Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Government by petition will exacerbate the disconnect between the people and their elected representatives

It was a very brave manifesto pledge, but undeniable and irrefutable evidence of David Cameron's democratic credentials.

When the Conservative Party unveiled plans to ensure that any petition of 100,000 people would be eligible for debate in Parliament, few thought it would happen. But it is.

It was also announced that any petition with 1 million signatures would result in a bill being tabled in Parliament. We don't yet have the details, but Sir George Young, Leader of the House, has indicated that the necessary legislation will be introduced in the New Year.

Sounds like innovative, direct democracy.

But what if the public back issues that are either distinctly un-Cameroonian or potentially divisive for the Coalition?

There is the return of capital punishment (surely that would easily get 100,000 signatures?), and also a referendum on our membership of the European Union.

This initiative could be the fulfilment of the vision of Sir James Goldsmith to 'Let the People Decide': imagine a simple "In or Out of Europe" Referendum Bill. Despite Mr Cameron's enthusiasm for more 'power to the people', the party business managers may suddenly find that there is not a lot of parliamentary time for such an inconvenient debate.

Even with a three-line whip to vote against, many Tory backbenchers (and a few Labour MPs) would be tempted to back such a Bill.

EU Referendum and Capital Punishment aside (though the latter could not happen unless the former preceded it and resulted in an 'out' vote), it strikes His Grace that this is a petard by which the Coalition may be hoist throughout its entire period of government, for every Government Bill may be challenged with an equal and opposite Bill: Labour would easily be able to muster 100,000 supporters to confront and counter any Coalition proposal. Of course, the tabling of a motion for debate does not mean that it would become an Act of Parliament, but where is the parliamentary time going to be found to slot in all these debates, draft all the consequent Bills and give them a First Reading, steer them through Committee Stage, give them a Second Reading, etc, etc?

It is an opportunity to filibuster and jam up the entire working of government.

On the face of it, the proposal is a God-send for proponents of direct democracy, but it is a parliamentary nightmare which could undermine centuries of evolution of our system of representative democracy (if it is not already fatally undermined). What if 100,000 signatures were found for a 'David Cameron Must Resign' debate, or a million signatures for a draft Bill?

Does not this proposal effectively give the people the right to demand a vote of No Confidence?

Or what about a 'We Want an Immediate Dissolution of Parliament Bill'?

Or an 'Abolish the Monarchy Bill'?

The last example would be interesting, insofar as there would be a Bill before Parliament the very debating of which would cause every MP to contravene their Oath of Allegiance. It is not clear at all what would happen to Bills which would contravene EU law which is superior to national law.

So what Bills can we look forward to?

An in/out EU Referendum Bill

A John Bercow ought to be ousted as Speaker Bill

A Capital Punishment Re-introduction Bill

An Immediate Cessation of Immigration Bill

An Introduction of Sharia Law Bill

A Scotland Indepedence Bill (with a very easy million signatures)

A United Ireland Bill (again, with a very easy million signatures)

A Disestablish the Church of England Bill

A Removal of the Vote from Guests of Her Majesty Bill

A Ban on Mosque-building Bill

The clumsy wording of many of these is quite purposeful, for who will determine the best wording of each petition, and will that wording be retained for the parliamentary debate, the green/white paper or the final Bill?

And the possibilities for embarrassment are considerable. Imagine Parliament being obliged to debate a Dawkins-initiated 'Ban the Pope's State Visit Bill' on the eve of his scheduled arrival.

Laudable for localism as this initiative may be, the reality is that the device will only serve to magnify the disconnect between the people and their elected representatives. As the mob-rule e-petitions flood in, who in the first instance will decide whether or not a proposal is 'frivolous'? For surely some such test must be made, lest Parliament find itself debating whether the Jedi ought to be recognised as the official state religion. But if the Jedi agenda is deemed frivolous, why should a proposal to introduce Sharia Law be taken any more seriously? So a parliamentary committee will be required to adjudicate and determine the 'seriousness' of a proposal. And then someone must determine that the 100,000 (or million) signatures (and addresses) are all genuine, for the old No10 Petition website had no such check. And then someone (the Leader of the House?) will have the nightmare job of finding the time in a packed parliamentary timetable to schedule dozens (scores?) of e-petition debates. And then MPs must attend these tedious debates, and will be keen to be seen attending them, for these are the people's concerns. And then there will be a division, and our representatives will vote exactly as we have come to expect that they will.

