Saturday, 24 January 2009

Electronic Ostracism and Referenda

Those democratic old Athenians had a wonderful institution, the Ostracism, an election whose winner was banished from the country for several years. It would be wonderful if we could take this idea and adapt it to our situation.

The Athenians had something else we don't have - democracy, even if we do have the best of the sculptures from their Parthenon in the British Museum (and let's hope our grovelling government will not send them back). We are not going to get up early and go to a dawn assembly on a hilltop, there to question and debate, pass laws, select and condemn leaders, and then spend much of the rest of the day carrying out 'government' tasks assigned by lot for a limited period, or sitting on large juries to decide law cases. Oh no, we pay specialists, experts, politicians to do all that stuff for us. Not surprisingly, they 'stuff' us. I have already written a long rant about how badly they rule us, and with what egregious venality and contempt. This time, lets consider how the internet could be used to ameliorate our state.

The speedy reversal of Brown's decision to force through concealment of MP's expense claims, may have been partly attributable to the rapid spread of protests via political blogs. The internet could be a good way to spread information and collect decisions, nowadays better than getting up early to go and write the name of the politician you most loathe on a potsherd, in hope of seeing him banished.

It should be fairly simple to organise electronic voting. Obviously not, of course, if any of those responsible for the infamous failures of government IT systems are involved, but in a better world they'd already be twisting on gibbets, and we may hope for a better world.

There's lots of scope for people to suggest how it might be done, but the basic idea of frequent electronic voting to get nearer to direct democracy is both desirable and feasible. Don't expect the political turkeys to vote for a democratic Christmas, however. Their owners would not like it either.

Switzerland is famous for its democracy. Their politicians are part timers, power is decentralised, they hold frequent referenda, they are not dominated by politically correct vipers, drones and invaders - and their economy is not falling apart.

We could take it further. For example, any citizen could be able to launch petitions on a government website. When politicians become unpopular, the number of people voting for their removal would grow, and after a fairly high (net) number, say a couple of million, these politicians would be expelled from office. It could even be the whole government.

Legislation could be introduced and passed (or rescinded) in a similar way. No more politically correct laws that go against the wishes of the real people.

I don't see why we should retain the current system of constituencies, parties, large governments, payroll votes, dependency etc. It would be comforting for many people to retain old forms- that's how new political wine gets poured into old constitutional bottles. It would be possible to greatly reduce the influence and corruption of a large high tax centralised state.

Naturally, there will always be some people who are more interested and more able and more willing to spend time promoting or discussing ideas than others. Parties and ideologies would not die, but would be less strongly entrenched in your wallet and in positions of bureaucratic vantage. No more built-in advantage for Labour in gerrymandered constituency boundaries. There could be regional groupings, even retaining existing constituencies to start with until people get used to electronic psephology. There could be all sorts of new ideas and experimental arrangements, if people bothered to suggest them.

Electronic democracy would be cheaper to organise, and change. Our MP's are useless at investigating government expenditure and bureaucratic bungles. Quite a lot of others would be interested in this sort of scrutiny, if information was more readily available. There would be less scope for party political programmes and fixed governments. Policies would be promoted, probably by much the same sort of prople, but with more of the general public and fewer party hacks in it for the money, power and glory. Each proposal would need the electronic assent of the public. No block votes. No whipping. No unintelligible legislative gibberish, unread by those who pass it. If it isn't in plain English it probably isn't a good law. If you want others to spend their money on you, or give you some sort of benefit, you should not be allowed to vote for it.

Probably, members of the public who want to vote on complex and expensive matters should be required to demonstrate a reasonable level of knowledge and competence. Better than currently held by most MP's certainly. There could be on-line information to help people - NOT dumbed down rubbish. Scope for large panels of people knowledgeable in particular areas - an extension of the old Athenian jury idea. Technical proposals might go to specialist groups to discuss and refine to a few proposals for public voting. The civil service could cost proposals. Those that don't get enough people to agree to personally pay for them, fail. No more airy-fairy promises to borrow from domestic and foreign lenders to bribe voters and let future generations repay the loans. You vote for the war, you fight it and you pay for it.

This is a rough outline of possibilities. Others could amend, extend or refine them. It shows that we could get a lot closer to direct democracy, and increase liberty, safeguard individual freedom and eliminate the encrusted filth encasing befouling and destroying the body politic. The current establishment won't permit this, but what great food they'd make for ravens.

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