for the common good. The House of Commons must become a non-partisan and trusted arbiter of what is in the nation’s best interests.
We have major international problems to deal with but we can hardly expect other countries to become democratic whilst offering such a poor example ourselves. We already have the history, the building and its traditions, we just need to ensure that they are used properly and to our best advantage. Like it or not, change is now upon us and, if we fail to get a grip, our children may soon wonder what has hit them.