They will vote against an EU Referendum Bill, against Capital Punishment, against the banning of immigration, against a ban on mosque building, etc., etc.

And the people will eventually notice this disconnect between their clearly-expressed concerns and the voting patterns of their representatives, pretty much as they already do.

And they will do nothing about.

Pretty much as they already don't.

This is about seeming and feeling: politicians seeming to share the primary concerns of the people, and the people feeling that they are being listened to.

For a petition to abolish a rotten Parliament will be deemed 'frivolous' by some self-serving committee.

How many vacuous debates will be held before party managers select one which will succeed?

And what is the betting that the odd one they select for a smooth passage and assured success will be contiguous with the stated aims of the Government, consistent with our membership of the EU, and fully cognisant of our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

This is not X-Factor politics, for in the real-life X-Factor, a malignant Rage Against The Machine rebellion was able to defeat the divine right of Simon Cowell: the little man conquered the Goliath that is the modern music machine.

But in the proposed people's petition, Parliament remains sovereign because the petitions will be benign. Procedures and processes will be rigged, just as Mr Cowell learned to do.

The divine right of experts can be a dashed awkward thing to shift.


Blogger John R said...

If a petition with over a million signatures is summarily dismissed as irrelevant or frivolous by those who presume to govern us, then why would the general populace not draw the (correct) conclusion that events such as the recent "student protests" are the only way to get changes made to government policy?

28 December 2010 at 12:15  
Anonymous Sledger said...

'This is about seeming and feeling..'

YG. It is far worse than that. It is an attempt to silence the demos with demonstrations of 'expertise' and 'knowledge', to which (presumably) only the ruling classes are privy.

It is about drawing lines and shutting mouthes.

It may well be that we get a debate upon europe. Of course we know the outcome. So who gains? The government, naturally.

Any debate will be an opportunity to wheel out the ministerial big guns. There will be newspaper inches - cuddly sofa interviews, and so forth. "Of course we understand the concerns, and this is an emotive issue....BUT...." And then we get the 'expertise' of economic advice - anti-terror experts - defence issues etc.

The case AGAINST the people will have all the weight of government, state and media behind it.

But who will speak for the 100,000 or the 1000,000 - perhaps they'll roll Paul Staines into a radio 5 studio! Or Dan Han will be appear on youtube.

And when the Bills are defeated, and the issues are explained to us: "We've been there - debated that - no need to revisit."

Europe - what Europe?

28 December 2010 at 12:21  
Anonymous JayBee said...

This is window dressing by the conman who gave us the nonsense of "The Big Society" and the "National Happiness" index. The Coalition is going to have to be pressured to deliver on this.

A straightforward In or Out EU Referendum petition should be the primary test of their probity and the overriding goal, otherwise we have no control over our future. The number of signatures must be enough to demonstrate that there must be well above 50% of the electorate in favour of a referendum or they will just kick it into the long grass. An early start on the petition should be made but the timing of its submission needs careful thought. It should not be rushed because it might be better to capitalise on escalating financial woes at home and in the EU to gain a landslide of signatures.
Who knows, things could get so bad in the Eurozone that the Coalition might eventually see the referendum as a way of getting off a very awkward hook.

28 December 2010 at 12:45  
Blogger Bred in the bone said...

What about a petition to get off our knees and take our Country back

You don't petition traitors and you certainly don't promote them having a right to enforce Capital punishment.

I does not suprize me that Goldsmith wants that in the bag, yes this game will be played with controlled self interest groups bought and paid for.

28 December 2010 at 12:49  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We need something more like the Swedish model, enough signatures to force a national referendum and the people decide.

