At a time when Boris Johnson decides to prorogue Parliament in order for HIM to take back control of the Brexit process, now is the chance for MPs to show what a strong, selfless Parliamentary Democracy can do and restore the people’s trust in politics.
First published in March 2019 | Updated in September 2019.
After Trump’s election, the Brexit chaos, the ‘gilets jaunes’ protests, the rise of populism and fake news, Theresa May and now Boris Johnson Prime Minister... a strong, selfless Parliamentary System could restore the people’s trust in politics.
For the last couple of years, nothing has been more certain than rapid uncertain changes in the world: the Brexit vote, Donald Trump’s election, the rise of populism in Europe, the spread of fake news and alternative facts.
People don’t trust their governments any longer. In France, the two major parties were prevented from competing in the second round of the presidential election for the first time in France’s History. Highly violent protests have rocked Emmanuel Macron’s mandate - in particular the gilets-jaunes protests.
People doubt politicians work in their best interest. Although a majority of British MPs voted Remain in the EU referendum in June 2016, they nearly all voted to allow the Prime Minister to trigger Article 50 in March 2017. Lobbying? Hypocrisy? Ignorance?
Some politicians have been caught red-handed involved in sordid cases of sexual harassment, sexual abuse and abuse of power with their staff, whilst representing their constituents or being a member of the government.
Nationalist, far-right, alt-right and ultra-right parties get fed with our insecurities, our fears, our doubts, our distrust of mainstream politics and politicians, our distrust of the media, our distrust of experts, and turn to voters with empty promises, radical views and simplistic but dangerous solutions.
As the internet and social media bring us closer together with our family, our friends and our communities like never before, they at the same time push us apart from each other with hate-groups, hate-preachers, hate-lecturers and hate-newspapers.
In a time like this, the only viable system of governance has to be a strong, selfless parliamentary system. A system that would enable direct democracy to work, prevent leaders at the top from taking decisions favoured by lobbies or by their wealthy and influential friends...
A strongly interconnected Executive and Legislative.
“Members of the House of Commons hold, in effect, a triple mandate. They represent all the people of their constituency, their party and the interests of the country. It is a tenet of representative democracy that MPs are not delegates for their constituents. This means that, while the views of constituents are frequently considered, the actions of MPs are governed by their determination of the best interests of their constituency, their party and the country as a whole.” (Politics.co.uk.)
A system of democratic governance in which the executive and the legislative branches would be strongly interconnected and would work in the national interest.
MPs shouldn’t follow or receive orders from tabloids and their multibillionaire media mogul owners, nor allow swinging opinion polls to command their decisions, tell them how to lead their debates or preside over the way they should vote in Parliament.
“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion ... Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests, which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.” (Edmund Burke’s Speech to the Electors of Bristol, 3 Nov. 1774.)
The executive branch should derive its democratic legitimacy from the legislature. Because the Members of Parliament (MPs) are directly elected to represent the people, only they should hold the legitimacy to choose how the country must be led and what is in the best interest of the country.
MPs are not delegates. Because they are elected to represent their constituents, MPs should always keep in mind what is best for them in the first place. They should also use their common sense and feel free to disagree with their constituents — and to disagree with what the press and opinion polls claim is the so-called “will of the people”. If they think it is in the interest of the nation for them to vote unpopular bills or vote down popular bills, so be it.
“The first duty of a member of Parliament is to do what he thinks in his faithful and disinterested judgement is right and necessary for the honour and safety of Great Britain. His second duty is to his constituents, of whom he is the representative but not the delegate. Burke's famous declaration on this subject is well known. It is only in the third place that his duty to party organization or programme takes rank. All these three loyalties should be observed, but there in no doubt of the order in which they stand under any healthy manifestation of democracy.” (Sir Winston Churchill on the Duties of a Member of Parliament.)
A Prime Minister ‘light’.
Does it still make sense that, in the 21st century, a man or a woman sitting in a gold decorated office have all the power of a country in their hands, when the directly elected members of the Parliament are the people’s representatives?
Does it still make sense that, sitting in an office protected from the crowd, they can make use of executive orders or royal prerogatives without the need to ask Parliament and, by doing so, overrule the people’s representatives?
Does it still make sense that, sitting in an office kept away from the people, they obstruct the work of parliament, give false evidence or fail to provide information as requested by the people’s representatives without fear of being found in contempt of Parliament?
No, of course not.
