Bear with me as this may take a while, but I'm going to outline in this post how I would like to reform the electoral and political systems of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
As many of you will be aware, the UK is a democracy. While the exact definition of this and all of its complexities is beyond the scope of this article, a quick Google search defines this as "a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives". In its most basic form, it is the people ruling the people.
In my personal belief of what a democratic government should be, the following rules apply
- It should be as representative of the people it presides over as possible.
- In a democracy, every person's vote should be as equal as the next. Your ancestry, location, sex, gender, age*, sexuality, and criminal record should not affect your right to vote.
- Being afraid of who a person would vote for is not a valid reason to refuse them the vote.
- The voting records of the people should be anonymous so that a person can vote for who they feel represents them best, rather than being afraid of the private repercussions of who they vote for.
* Ideally, age would not affect your ability to vote, but in practice it is tricky to allow. However we should give as many people the vote as we can, and so the lower bound on the age of a the ability to vote should be as low as possible. I'll get to my solution to that a bit later.
As you can probably imagine as I have taken my time to write this post for you, our system does not follow those two rules. Not even close. While historically, it has been worse (most recently female suffrage), it can still be better.
The Houses of Parliament
What many people do not know, is that our government has two houses in which people can vote. The Upper House (The House of Lords, HoL) and The Lower House (The House of Commons, HoC). This HoC is who we vote for representatives (Members of Parliament, MPs) in our general elections (GEs) and this is the house in which our representatives discuss, debate, and vote on the various bills they would like to implement.
However, once a bill has been passed by the HoC, it is then given to the HoL. While this house has no ability to create policy and bills, they're able to block bills passed by the HoC and suggest "amendments" to the HoC. (Correction: The HoL can make legslislation not involving finance currently but it must still pass the HoC.) This may seem strange at first, but it is designed to stop any "crazy" bills being passed, however popular they may be to the people. The HoL are, in general, completely unaccountable to the people and so they don't have to worry about making decisions that are "popular" and instead make, what they believe to be, sensible decisions.
As you may have noticed, this already violates one of our principles, as this house is entirely unelected and instead "appointed" for life. This has the unintended side-effect of making the HoL VERY expensive as, while they don't receive a salary, they're able to claim expenses and a "daily allowance" of £150-£300 for each "sitting day they attend the House of Lords" [source]. As members of the HoL are often appointed for life whenever a political party has the opportunity to do so, the unelected HoL is already larger than the elected HoC (~800/660). This is only going to get worse as more HoL members are appointed and as our current Conservative government attempts to pass a bill reducing our HoC to 600 members.
While my instinct is to push for a fully-elected HoL, I understand that this can defeat the point of them as they have to campaign for election and remain popular to the people. Instead, I would push for a reform of the HoL to satisfy the following conditions.
- The HoL shall be a house of appointed industry leaders, in each industry has an equal member of lords at any one time. They will be appointed by a minister for this industry from the current government, but only when a previous HoL member leaves their seat.
- Appointed HoL members have a fixed term of 8 years, and must only sit for one term. They shall be replaced with new industry leaders after each term. This should be staggered so the entire HoL is not replaced at one time and instead re-appointments being a constant process.
- The HoL should never have more members than the HoC.
- HoL members should be anti-partisan. To satisfy this conditions, they must not:
- Have been a member of any political party for an entire term before their appointment, and they must remain this way for the entire length of their term. If they wish to be join a political party, the must give up their seat.
- Be eligible to vote in general and local elections. They will, however, be eligible to vote in national referendums.
- HoL members can be removed upon petition by the public. When this happens, a new member must then be appointed.
- HoL members cannot be councillors, members of the HoC, or hold a position in government.
I believe that in order to have a fair democracy, the people must be fairly educated and involved in the political system. Currently, there is a fairly low turnout in the 18-25 age range, which means that political parties can all but ignore this age range. While it is hard to pin-point exactly why turnout is low among this age group, I feel that an unawareness of how the system works is part of this.
To fix this, I would like to implement the following:
- Unexamined political classes from key stage two focusing on debating current topics and teaching the basics of our political system and the political systems of other countries.
- Primary and high schools to have student council elections and all students should be encouraged to vote and/or run. They should also have mock general elections.
- Political history should be added to the national curriculum for key stage three history classes.
- Schools must teach their students how to register to vote, and encourage them to do so.
- Politics must be an option for students to take at GCSE-level. They will be examined based on their knowledge of the history of politics, our political system, and the political systems of other countries, as well as current political movements.
