Many people in this country turn off when the words ‘politics’ or ‘politicians’ are mentioned. Ask people why they react in such a way and you will hear many different answers, but there will be several common themes.
Among these are the feelings that politicians are incapable of telling the truth and they work in their own interest; there is no point voting because politicians in the different mainstream parties have indistinguishable views on the major issues; and that politics itself is now irrelevant because the wishes of voters are ignored.
So it is that we hear politicians pontificating about ‘reconnecting’ the public with the politics and encouraging people to ‘engage’ in the political process. These sentiments by politicians are evidence that our politics is broken. It is an admission that politics is not working for the people. But despite this that same political class responsible for breaking our politics and bringing about the disconnect and lack of engagement refuses to acknowledge itself as the root cause of the problem. That is why we need a new approach and why I am supporting the idea of Referism.
What we have before us is not democracy but a hollowed out shell. Politics in this country, as in many others, has become a one way conversation. Politicians speak and they expect us t0 listen. The political class is set in ‘transmit’ mode but refuses to flick the switch to ‘receive’. They present their non binding manifestos and declare this is what they want you to vote for. This is the ‘democratic’ choice laid before you. But the manifestos have not been constructed by listening to the wishes of voters. As such the elections in this country are largely meaningless and – importantly – the ability to bring about real change is denied to the electorate.
It is the pursuit of power that accounts for most of those people who join parties and become politicians. The notion of entering politics to ‘make a difference’ or merely to ‘serve’ is seldom a genuine explanation, and in any case it lasts only a short time after election success.
I can vouch for the reality of this having been elected as a Councillor with the best of intentions – and then having seen at first hand how any effort to carry out the wishes of the people who voted for me was met by inertia or outright opposition from civil servants. This was accompanied by warnings from local party leadership that positions on key committees or ascent to deputy or chairman roles depended upon not rocking the boat. That is why so many Councillors get involved enthusiastically for the right reasons then turn native after their election. For my part, I resigned rather than compromise my principles.
The problem is that during a term as an elected representative there is absolutely no need whatsoever to take heed of what those who cast their votes actually want their Councillor or MP to do. When I argued in open Council that Councillors should listen to what people in their wards wanted and do all they can to deliver on those wishes, I was told that we should act as leaders and tell the people what we believed they needed instead. The very idea of letting people decide what they want is anathema to those who hold power.
The power in this country resides with the political class, and the civil service which only seems to serve its own interests and objectives. It should reside with the people. That is what democracy is supposed to be about.
So it follows that in order to restore democracy to this country power must be taken back by the people. The power our politicians possess is the ability to make decisions requiring them to determine how our money, collected through taxation, is spent. If people had the ability to veto decisions by refusing to allow their money to be spent, the power of the political class – supposedly our representatives and servants anyway – would be removed. Ordinary people would be calling the shots, which is as it should be.
In the Referism model politicians would have to ask us for money to spend. They would become accountable if forced annually to seek our approval for spending and therefore receive our money. If their request was, for example, for money to hand to the European Union as part of our contribution to Brussels’ unaccountable spending a majority of voters could deny the request and prevent that money being handed over.
Money is power. This works not only in the world of business but in the world of politics. When it comes to government spending it is our money being used, therefore we should have the power.
The Referist idea is developing and more people are joining the debate. Do join the debate and share your views about how we ordinary people can take back power and how this democratic ideal can supplant the system of elective dictatorship in this country.