Having an important issue get discussed in parliament is a waste of time. We all know there are far too many self serving career politician who care little for the will of the British people.

28 December 2010 at 12:52  
Anonymous Mrs Proudie of Barchester said...

Goodness! Does one detect contempt for the people in your missive, Your Grace? Surely not...

28 December 2010 at 13:10  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

If petitions submitted by the ‘mob’ create a ‘nightmare’ for governments, is that not a good development? Would we not be better governed if politicians were afraid of the people?

For as long as I can remember, one of the greatest insults used in British politics has been the accusation of ‘populism’, as though a politician who shared the concerns of the man in the street had betrayed the political class. It is that insufferably patronizing attitude of politicians that is at the heart of the disconnect between the people and their representatives, and I welcome any move to give the people a say in how their country should be run.

My only reservation is that the proposals are too timid. Roll on the day when the people are able to propose subjects for binding referenda, and if governments suffer nightmares as a result, so much the better.

28 December 2010 at 14:06  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting possibilities in a supposedly christian country with decidedly unchristian laws.

- profaning Christ?
- obsenity and pornography?
- abortion?
- homosexuality?
- divorce?
- legal prostitution?
- extortionate interest rates?
- Sunday opening?

It wouldn't be the end of representative domocracy as we know it to have issues, important to people, debated or framed as bills, now would it?

And, so what if some unsavoury issues pop up? Would the will of people, through our elected representatives, ultimately decide?

28 December 2010 at 14:19  
Anonymous Atlas shrugged said...

John R

To my knowledge the only government policy that was changed by our recent student protests, was those reflected in how our police and armed forces will be dealing with utterly pointless and counter-productive violent protests in the future.

Perhaps you know otherwise? If so then please be so kind as to educate us all.

Johnny Rottenborough

Nice idea, however in practice what usually happens when the real government becomes truly afraid of the people is something between genocide, and lesser scales of murder, repression or intimidation.

Please understand that the only time the establishment have ever allowed effective protest, is when they themselves instigated the protest in the first place.

Real peasant revolts normally end in its leader getting sliced in two. Which is why they have not actually happened since the time of Watt Tyler, and will most likely never happen again.

The only type of protests that really worry the establishment are ones like the Fuel protest. which are protests against TAXATION. All other forms of protest, are exactly what the establishment have always thrived, in fact greatly enriched themselves on.

Students and especially their unions are not anti-establishment, to a large extent THEY ARE THE ESTABLISHMENT, and certainly the future Capo's of the establishment.

Who else could be so selfishly self-interested, as to violently protest in favor of a highly elitist status quo?

A status-quo which dictates that the poorest members of society continue to greatly subsidize the elite status of very largely middle and upper-middle class students?

In other words gets the working poor to largely pay for their own repression.

Trades Unions in general are the ENEMY of the common people, in all possible regards. They do not challenge the establishment, they greatly help to perpetuate it, while being one of the most important and powerful forces employed by it.

Trades Unions are a method by which the establishment has long since used to control the aspirations and minds of ordinary working people, destroy smaller, more efficient, and independent competition to its ever growing multi-national industrial, and governmental corporate interests.

Get it?

Thought not.

Therefore please start reading between the lines of your authorized history books, instead of being brainwashed by your already brainwashed lecturers, and the establishments main stream media.

28 December 2010 at 14:51  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

@ Atlas shrugged (14:51)—Our system of choosing governments has the unfortunate side effect of giving power to those who worship power and, consequently, are unfit to be trusted with it.

That being the case, the liberty of the people rests on restricting the exercise of power. Now that traditional restricting influences such as the monarchy and the House of Lords have been largely neutered, and now that the opposition benches see eye to eye with government on issues such as our membership of the EU, liberty is at risk.

Petitions and referenda do not only enable the people to achieve the kind of society that suits them; they perform the even more important task of curbing the abuse of power and defending liberty.

28 December 2010 at 15:25  
Blogger Gnostic said...

The proposal, like Cameron and his rotten to the core coalition, is half arsed. No matter what is proposed, nothing will get through unless it is deemed meritous by a bunch of self-serving, snout-in-trough cretins. The sooner people realise this is nothing more than a cynical PR exercise the better.

