TEN WAYS TO IMPROVE DEMOCRACY?

The MPs expenses scandal and now the Brexit debacle have led to widespread dissatisfaction with parliamentary democracy. When working people wrest power from the capitalist class, building new, direct democratic structures will be part of our efforts to build a socialist future but, until then, what are the reforms we should seeking to our present democratic arrangements? Here are my top ten suggestions:

  1. Electronic voting for parliamentary and local government elections and national and local referendums.
  2. True proportional representation. This, of necessity, would include abolition of the House of Lords, chosen by the ultimate non-PR voting system; and while we are about it, let’s do away with monarchy, titles and honours in their entirety.
  3. Regional parliaments in England in lieu of the Westminster Parliament. These would meet in modern, circular debating chambers with electronic voting. Westminster Hall could be turned into a decent Peoples Palace but the rest of the grotesque Victorian-gothic monstrosity that is the Palace of Westminster can be bulldozed. Northern Ireland would be offered a referendum on either a regional parliament along similar lines or joining the Republic of Ireland. No more direct rule.
  4. Much, much lower limits on spending on elections and funding of parties, returning campaigning to unpaid activists, with corporate donations banned. Only individuals who can actually vote or their collectives (e.g. trade unions) should be allowed to donate.
  5. Abolish the Electoral Commission as unfit for purpose and form a truly independent election watchdog.
  6. Maximum possible delegation of powers to local councils with tax raising powers sufficient to meet 100% of the cost of services for which they are responsible.
  7. A UK Representative Council of delegates appointed by the regional and national parliaments to decide UK wide issues, interpret  the written constitution and agree an annual transfer payments between nations and regions to reflect disparities in revenue raising capacities.
  8. Members of the regional and national parliaments to be paid the average national wage. No second jobs, no second income, no private incomes or capital, no phony trusts to conceal wealth. If candidates cannot satisfy these stringent conditions, they cannot stand for election.
  9. Members of regional and national parliaments appointed for no more than two terms of four years each and subject to recall by voters. Being elected a member of these parliaments is an honour and a duty, not a career.
  10. Press and media, if they are to engage in anything other than strictly factual political reporting, must to be owned by readers/users or, in the case of the BBC, brought under democratic control.

 

You may disagree with some or all of these suggestions. If so, what would yours be?

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Jeremy Corbyn and the Trade Union Bill

Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership election has been warmly welcomed by the Communist Party although, given the composition of the Parliamentary Labour Party, no one in our Party expects his task to be an easy one. The immediate resignation of six members of the Shadow Cabinet and the universally hostile reception he received in the capitalist press and the BBC (with little to differentiate them these days) illustrates the difficulties he will face. Yet on his first day in Parliament as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will lead his party’s opposition to the Trade Union Bill. If the dissidents in the Parliamentary Labour Party cannot rally behind him on this issue, they will expose themselves for the Tories they are. Mass mandatory re-selection of MPs will be the only solution.

The Bill is pernicious. It will allow agency workers to be drafted in to strike break whether or not they are competent to do the job. Amateur train drivers? Longer notice of strike action must be given to employers of impending action (fourteen rather than seven days) and, more significantly, unions will have to publish, fourteen days in advance, a written plan of any intended protest and specific details about it, including social media use. Demonstrations will be severely circumscribed and simple majorities will no longer be sufficient to authorise strike action. In effect, and unlike other elections including those for parliament, an abstention will count as a vote against. On that basis, Scotland voted for independence and the Tories lost the last general election.

Yet there are trade union law reforms that are needed. Electronic voting by union members in the workplace would greatly enhance workplace democracy; firms that engage in blacklisting should be prosecuted; and police spying on trade unionists and left wing activists should end immediately. That the last activity is still going on was revealed by Dave Smith, a victimised trade unionist and author of Blacklisted (New Internationist, 2015), to Croydon TUC on Thursday.