Students must be made aware of the various free resources online that provide "party-matching software" which match your ideals to the ideals of our political parties.
In a democracy, we should not be stopping people from being involved in politics if they would like to be. Ideally, in order to facilitate this, we should not have a voting age. However, the practicality of having two and three year olds, who mostly cannot yet read, is difficult. At the same time, seeing 15 and 16 year olds being incredibly involved and invested in politics and being refused the vote is heart breaking. Instead, an interesting idea to me, is to match voting age to criminal responsibility. Interestingly the age at which people are criminally responsible across the whole UK is 12 (12 in Scotland, 10 in England, Wales & NI I'm unsure of) which closely matches the age people are when they start KS3/Secondary School. Because of this, I would do the following:
- Instantly make the voting age 16. The success of the Scotland referendum in which 16 year olds were able to vote shows that our 16 year olds are politically involved.
- Introduce the political education reforms I listed previously and slowly remove the voting age and replace it with KS3 students and up being given the vote. This means that they'll be voting with their peers, regardless of if they've born before/after the month the election happens to be. I don't think its fair that we stop people being able to vote even when they turn 18 a week after the election. Nothing magically changes when you pass that age.
While I appreciate that this is one of the most controversial points in this post, I would like to point out a few things.
- Yes, this may result in parents telling children who to vote for. I don't believe that this doesn't already happen with the current voting age, and the political education reforms I've listed previously are designed to alleviate that. Schools will be encouraged to remind students that voting records are anonymous and to vote for who they want to and not what their parents want them to vote for.
- I don't believe the claim that this will introduce even more "politically incompetent" voters. The claim that voting competence comes with age is absurd. It comes with experience. First time voters will ALWAYS be politically incompetent when compared to people who have voted ten or twenty times. Instead, this will make people more politically competent from a younger age, and may make politicians take the youth seriously.
The system in which a country elects their government is known as an electoral system. In our country we use a system called "First Past the Post" (FPTP). While I won't explain this system in this post as I believe this has been covered ad-infinum by much smarter minds than myself, I will link to explanations of this system and the problems with this system. Essentially, it produces a government that is almost never accurately representative of its voters. Instead, I would replace it with the Single Transferable Vote, which allows a voter to express their preferences (by ordering the candidates) rather than choosing a specific one.
Please watch the previous two videos before continuing as they are extremely important.
In implementing STV, I would do the following:
- Take four neighbouring constituencies trying to surround logical areas as much as possible (cities, towns, country borders, etc) and attempting to address existing political splits across the country
- Create a single multi-member constituency from these four constituencies with four MPs.
- This constituency will now elect four MPs using STV.
Please refer to my previous post for more information on STV and Proportional Representation.
I do not believe it makes sense to disallow inmates from voting. While the point of prisons is to take a criminal out of society so you can keep society safe and rehabilitate them, countless studies have shown that prisoners who don't not feel connected to society do not respond to rehabilitation as well as the ones that do. This is why prisoners are encouraged to have visitors and such, so they feel connected to life and have an incentive to return. The absolute worst thing we can do is remove their voice in this society. In addition to this, nobody else will stick up for them and so they should have the right to be represented.
At times I feel that people forgot that not all laws are just, and there IS valid excuses for breaking the law. Not everybody in prison should be, and so they should be able to use their vote to fight their case. Inmates will be kept up to date with recent events, and will also be provided with the vote-matching software that I mentioned before.
My brother, Adam, has pointed out a few times that it is dangerous to introduce thousands of new voters in just the constituencies that contain prisons, and I actually agree. It will unfairly sway the vote to prisoners in these constituencies. Instead, prisoners will vote in the constituencies that their next-of-kin would vote, and only failing them having a next-of-kin will they vote in the constituency that the prison is located in.
I would also introduce this alongside an entire reform of the policing/prison system designed to drastically reduce the amount of inmates at any one time, and this would also reduce the impact of allowing them to vote.
I'm not going to go into too much depth here, but as you may have noticed the fact that the UK is a monarchy also violates the principles that we set out for a fair democracy. Because of this, I do support the conversion of the UK into a republic. I've already said a few too many controversial things, and this is a hugely complex topic, so I'll leave this point for another post.
Congratulations, you made it to the end of this post! While I appreciate that it is very long, I feel that the current system is so broken that it can only be addressed with the huge radical reforms I've pointed out in this post. PLEASE let me know what you think by commenting below, emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweeting me @nathggns.