Parliamentary reform proposals from a politics undergrad
Nathan Collins-Cope 10 April 2021
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media
Image courtesy of UK Parliament on Flickr
Our political system is broken. It is archaic and in desperate need of an overhaul. Dishonesty and duplicity seem to rule over this derelict system. The term ‘politician’ is tainted with the idea of corruption within our collective consciousness, making this statement supremely self-evident. Power is centralised into the hands of a few, meaning the exclusion of the many: problems which always plague our beloved democracy to some extent, as humans are always going to act out of self-interest. However, I want to propose some reforms that could be enacted to make our system more robust, ensuring that our government acts in the interests and security of all, as we traverse the uncertain political climate of the 21st century.
Take Money Out Of Politics
Now, this may not seem possible at the outset, as money is such a fundamental part of society and you can’t get very far without it. What I mean by taking the money out of politics is not that we need to remove money from our political system but that it is necessary to reform the way political parties are funded. Under the current system, parties can accept donations from whatever private entities they deem fit. These large sums of cash are usually not given as acts of charity, however: a few favours are, of course, asked for in return, which means that these candidates and parties essentially become beholden to these generous donors. A well-known example is when Formula 1 chiefs donated £1 million to the New Labour election campaign, enabling them to secure an exemption from the incoming ban on tobacco advertising for the racing support – a ban which the Labour government was implementing on all other sports.
Although the rules have been changed in the past to make the source of donations more transparent, this does not go far enough. This usually leads to big, shady moneyed interests using proxies or shell companies to pass on influential injections of cash. Or they simply pass on the cash to the companies openly, since the main parties have so much clout, there is not a lot of need for them to hide their quid-pro-quo.
One way we could avoid this blatant corruption is by having publicly funded political parties. Having the taxpayer fund all political parties would allow them to be free from the constraints pimping themselves to private interests. The exception for this would be for political parties that are starting up. It would be absurd to suggest that we should fund every party, whether they were to obtain a portion of the vote or not. I’ll be damned if I see my suggestions mean taxpayer money handed to the Monster Raving Loony Party. We would have to allow for private funding up to a certain percentage of the vote – let’s say 2% for the sake of argument, although this metric may need to be altered in practice. Regardless, a fairly low percentage threshold would allow for smaller parties to be on a more level playing field with the parties-that-be.
Reform The House Of Lords
The current incarnation of the upper legislative chamber for our Parliament is a complete joke. It is packed to the brim with life peers - it is literally the second biggest chamber in the world - most of whom are nominated by the sitting Prime Minister. This overcrowding is unhealthy for our democracy, especially a lot of the mass are mates with the ministers. It also seems to have become a sort of retirement home for old politicians, which is ludicrous considering the amount of power this place holds over the country.
The House of Lords was meant to be a revision chamber, where the best and brightest from the country keep the politicians grounded, not an honorary position for those the politicians' favour. What’s worse is that we still have 92 hereditary peers - people who claim their seat for no other reason than being born into the British gentry. Even if the family line was to die out, this still wouldn’t decrease the number of anachronistic peers, as the remaining 91 remaining can get together and elect another! How is this plausible in the 21st century?
What I propose is a house that would be both democratic and gather the nation's best minds. Instead of having appointments to the chamber, let each sector of society elect members. This would mean people from essential sectors, like scientists, trade unionists, lawyers, business people etc, would elect the truly senior, leading figures in their fields. This would reduce the plutocratic element from the chamber and, therefore, profoundly affect the quality of our laws. We would need to have a further discussion about which sectors should be represented, and how many seats each elect, but it is far better than the current upper chamber. Let’s also do away with life peers, perhaps reducing the terms to around 15 years each - so that we retain the benefits of longevity of position. Then we could have a third of the chamber up for election at fixed five-year intervals so that the makeup is never too stagnated.
Our current electoral system divides the country into areas called constituencies, with each of these represented by one seat in the House of Commons, the lower chamber of Parliament. The residents of these constituencies have 1 vote per person, which they can use to vote for candidates who choose to run. These candidates can be independent or attached to a political party. The argument that is commonly used in favour of this system is that it brings about strong, single-party governments.
What this means, in reality, is this system favours the larger, established parties (Conservatives and Labour), as they have concentrations of support throughout the country. The smaller parties, who often have more scattered support, end up being shut out of the system, even if they win large percentages of the vote overall. A prime example of this is UKIP winning 12.6% of the vote in 2015 (3.8 million votes) yet only getting a single set in Parliament. This, in turn, leads to people voting tactically for the larger parties in their respective constituencies, reinforcing the strength of the two large parties. Why are we standing by while our freedom of choice is reduced, while our representation is muted down to broad strokes, in such a complex, multifaceted society? All to make the act of governing easier for our politicians? Our European neighbours, like Sweden or Finland for example, seem to thrive under coalition after coalition government. There are several more proportional systems that we could implement, which I don’t have the space to go into here (will leave a link at the bottom for those who are interested). Using these more proportional systems would allow for more issue-based parties to gain traction within parliament, therefore, keeping the establishment less static and more responsive to a fast-moving world.
These suggestions would ameliorate our system of power concentration from the top. For too long, the Labour and Conservative parties have held the establishment hostage, their arrogance allowing corruption to seep into their governance. The combination of changing the way we fund, along with how we select the members of the two houses of Parliament is the only way we can break the hegemony we operate under. It would engender greater representation and empower the people of this country; bringing about the fall of self-interested, shady donors and their political powder monkeys who oversee the shelling of our society.
If you want to research the topic further, here are some useful video links about electoral systems: