Like most people, I understand very little about how politics is meant to work in Britain but I can see where it is not working and the signs of where it is broken. If the recent Scottish Independence referendum and the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU have done anything it is to open people’s eyes to how corrupt how our politics is presented to us, the public. They have also ‘politicised’ swathes of the public, so are we heading towards a political reformation that honours the public’s voice and could a Citizens Assembly be a part of the answer to a 21st Century British politic?
It seems clear to me that political parties have an excessive and disproportionate control of political power in Britain. Under the current Conservative government, Britain is being reigned over by a small coven of billionaires who are pulling the strings at CCHQ. Decisions of who can stand as a Conservative Parliamentary candidate are taken by an unknown cabal and party members are even denied a vote on their party’s leader by virtue of the media hounds being let off their leashes when a favoured, for whatever reasons, candidate is threatened by one unfavoured. Theresa May was appointed leader of the Conservative Party by those who have control of those media outlets we witnessed tearing Andrea Leadsom apart once she was head to head with Theresa May.
Ensconced in Downing Street, the Conservatives have ridden roughshod over Parliamentary democracy, even using taxpayer’s money to purchase a coalition partner to maintain their grip of power, even after Britain’s voters had revoked the Westminster majority. In 2014, the Conservatives sought to replicate American gerrymandering of voter registration, in the hope of achieving Republican type gains. In the 2015 General Election, the Conservative won a shock majority victory but were frantically trying to unscramble the effects of their 2014 voter registration gerrymandering in time for their referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. In the end, the Conservatives were forced to extend the voter registration deadline because their 2014 efforts had been too successful. The stories of MPs deciding on issues which either profit them or others in their party are legion.
It is hard to view the self-serving, self-profiting politicking as anything short of political corruption but, unfortunately, our law makers (our politicians) don’t see it that way. Politicians only have oversight from other politicians and, nominally, the media.
One possible solution would be to reform the House of Lords into a Citizens Assembly. Like jury service, members of the public would be randomly chosen to serve on the assembly, either on an issue by issue basis or on a years secondment, like National Service. Matters such as Britain’s membership of the EU could be discussed and explored. I imagine that had the question of Britain ending its membership of the EU been brought before a Citizens Assembly it would have sent back with instructions to provide more in the way of evidence, including impact assessments.
One of the consequences of ‘brexit’ is that it has beautifully highlighted how British politics has become dominated by a culture that resembles the blasphemer scene in the Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’, where the media and factional politicians scream accusations at anyone that dares to venture a contrary opinion. Whether you voted Leave or Remain, we would likely all agree that the information available to us was scant and, it turns out, the Tories did not even research the question for the referendum, let alone the potential impact of a Leave victory. We also know that Leave campaigners had no plan for a Leave victory either. A Citizens Assembly would have challenged all concerned on these issues.
The other aspect of British politics is the lying. Our politicians lie to us and the media lie to us. I would suggest that evidence and statement presented to a Citizens Assembly would carry the same weight as presenting evidence or statements to a law court and carry the same penalties for perjury. The days of politicians lying or being deceitful in the media has to end, they won’t do it voluntarily so we should force them to have honest conversations with the public through a Citizens Assembly.