28 December 2010 at 15:40  
Anonymous Atlas shrugged said...

Government by petition will exacerbate the disconnect between the people and their elected representatives.

To try to cut a very long story short.

In theory these proposals for supposed government by petition, should not do anything of the kind.


In practice what your grace fears is precisely what they will do, and were always intended to do.

If democratic government, was from its very conception, ever supposed to actually work in the interests of the vast majority, we would never have been allowed to have any such thing.

Nothing even remotely important, with the possible exception of Folk Music, ever came from the bottom and then stayed out of the thieving grasp of the very top, for any useful amount of time.

The only essential difference between democracy and dictatorship is that in a democracy the walls and bars to the peoples prison cells, are far better hidden from view.

Ignorance is therefore relative bliss, especially in the western democracies, but only with regards to the even nastier alternatives we are presented with.

We do not now, and very likely will never know, what the alternative to a pyramidal structure of civilization would actually be like in practice.

This is because we have not lived within such a thing for the best part of 5 thousand or very many more years. While the people at the top have never had any possible intention of allowing us to find out for ourselves.

This just in case we actually like living without wars, violence, intimidation, fear, and general enslavement.

However please understand our ruling elites do not see themselves as EVIL, even though most of us most surely do.

They are conditioned from birth to believe that they have a divine right to rule, and also the only people who are self-evidently qualified for the job, which in some cases they only reluctantly agree to do, and in many cases have little choice in the matter anyway.

28 December 2010 at 15:41  
Anonymous Will S said...

A truly horrible idea that fails to solve the unsolvable problems of "democracy".

As the founding fathers agreed, democracy is the problem.

Alas, Carswell & Hannan, lack the intellect to realise the limitations of their conceived plan.

28 December 2010 at 17:10  
Anonymous Philip - southern mainstream conservative said...

They will obviously insert sufficient checks and balances to ensure popular, serious and non-frivolous measures such as withdrawal from the EU and restoration of capital punishment for murder are never allowed to progress - even to reach the petition stage so as to avoid the political liberal elites looking out of touch and unresponsive to public desire. Probably the same would apply to any public wish for repealing 'equality' laws that curtail liberty, or to reduce the number of abortions, or to outlaw the promotion of homosexuality to schoolchildren.

28 December 2010 at 17:29  
Anonymous Oswin said...

A 'door-knockers' charter?

I just hope that recycled paper will be used, 'else we'll need to plant far more 'sustainable' forests!

Or will we use a version of 'Facebook' perhaps?

Leastways, it proves to be interesting; for good or bad, it might serve to break the stasis of our predicament.

28 December 2010 at 17:49  
Blogger Mr Eman said...

Atlas shrugged

What an incredibly negative outlook and put forwad on a flimsy and dubious basis!

5,000 years ago people lived in tribes and came and went as they chose. Once they came together in cities and started trading some form of order and organisation was required. Eventually liberal democracies emerged, based on capitalism and the election of representatives.

To date, this system is considered preferable to dictatorships be they malign or benign.

There is bound to be some kind of 'elite' or leaders. It's how people get there and what they do, that counts.

So who is this mysterious 'elite' you are referring to? How do they organise themselves?

28 December 2010 at 17:54  
Anonymous Oswin said...

Further :

If nowt else, the mere exercise of agreeing to the 'terms of engagement' might air the mustiness of hitherto 'accepted wisdoms'... a breath of fresh air; or the raising of a turbulent stench?

You pays yer money ...

28 December 2010 at 17:56  
OpenID yokel said...

I think Sledger has given us one viable scenario by which this suggested system might be manipulated to the disadvantage of the people.

I suggest another. The very same reason that I signed very few of the former government's petitions. This process is not flawed, as HG suggests, or many of the commenters above, it has a very purposeful design. Taking part in this process inevitably gives the existing "powers that be" the names and addresses of many of those who object to some decision or action taken on behalf of the people by the powers that be. As governments become increasingly less tolerant of dissent, isn't that a useful list to have!

