Cleaning the (Political) Augean Stables
This site contains many 'political' essays attempting to reconcile material and economic practice with moral, psychological, and spiritual considerations — nearly all with particular reference to my own country, the United Kingdom. Recent disclosures about the financial affairs of some members of the supreme UK legislature suggest that I should try one more time to give some small impetus in what I strongly believe to be the right direction of travel.
The evidence of moral turpitude among Members of both Houses of the UK Parliament currently being laid bare in the news media is symptomatic of a national decline in ethical standards beyond the imagining of those among whom I was brought up seventy-odd years ago. I have come to see that such a decline is inevitable when the long-term health of the human spirit is sacrificed to the short-term demands of the physical body.
Such a deep-seated trend is not easily reversed; but I am convinced that any hope for the return of the British nation to moral health depends on a rapid and determined re-introduction of strict political discipline.
Western nations have long trumpeted the supposed virtues of democracy — which is supposed to be government of the people by the people themselves. Taken to its logical conclusion, this implies individual self-government; and we all know from personal experience that such an interpretation is impractical because only a minority of people seem capable of governing themselves without giving offence to other people. Readers of Plato's Republic will know that Socrates made this very clear. Hence, most so-called 'democratic' nations, including the UK, have evolved a form of representative democracy whereby somewhat arbitrary subsets of the people are represented in a Parliament or other legislative assembly by one individual who is usually appointed by election.
Hence it is obviously essential for the long-term good of any nation that its people should be represented in government by individuals drawn from the small minority of its people who are capable not only of governing themselves but also of subordinating their own life-time ambitions to what they can perceive to be the long-term good of at least the next two generations of their descendants. This implies that long-term national prosperity depends less on periodic general elections than on ensuring as far as possible that elected representatives have the quality of trustworthiness. Although elections have an important part to play, much long-established rubbish must be discarded before they can become effective.
The first step must be to eliminate the rôle of political parties which, although they originated as grass roots movements whereby the people sought to liberate themselves from tyranny, have collectively deteriorated into what I have described elsewhere as "a Machiavellian device for keeping professional politicians in power", and which is therefore the very negation of true democracy.
The next step must be to place the electoral emphasis on local elections whereby groups of local people are able to select from among themselves at least one person whom they consider sufficiently trustworthy to represent them at the next higher level of local government. The electoral ward in which I reside has no fewer than three representatives on the local District Council; all three are almost invariably nominated by, and elected through, the medium of one political party whose subscribers or adherents are numerous enough to ensure the election of the party's candidates regardless of their personal qualities. Hence, unless a party list happens to include at least one individual whom I know personally and feel I can trust, none of the names that appear on a ballot paper can actually represent me in any meaningful sense. I get the impression that, once elected, Councillors prefer to avoid contact with all but their own supporters.
A quick and inexpensive remedy for this would be to designate one meeting room in every basic electoral district to enable a quorum of local electors to call their representatives to account from time to time. Not surprisingly, such a proposal finds little support among the partisans who, once their nominees are elected, prefer to protect them from impartial scrutiny.
Having made nominees of political parties ineligible for election, I offer the following as a democratic recipe for the civil administration of the United Kingdom.
Implementation of such a scheme should have the following beneficial effects:
- Every tier of local government should be responsible for a defined area of land.
- The geographical boundaries of each of the lowest (primary) tiers should be determined primarily by the local terrain and its internal communications rather than by population, but this should in no case exceed 10,000 plus a margin of up to ten per cent to obviate any need to adjust tier boundaries between elections.
- The people of each primary tier would, at intervals and by means to be decided among themselves, elect ten independent members to a Primary Council to administer the tier.
- The people would have the power to call by-elections to fill vacancies on the Primary Council, whether arising from natural causes or because a Councillor had forfeited the trust of a quorum of electors.
- To qualify for election, each candidate should be at least 28 years of age, have been continuously resident in the locality for at least seven years, and have been financially self-supporting throughout that period.
- After each election, the ten Councillors of each primary tier would elect two of their number to represent them at the next higher (secondary) tier of government, each of which would oversee ten primary tiers and therefore have twenty Councillors having jurisdiction over not more than 100,000 people.
- The twenty Councillors of each secondary tier would subsequently elect three of their number to represent them at the tertiary level, each of which would oversee ten secondary tiers and thus have jurisdiction over not more than 1 million people.
- The thirty Councillors of each tertiary tier would elect four of their number to represent them at the quaternary level which would oversee ten tertiary tiers and have jurisdiction over not more than 10 million people.
- The forty Councillors of each quaternary tier would elect five of their number to represent them at the quinternary level which would oversee up to ten quaternary tiers and have jurisdiction over not more than 100 million people.
The most important thing to note is that each Councillor at every level would ultimately be accountable to, and personally known and trusted by, a significant proportion of the people of his or her local area. Councillors at every tier would be accorded respect, dignity, and salary in accordance with their powers, and the political health of the state would be seen to be the responsibility of all its people.
- The overall effect would be to ensure that power percolated upwards from the "grass roots" to the top and from the periphery to the centre, not in the opposite direction as at present.
- The combination of scrutiny by primary electors and subsequent promotion by consent of their peers at higher levels should ensure that only Councillors of the highest quality could rise to the top.
- Local exercise of all domestic powers would leave the top tier with little to do but oversee an overall system of justice and make adequate provision for defence of the realm against any violent attack from inside or outside its borders.
- Administrative support for Councillors at each level would continue to be provided by a Civil Service whose numbers and associated costs could be greatly reduced because of localisation of powers.
- Given such a hierarchical structure, fifty Quinternary Councillors should be enough to exert democratic influence over the general administration of the UK which, if its population ever exceeded 100 millions, would experience rapid decline through a combination of water shortage, energy shortage, housing shortage, famine, disease, financial collapse, and internal strife.
Other considerations are dealt with in Towards True Democracy