In a Selfless Parliamentary System, the executive would still take the form of a Prime Minister who would be elected by the legislature (the Members of Parliament), not simply nominated because they are the leaders of the majority in Parliament as it usually is the case (in the UK for example). Once elected by the MPs, the new Prime Minister would resign of any other mandate, including as leader of their party, to concentrate on their sole duty as Prime Minister.
That Prime Minister would neither be, nor have, the power of a head of state and would not be considered as the leader of the country either, but rather the country’s home policies executor and the country’s representation abroad. The face of the country. The PM should not hold any special powers: no power to dissolve or prorogue Parliament, no veto, no ‘Executive order’, no ‘Royal prerogative’ and no ‘Article 49.3’ to allow their government to force passage of a bill.
The role of the Prime Minister should be stripped to its bare minimum to allow them to simply go on with the duty for which they and their cabinet would be elected. While the mandate of the legislature would not exceed four years, the PM’s mandate itself would not exceed two years and could not be renewed more than once, in order to favour the democratic rule of alternation in power. It would also ensure that they would not enter into any political campaigning as they would not be the leader of their political party.
Although the government ministers would be chosen by the PM, parliamentary commissions should investigate their background individually and ensure they are fit for the job. The PM and the government ministers would be held accountable to the legislature and could, therefore, be taken down with a simple required majority of the votes in Parliament.
Power to the people, through their elected Parliament.
Although the PM and the government ministers could be taken down by a vote of no-confidence in Parliament, the PM should not be allowed to dissolve Parliament. Parliament should be elected for a duration of four years. MPs should not be allowed to renew their mandate more than once.
If unhappy with their MP, voters in a constituency should be able to recall them and organise a by-election in which the MP would be allowed to try to convince voters to keep them in Parliament. Recall would only be possible once every 18 months to avoid abuses.
These measures would favour the democratic rule of alternation in power. Thus, renewing politicians every eight years.
No more grumpy old faces on the TV and in the media! No more politicians claiming with a smile “You know, I have never seen such a crisis... and I have been an MP for 20 years now...” New faces every eight years instead.
Choices about the Economy, Education, Health, Employment, Transport, Environment, etc. should all go through commissions before being presented by government ministers to Parliament, where votes would take place to finalise policies, with or without amendments. Choices and orientations should be discussed in commissions and presented to the complete chamber by members of Parliament themselves.
The need for national referendums would totally disappear with this system as all the decisions would be taken by the people’s representatives, for the people and in the interest of the people.
Wartime decisions would not be taken by the PM alone. The PM and their cabinet would make the case for or against war, but the ultimate decision would be taken by Parliament through a free vote that would be in the interest of the country.
As a principle, the ruling of the country should never be in the sole hands of one individual above everybody else.
How could / would it work?
Such Parliamentary System would work in any country with a constitutional monarchy with a monarch as the ceremonial head of state and the Prime Minister as a member of the legislature (such as the United Kingdom, Sweden or Japan). It would also work with a Republic, with a president as the ceremonial head of state (such as Germany, South Africa or Botswana).
The European Union is currently using the closest system, so far, to the Parliamentary System described above, in the way it functions, regardless its imperfections and sometimes technocratic feel. It, therefore, is no utopia. Such a system can be implemented within a country like the UK.
Restoring the people’s trust in politics.
What is needed to make this work in a country like Britain, for instance? A selfless PM who can work together with selfless ministers and members of Parliament with a common interest in mind: not “the will of the people”, but the almighty national interest.
This system of governance only needs a little bit of thinking, a little bit of work and a big deal of willingness from both the people and the politicians to change the way their country works.
People who voted for the far-left in recent elections are calling for a closer democracy. We must be open-minded. We must listen to Leave voters (Britain), the voters of Bernie Sanders (US), Jean-Luc Melenchon (France), Podemos (Spain) and M5S (Italy)... We must also listen to the voters of Marine Le Pen (France), Geert Wilders (Netherlands), Donald Trump (USA) and Nigel Farage (Britain).
All the extreme parties, whether Left or Right, grow on a dying system that people feel does not answer their questions, does not listen to them, does not represent them any longer.
Let’s challenge the system. Let’s change the system!
The creation of a Selfless Parliamentary System would be a real revolution in itself. It would be a new way of doing politics, closer to the people, but it would also and mainly be a way to restore people’s trust in politics, and send the populists, nationalists and hate-preachers of our time back to the one place they really belong: the History books.
It may come true, one day... if we all want it hard enough!🔷
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