This idea stinks!

28 December 2010 at 18:16  
Anonymous len said...

I can just imagine the scenario.
Perhaps a phone in system to decide on important matters like leaving the E U ( at £1 a minute)and when there is sufficient cash accumulated ....change the rules.

Pardon the cynicism but I fear Gnostic(15:40) is right.

28 December 2010 at 18:21  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Mr Eman

True there has always been some sort of elite. The general population has normally had to look to some kind of ruling class be it the village chief or the king to make the best decisions on their behalf.

This was the way the system had to work, because in general the ruling class was much better educated that the ordinary people they represented.

However this is no longer the case, the vast majority of people can read, write and more importantly the internet has given them access to vast amounts of information.

For example why should a person with a PHD in meteorology have to listen to the latest enviroment secretary (who has a degree in European Studies) talk a lot of nonsense about man made global warming. Professor Nutt got sacked for daring to tell ministers that the prohibition of drugs did not work.

We have a postman as shadow chancellor ! He is in this post because he is career politician not because he brings the knowledge or experience that a chancellor would need.

Why should we accept this, we see a country that once had a vast empire heading steadily closer to the third world in terms of education and cultural mind set.

We don't need a dictatorship, but if we don't have politicians of high calibre why should they be trusted to make the decisions over the collective will of the British people.

28 December 2010 at 18:30  
Blogger Mr Eman said...


I've said it before and will say it again - we get the politicians we deserve!

And being a postman per se shouldn't be a bar to Ministerial office. Being an ignorant postman would probably go against you but not necessarily in Old Labour (pretending to be New).

Indeed, if there is an elite it is probably the Brish Civil Service who 'advise' Ministers and supply the information for decisions.

28 December 2010 at 19:19  
Anonymous Oswin said...

Yokel @ 18.16

If only government could be SO efficient! I think we have a considerable way to go before any of us need worry too much about an intolerant government exacting revenge; they are way too incompetent!

28 December 2010 at 23:06  
Blogger Owl said...

An interesting topic.

There is only one country that I know of which practices direct democracy, namely Switzerland.
In Switzerland the people can force a referendum on any issue they choose to and the political elite have to go along with it and accept the results.

How is Switzerland doing?

A high standard of living.

Very low unemployment rate.

Very little poverty.

Do not belong to the EU and very unlikely to ever belong to it.

Take no notice of multiculturism and have very little problems with Moslem or other groups.

Expect foreigners to adjust to the Swiss way of life and not the other way round.

They don't like minarets or what they might represent so the minarets are out.

Sharia law doesn't stand a chance.

They do not live in fear of Islam.

Good ski-ing.

I can't help thinking that as this system obviously works, it can't be the same thing as cast iron DC is talking about.

But we can dream, can't we?

28 December 2010 at 23:17  
Blogger Mr Eman said...

The Swiss are good at yodelling too. And Swiss rolls!

Seriously, Swiss direct democracy is powerful. 50,000 signatures within a 100 days, and it's a referendum on any new law.
100,OO0 signatures gets you a referendum on constitutional change.

Could Britain handle this given its divisions - racial, religious, class, wealth, politics? In works in Switzerland because they have shared values about society. Its not the cause, its the result of this.

28 December 2010 at 23:28  
Anonymous non mouse said...

Well, as you've probably gathered, I object to grovelling to frogules, Franks, or franco-frogules. So I say 'petitioning' transmits their usual supercilious tone, and is "unacceptable."

We usually don't realise we're falling for it, because they've interfered with us since time immemorial. Before commiedom and the eu, the most egregious episode began in 1066. It took centuries to get that under the control which they've now wrested from us.

Still, then, we apply their standards to [supercilious] words like 'elite' - without looking to the root meaning. Yet their interpretation of 'elite' lights on the 'select' or 'pick of the best' element without considering who has done the selecting, or picking - or, indeed, electing.
For 'elite' is a froggish corruption from the Latin verb: eligo, eligere, electum: to choose, select, pick out; and so: "elect."
Our delightful 'elites,' though, clearly believe that they are divinely chosen, the demos serving only to confirm that status. And we corroborate by accepting the foreign terminology

What fun if we began, instead, to apply the figurative sense of the word, which is: "to root out," or "to pluck out." Now there's a pretty notion. Fragrant, even.

