The price capping of energy is a perfect example of political parties getting the wrong answer together. The consequences are that fuel poverty will continues to grow while we price our industry out of export markets.
The use of Private Finance Initiatives to fund hospitals and schools is another example of dangerous groupthink. Hospital trusts and local authorities now face huge debts that were foreseeable and unnecessary.
High Speed Rail also shows how politicians can go down the wrong track by having a grand scheme rather than dealing with the local faults in the rail system.
For all these reasons and more we believe Britain will become better when we have less myopic decision-making. This requires us to have more MPs being more autonomous by being less tribal and dominated by Party bosses.
This is the focus of our campaign, we are apolitical – we do not believe in particular parties or policies per se – we just want to see a better quality of thought in our Parliament and ultimately a more confident and prosperous Britain.
Perhaps the best example of tribalism bringing down the quality of thinking is the debate over an energy cap.
In 2015 Labour proposed an Energy Cap – in order to solve fuel poverty. This was dismissed out of hand by the Conservatives at the general Election who claimed it would reduce investment and make the problem worse over time.
Fast forward to the 2017 General election and without a hint of irony or shame the Conservatives proposed their own energy cap as if with amnesia they had forgotten what they had said about it.
Theresa May is now championing the idea as if it is her own while ignoring the warnings it will not deliver the desired relief against expensive energy bills.
With all this gaming and blaming a price cap was only a Band-Aid for a dysfunctional energy market. What was missing was deeper thought. The market remains dysfunctional – and neither party is looking at the underlying causes.
We need MPs to be independent enough to get further much sooner.
UNIFY believes artificial political divisions should be put aside so our politicians can work together to find the best possible solutions and resolve the core issues that confront us.
One of the most expensive examples of party groupthink is the support for High Speed rail between London, Birmingham and then Manchester and Leeds known as HS2. It is claimed it will regenerate the North’s economy but with a little thought you can see it will do the exact opposite.
Once HS2 makes it easier for workers to commute to London it will suck the economically active down to London, impoverishing the Northern cities and leaving them as glorified suburbs.
HS2 will cost of £50 billion for a gain of 20 minutes on the journey between Birmingham and London but not be completed until 2032. Like many vanity projects the horrendous burden will be borne by our grandchildren for the rest of their lives. No party will oppose it for fear of being seen to be “against” the North – but there are better ways to invest in infrastructure to benefit the Midlands, Yorkshire, Cheshire and and Lancashire.
Better rail links between northern cities, with longer platforms, longer trains and more track, and better roads with bypasses that protect towns could revitalise the local economies more quickly and at far less cost.
Once again party groupthink is driving out critical thinking and we are all the poorer for it.
Fortunately we already have an excellent precedent for this. House of Commons committees used to be appointed by the government. This meant that the ruling party controlled most committees with the prime minister often having the final say on their composition. However, this was changed and the committees are now formed on a cross-party basis by the MPs themselves. This has resulted in a remarkable improvement in their performance as they go about their business in a non-partisan and professional manner. Similarly, it would make a great deal of sense to appoint all ministers, including the prime minister in this manner. We would then have a government selected on merit from the widest choice possible.
THE PHONE MESSAGE left on Michael’s Guest’s voicemail was polite and to the point. It was from the GMB Union’s office.
The caller explained that Michael wouldn’t be allowed to take part in a by-election hustings organised by the union because the GMB only invites candidates who are members of a party with at least one MP in Parliament.
The GMB are perfectly entitled to decide who they will or won’t invite to take part in their version of open debate. And they are to be commended for organising such an event in the run-up to the Copeland parliamentary by-election of February 2017. But by ruling out independent candidates like Michael Guest can they be said to be aiding the democratic process?
Let’s face it, every independent candidate would be in Michael’s position and will therefore be banned from speaking at such a meeting in what is claimed to be a free society.