Dave’s revelations did not come as a surprise to the significant number of Communist Party members at the Croydon TUC meeting. Anyone who knows our Party’s history knows that systematic efforts were made in the past to penetrate and spy on the Communist Party.  There is even evidence that the sanctity of the voting booth was systematically broken in order to identify and report the names of those even daring to vote for Communist Party candidates. Given the reduced scale of the Party’s electoral activity in recent  years, necessitated by the need to re-build the Party more or less from scratch in the 1990s, and the obstacles faced by smaller parties in parliamentary elections (the dominance and bias of our mass media including the BBC, the high cost  of lost deposits, the undemocratic nature of first-past-the-post  etc), it is unlikely that Special Branch expend much effort these days on this particular nefarious activity but other forms of spying on trade unionists, activists and communists continue and will continue until they are exposed and our reluctant authorities are forced to abandon them and legislate accordingly.

Now those would be sensible reforms! No doubt Jeremy Corbyn will propose them on Monday. Good luck, Jeremy!

Democracy

Under capitalism, or as they call it in the USA, ‘freedom’, democracy means an entitlement to vote every few years to select from a few parties offering more of less the same choices. At the forthcoming general election, that means more cuts and privatisations. Essential to this apparent exercise of ‘choice’ is a mass media owned by the capitalists and heavy constraints on any alternative media such as the Morning Star – still being blanked by the BBC and other mass media despite a well supported Early Day Motion in parliament calling for this boycott to end. This conspiracy against voters is, however, beginning to fray as voters are beginning in ever larger numbers not to vote. As the Scottish Referendum demonstrated, if people are given a genuine opportunity to discuss debate and deliberate, and if their vote means something, they will turn out in large numbers and will care passionately about the result. Does anyone think this will happen at the forthcoming election? Labour will be standing on the basis that they are not as bad as the Tories. This is undeniably true and will induce a number of working class voters to vote for them in those few swing constituencies where their votes will make a difference. We sincerely hope this will happen: the Tories are beyond contempt and we cannot afford another five years of them.

In a few constituencies left wing parties will be standing – in recent years the Communist Party has, for example, stood in Croydon North – but the left does not have the resources to stand everywhere. The big four parties (Tory, Labour, LibDem and UKiP) can afford expensive campaigns, with the Tories in particular flooding the mass media with their message. Even the Greens now have modest resources to call on. The Left, however, lacks even these. The odds are stacked against us, but, just to make sure, we have to put up deposits in every parliamentary constituency for which we stand of £500 and these deposits are lost if we fail to gather 5% of the vote – as invariably happens if a candidate’s party does not benefit from the support of, or at least recognition by, the mass media. Just to make doubly sure small parties are handicapped, the law requiring public property to be made available without charge for election meetings during the election period is routinely and universally flouted. This is a matter that the Communist Party in Croydon has taken up with Croydon Town Hall and with the Electoral Commission to no avail.

For communists, democracy means much more than casting a vote every few years even if real choice were on offer to voters. Discussion, debate and deliberation are essential, together with unbiased information on the critical issues. Furthermore, this process should not be confined to parliamentary and local government elections. Extending it to meaningless votes for Police Commissioners and, following the US practice, dog catchers is not the way forward either. The workplace is where we are currently crying out for more democracy. The TUC has accordingly asked the government’s business departments to bring forward plans for electronic voting in union ballots. This would, of course, run counter to the government’s strategy of seeking to isolate workers with the postal ballot mechanism. Workers with an electronic vote that could be exercised at work would tend to talk to each other before voting.

The government probably has in mind moving in the opposite direction. Not only will they wish to keep postal voting for industrial ballots, they have been threatening to change the law to require an absolute majority of those voting before industrial action can be taken. Meanwhile, they seem content for our MPs to be elected on derisory shares of those entitled to vote. We do not expect an incoming Labour government to do anything about the latter, but we are entitled to expect them to abolish anti-trade union laws this time and allow electronic voting in the workplace.