28 December 2010 at 23:29  
Anonymous non mouse said...

Sorry, make that eligo, eligere, elegi, electum . And, on reflection, the 'plucking out' element carries Biblical authority as well... :)

29 December 2010 at 04:19  
Blogger sample said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

29 December 2010 at 06:49  
OpenID yokel said...

@Oswin (28 December 2010 23:06)

I worry, if the only thing keeping us safe from our rulers is their incompetence. One day, after maybe a few more surveillance IT disasters, they will get the levers to work. Then, because they do not know right from wrong, or God from Mammon, our fate will be sealed.

It is the Hard Left that we are against in this battle; the Hard Left that will recruit any Useful Idiots to their cause whether they be soft left NuLabour or fundamentalist Muslims or whoever. In Vietnam, the Communists needed only to have their troops in a town for 48 hours to rid it of its Intelligentsia. Their spies will have previously noted everyone capable of independent thought, so even if the Communists were driven out in short order their death and destruction was already done.

Once the British establishment think they have an enemy, watch how they deal with him/her. And if malicious prosecution (eg various EDL members and leaders) doesn't work, then don't go for a walk in the woods.

29 December 2010 at 09:18  
Anonymous Kris said...

"We do not now, and very likely will never know, what the alternative to a pyramidal structure of civilization would actually be like in practice."

You might get a surprise. There is a general belief in many circles that the next few years will see a total trashing of all knowledge of our modern history, as evidence rises to show how we've been lied to and manipulated for thousands of years. That could lead to anything.
Looking at the current government; it will never take any notice of people's petitions, no matter how many names are on them. It has already made up its mind (or had it made up by someone else) about what it will do in terms of the country's future. The only way that can be changed is not by petitions, or diplomacy, but outright rebellion.
Everyone tries to find the "nice" ways first, but be honest, there are none.

29 December 2010 at 10:14  
Anonymous graham wood said...

Owl. You anticipated my posting with your comment about the Swiss system of referenda.

Clearly they have got it about right, and it works well.
It is a good example of direct democracy bringing to the fore issues which trouble a significant minority, and then putting it to a democratic vote.

The operative phrase must be "...... and the political elite have to go along with it and accept the results.

But, this is what no British government wedded to the party system will tolerate because they do not believe in real democracy. Hence the constant refusal of all three main parties to give us their PROMISED referendum on EU membership.
Therefore the current proposal by the Coalition should be rejected with the contempt it deserves.

29 December 2010 at 10:17  
Blogger Weekend Yachtsman said...

What Gnostic said.

If they do get round to legislating (and my personal opinion is that they'll think better of it), read the small print carefully: it will say, in effect "but only if we agree".

Window-dressing. PR stunt. Gimmick.

29 December 2010 at 10:41  
Blogger Bred in the bone said...

December 2010 17:49

Mr Eman said...
5,000 years ago people lived in tribes and came and went as they chose. Once they came together in cities and started trading some form of order and organisation was required. Eventually liberal democracies emerged, based on capitalism and the election of representatives.

Not forgeting of course that GDP per capita is taken from the Anglo Saxon for Head of Cattle, which is where we get the word chattle.

Animal Farm with a right to vote just like todays liberal democracy.

Blood ties meant something in the old days though, atleast wars were about land to feed your cattle.

If representation in Parlaiment was graded on how many blood ties you have in the house compared to other tribes, which tribe would be over represented, that is the real failure of democracy in todays multicultural clime it has never modernised to fit its own paradigms, in a kin based system would curb the treason of a failed party political one every culture should have representation based on per head of cattle of their kinfolk.

29 December 2010 at 11:53  
Blogger oldmaid said...

I read somewhere that in their 'small print' anything to do with the EU would be automatically excluded

30 December 2010 at 09:26  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older