UNIFY believes that this attitude is one of many examples of how the political elite – and yes, that includes powerful trade unions in this country – are making up the rules to suit themselves. The main political parties don’t want to rock the boat. They like the status quo because it guarantees them a share of the power.
None of them wanted Brexit, nor did they welcome Donald Trump’s victory. These seismic events are viewed by them as major challenges to their hegemony. But the political landscape is changing, even if dinosaurs like Tony Blair can’t see it.
Despite no longer being in power, he still tries to exert his control over our lives by urging a revolt against Brexit. As a result he is all over the media.
The comparison between the treatment of the former Labour Prime Minister and Michael Guest, an independent councillor, is illuminating.
Both attempted to use their influence to change the way voters think.
Both attempted to exercise their right to express their views. One, still a member of the cosy club that runs the country, succeeded and was heard. The other, an outsider who recognises the need for change, was silenced.
Surely that can’t be right?
Independent candidates simply cannot compete against large professional organisations that sell political access to fund their campaigns.
The core aim of our campaign is ultimately to replace political parties altogether with high grade independent MPs. Once this has been accomplished, all parliamentary candidates will compete on a level playing field. The campaign spending cap will remain but in future the cost will be met from the public purse. All candidates will then receive equal campaign funding which they cannot top up to ensure that even those of limited means are able to stand as candidates.
No, quite the reverse. Although candidates may propose specific policies, we expect to see candidates standing on their CV and record of past achievements. An independent MP will only ever be able to get a policy implemented if the majority support it. That said, it will be open for any MP to propose a policy. Our goal is a Chamber that debates policies on their merits and votes accordingly. Legislation must deliver the maximum possible benefit to the electorate, whilst supporting national interests and protecting the welfare of those who do not yet have a vote.
That would be for parliament to decide in relation to a specific circumstance; our main purpose is to make parliament more democratically accountable all the time.
No, we believe that our proposals offer many advantages over proportional representation whilst strengthening the link between MPs and their constituents. Experience from around the world shows that PR simply increases the number of parties - with single issue parties often able to hold larger parties to ransom. By contrast, our proposals are focused on improving the relationship that MPs have with their constituents and with their colleagues in parliament. Our proposals will lead to fundamental and far-reaching improvements in the democratic system, whereas PR would lead to backroom deals and parliamentary paralysis.
HOW MANY people go to the bother of reading an election manifesto?
What evidence is there that those who vote for a candidate do so because they agree with his or her party’s manifesto commitments in full?
And what do the answers to these questions say about the state of our Parliamentary system of democracy?
Not everyone bothers to read an election manifesto and not everyone who votes for a party agrees with everything in the party’s manifesto.
Which leaves manifestos not worth the paper they are written on.
As an example look at what happened in Scotland. A commitment to another independence referendum was given in the SNP’s manifesto for the Holyrood elections of 2016.
But it is not easy to find, as the wording is buried deep on page 23. It specifically says that if Scotland is dragged against its will from the EU this would be grounds for a new referendum.
However, opinion polls show that many SNP voters were among the million plus Scots who voted to leave the EU.
In other words, people voted for the SNP despite disagreeing with its most important manifesto commitment. Subsequently the SNP had to back down on this commitment and recoil from calling another referendum.
In the General Election of June 2017 Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made an off-the cuff remark in answer to a question about student debt that he would “deal with it” which then led to statements suggesting Debt would be written off. This attracted large numbers of young people to register to vote and polling suggests this was so they could vote Labour. Many constituencies across the UK with large student populations– such as Canterbury and Bristol – voted Labour.
Subsequently Jeremy Corbyn was forced to admit this policy had not been costed and was not a commitment – but the votes had been banked. Interestingly, the SNP made exactly the same pledge in the Holyrood election of 2007 and then never made any changes to student debt.
So, what about the third, and most vital question, what does this tell us?
Manifestoes are generally worthless and policies presented as if they are commitments are often worthless too. Clearly, the lack of respect political parties show to their manifestos and the electorate highlights the basic flaw in the current system.
