How to fix British Politics

The Mother of Parliaments – Photo by Deniz Fuchidzhiev on Unsplash

With 2020 nearly at an end, I think we can all agree it has been an insane, unprecedented and destructive year, both on a national and global level. 2020 has given us the Covid crisis, highlighted the climate crisis and revealed the poverty crisis. This year has provided riots, mass protests and chaos whilst also taking over 50,000 lives in the UK alone.

The question that comes with this is ‘could any of this have been prevented?’ and the answer is ‘Yes’.

Across the world, though especially in the UK, there have been monumental errors made in the handling of this year, largely down to the government but also, I would suggest, due to the deep divides that are splitting our society, which are causing politicians and individuals to have to agree with one side or another. Divides over opinion, ideology, race, religion, and class to name but a few. The question that follows this is ‘how do we change this?’

If we’re to reduce the division in our society we need to reduce the divide in our politics and that begins with reforms to how we elect our representatives and our leaders, how they govern us and what they actually stand for.

How should we elect our government?

One change that will go a long way towards healing our divisions is to change the voting system from First Past The Post (FPTP) to Proportional Representation (PR). FPTP is the idea that winner takes all and if you don’t win, your views don’t count, creating large majority governments with a worrying amount of power along the way. PR would mean that the percentage of votes a party gets equates to the percentage of seats it gets in parliament, thus preventing these overwhelming majorities and forcing parties to work together to form governments and policies. This would stop our politics being so aggressive and confrontational, as we would see politicians having to put their differences aside to work towards common goals. It would bring unity to our politics.

There are two main versions of PR, namely Party List and Single Transferrable Vote (STV). The former is used in many countries especially in Europe but is not particularly suitable to a country with few political parties. The latter is used in Ireland and is less liable to manipulation by political parties. The Electoral Reform Society recommends STV.

I would also propose extending votes to 16 year olds because ultimately the biggest impact any government has is on the next generations and therefore they should get a chance to decide what their future will look like as much as anyone else.

Another essential reform, in addition to changing the voting system, is reforming how we’re governed. I think the majority of people in Britain believe the House of Lords, a key aspect of our parliament, is too outdated, too expensive and too large, with approximately 800 members, 92 of which are there due to inheritance alone. It is also totally undemocratic and as such, it should be either dropped or replaced. I would argue for the latter.

The House of Lords should be replaced with a ‘People’s House’, meaning a House of democratically elected representatives who aren’t tied to a political party. Their election could be based on the devolved nations and the regions of England. Their job would be to represent their local areas at a national level. They’d be able to vote on and create legislation in the same way the House of Lords do now, but it would be specific to their area, meaning local issues that have an actual impact on people’s lives would become a priority of parliament.

Current Lords who have been appointed by governments would stay on to assist and advise these representatives, whilst hereditary peers would be removed from the process entirely. To those who say the removal of hereditary peers is too socialist, it’s not. It’s called modernisation. In relation to government, the ‘People’s House’ wouldn’t be able to form a government, which would still come from the House of Commons. Overall, combined with the switch to PR for the House of Commons, this proposal means that we, as a nation, would have a truly representative, democratic and accountable parliament.

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The next stage is to ensure we have a truly representative, democratic and accountable government.

One method of doing this is to have a secure, codified constitution which would give governments a clear set of parameters within which they can work. UK does have a constitution but it comprises a myriad of separate documents. The new constitution would be transparent and ensure that governments couldn’t, for example, shut down parliament, break international law or infringe human rights. If any member of a government were to do things such as this, they could be investigated and impeached by the Supreme Court for breaking this proposed constitution. It would add an extra level of scrutiny and cause governments to be accountable to the House of Commons, the proposed ‘People’s House’ and the courts, thus securing our democracy. It would inject honesty into our politics and it would show that regardless of whether you’re an ordinary person or a leading politician, breaking the law has consequences. It would strengthen the link between politics and people.

Furthermore, it is crucial that we further regulate the media. This is essential if governments are to be truly democratic.

For too long now, if a government wants to get elected, they have to effectively seek permission to do so from the media, more specifically from a group of seven media moguls.  All of these men are billionaire tax avoiders, accountable to no-one and several with worrying links to other countries, especially Russia, and each with their own agenda. Having behind the scenes dodgy dictators isn’t democratic, nor representative. It’s corrupt and potentially dangerous.

With regards to regulating the media, legislation is needed. One possible solution could be that no individual, family or company can own more than a third of a single national paper. This would prevent media conglomerates, such as the News Corporation, from forming and it would encourage greater diversity of views within the British media, which can only be a good thing for our democracy. It would also go some way to reducing the divide in our politics as the news that people read would likely be more balanced and honest. It would certainly help end this idea of fake news, at the very least; a single proprietor could no longer print whatever they want as any story or headline would have to be released with approval of the other two owners. It would finally introduce some accountability into the media. This is just one suggestion but the issue needs to be tackled.

In addition, media organisations shouldn’t allow politicians to blatantly lie during interviews, nor should they cover up for politicians by calling them ‘unnamed sources’ in articles. They should fact check our leaders to ensure they’re honest with us, the public. This is difficult to police but we must try to find some viable way of controlling untruths. It would break down the distrust between politicians and people, a distrust which has allowed the extremes of politics to rise.

So, there we go. That’s how British politics can be fixed. With these reforms, governments can unite us, not divide us. We can have a democracy which is strong, secure and fair. We can have governments which leaves arguing behind and encourages us, instead, to agree. Imagine what we could achieve if this were the case.

Ed: Toby is one of our disenfranchised 16 year olds.