It is a system in which the party leadership wields almost all of the power, while party members are whipped into toeing the party line – even if they disagree with their masters or mistresses.
Of course, there are instances of rebellions within the ranks but they are too few and far between to make a substantive difference.
If, as we advocate, our elected representatives were naturally autonomous, and act on what they believe are the voters’ best interests, we would live in a fairer and more equitable society.
But so long as political parties use their position to seek more power for extended periods, while flouting manifestos and breaking promises, we shall remain in the dark ages of true democracy.
THE OLD political parties are imploding and electorates are playing a major role in their demise. From Brexit to Trump, voters are rejecting the elites that have made them poorer and marginalised them into the bargain. These political elites – in the EU, Washington and Westminster and around the world – have become hostages to fortune as years of deceit come back to haunt those who put their own careers and ideology before the wellbeing of those they were supposed to serve.
The Labour Party remains at war with itself despite a better than expected performance during the General Election of June 2017. Although the moderates still have the most MPs many now face the threat of deselection. On the surface the Labour Party appears settled under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, but that is because while there remains a possibility of another general election if Theresa May’s government falls Labour is in election campaign mode and must present a united front. The truth has been revealed on the votes on Brexit where it is the Labour members that have rebelled against three-line whip and not the Conservatives.
The Lib-Dems flew too close to the sun and got burned by their coalition with the Tories. They then positioned themselves as the party that would keep Britain in the EU and suffered badly again. They remain a marginal force.
UKIP helped win the battle of the referendum but has since held countless leadership contests. With the main reason it existed no longer up for debate, UKIP now behaves like two bald men fighting over a comb.
The Conservative Party is holding together due to its ruthless capacity for self-preservation. It is being greatly helped by the threat of Jeremy Corbyn and the collapse of the other parties, but has significant problems of its own, not least the constant murmuring that the Prime Minister will not be allowed to contest another general election. Then there is the prolonged nature of the Brexit process, with a majority of its MPs formerly for Remain, the strong and personally ambitious personalities involved and the unremitting pressure from an ongoing monetary crisis (where national debt is fast approaching two trillion) - all pointing to extremely difficult times ahead.
Political parties holding open primaries would lead to more diverse candidates and possibly more independently-minded candidates as well. However, as long as MPs have to place themselves under the party whip, the main problem remains and we do not regard open primaries as a solution on their own. Primaries that produce independent MPs capable of dealing with the needs of their constituents are the real answer.
No, you would get a diverse country rather than a fragmented one. If you put a similar range of questions on issues such as employment, tax, education, housing and healthcare, to people as far apart as the UK and Australia, you will get broadly similar answers. The basic needs and aspirations of people are the same across the world so there need be little concern about different nations or regions in our own country acting in a significantly different or insular manner. Diversity is to be welcomed and sits very well with the first principle of Localism, local accountability. Any area that did make poor choices would have the example of nearby communities profiting from sounder decisions. Diversity and competition are to be encouraged and is a vital tool to drive innovation.
IN OUR HISTORY Britain has been the undisputed world leader in aviation, engineering, railways, industry, science, education, communication and the armed forces – however we have subsequently thrown our leads all away. Why on earth did such an accomplished and capable nation allow this to happen? One day historians will chart the milestones on the road to our relative decline but a major factor will undoubtedly be a deeply-flawed political system that has consistently worked against our best interests.
The House of Commons is widely referred to as the ‘Mother of all Parliaments.’ It is, however, neither the oldest parliament nor a particularly good example of how a democracy should work. It was specifically designed to promote adversity and has a rectangular debating chamber with government and opposition MPs facing each other two sword lengths apart. The theory at the time was that the physical separation of opposition and government MPs would polarise debates, thus ensuring that governments were held to account. In reality very little proper debate ever takes place and the House of Lords spends most of its time having to cope with ill-conceived and politically-motivated legislation.
Adversarial debate can often produce the best possible outcome because it tests arguments. It is the basis for making decisions not just in government but also in courts of law, boardrooms and even in family homes. However, when debates become tribal, rather than being based on fact, experience or expert testimony, outcomes are seldom good. Not only does the unremitting need to defeat the other side prevent honest debate, but MPs are often told which way to vote well in advance of the debate even taking place. This leads to an empty chamber with no incentive to take part if your choice has been predetermined by others.
This became very noticeable when TV cameras first arrived in Parliament but we were told that MPs were gainfully employed in offices nearby whilst watching the debate on their own screens. Perhaps they were, but it doesn’t alter the fact that important legislation is often formed without being properly tested.
The Palace of Westminster is a historical building but traditions, such as its State Opening and Black Rod, give it an air of authority, stability and gravitas that it no longer merits. Its history has been one of cynical politicking, electoral bribery and wild swings between class-based tribal parties. With greater social mobility, over time the Conservatives and Labour have moved closer to the so-called ‘centre ground,’ to maximise their vote. Both parties therefore offer similar manifestos, ‘better everything,’ usually funded in the manner least likely to upset their own supporters, or postponed for future generations to pay.
Under the present system, policymaking is based on chasing votes rather than facts and the results become increasingly obvious with each passing day. Every aspect of our once vibrant country has been compromised by electoral bribery and politicising the lowest common denominator. Our economy is heading for a cliff with uncontrollable borrowing (debt is now just short of two trillion) and impossible pension commitments, while credit card consumerism has replaced manufacturing many of our public services have been overwhelmed by uncontrolled immigration – and our lives are now at risk from UK-based terrorists.
Occasionally common ground between politicians becomes visible but parties are always quick to snuff it out, even if this means flip-flopping on policies previously said to be vital to our future prosperity or safety. The necessary measures to decontaminate our politics from the party virus have been discussed many times over the years and are straightforward:
- governments should allow a free vote on all issues except clear manifesto commitments,
- MPs should be subject to recall by their constituents; and,
- all candidates should be selected by their constituents in primary elections.
These long-overdue reforms would revitalise our political system and allow government by consensus rather than the constant need to overcome the other side. The big problem for any Prime Minister is that these reforms would also diminish his or her own power. It will therefore be up to the electorate to influence the process by voting from now on only for proven and accomplished independents.
At present we have 650 MPs and all, bar one, had to stand under a party banner to get elected. Individuals have little chance of competing with hardened professionals, plus their many assistants working behind the scenes, and the media will either ignore or ridicule them. Parliaments dominated by political parties have consistently failed to act in our best interests. It is therefore time for the electorate to take back control through independent MPs empowered to act for the common good.
Britain might actually then have a ‘Mother of Parliaments’ to be proud of. The primary purpose of UNIFY is to encourage our elected representatives to overcome the political tribalism that has turned the House of Commons into an undemocratic parody of what a parliament should be.
Conclusion: To arrest our decline and get our country back on course, we have to elect the best people we can find and incentivise them to work for the national interest rather than the survival of any particular political party.
We value the role of parliament highly and wish to see it restored to being a respected institution rather than a Punch & Judy show. We do not support direct democracy, the direct election of prime ministers or any other measure that would bypass parliament. Once the present destructive and self-defeating political tribalism is replaced by autonomous parliamentarians working together for the common good, the House of Commons will once again become a world-leading parliament.
No, MPs must decide for themselves how to vote after having looked at the evidence and attended any debates on the issue; that is what we pay them for. They are our representatives not our delegates, a very important distinction. As an MP, it is their duty to act in the wider national interest as well as the interests of their constituents. Sometimes this might mean going against local opinion, with the risk that entails in terms of their re-election.
Our proposals will restore parliamentary sovereignty and protect MPs from undue influence. If we look at other countries, such as Canada, the threat of recall is not routinely used to pressurise an MP into following a specific course of action.
No, on the contrary, our proposals would enhance the status of MPs; give them more job satisfaction and greater autonomy.