Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Why I'm voting Liberal Democrat. Reason 3: A more plural democracy

I've decided to vote Liberal Democrat in the forthcoming 2010 British General Election.

I'm giving my reasons in six posts.

Reason 3: A more plural democracy

On the issues of climate change and the Iraq war (see Reasons 1 and 2), Parliament has lacked important voices. In the first case, every country in the EU has Green MPs except Britain. I disagree with current Green policies in several ways; but I find it astonishing that Green views - with which a huge number of people in the country, including me, have some sympathy - are not represented in Parliament. In the second case, there has been widespread opposition among the general public to the war in Iraq, yet these voices are grossly under-represented in Parliament.

Our democracy is suffering without pluralism. The Conservatives say that unfettered rule by a single party is necessary for strong government. I disagree: Germany has had coalition government for 60 years and is patently successful. Single party government lacks the restraint provided by a range of mandated views: some point to Greece as an example of this. I would also point to the current British Labour Government. Of course there are democracies with dreadful coalition governments, I've no doubt. The point is that better government tends to comes from the country's views being represented in Parliament rather than being ignored.

And as for the argument that strong government is impossible in coalitions, can I remind the Conservatives of the two most critical times of our history in the last 100 years, when strong decisive action was most needed? The parties came together to form coalition government in both world wars.

People often complain that politicians don't listen to them. They're right. There are more views than just two.

Only the Liberal Democrats are putting forward proposals that would enable Parliament to better represent the range of views in the country.


Another aspect of pluralism is that it is mad for Westminster and Whitehall to be trying to micro-managing great cities like Birmingham and Manchester, and counties like Kent and Merseyside. Devolution of certain powers to Wales and Scotland has been a great success, and no-one wants to return to the previous over-centralised system. Local people should be able to decide on their priorities for schools, hospitals, police, post offices and so on, within a freer national framework. There's a lot of talk of "postcode lotteries" whereas we should be talking about "postcode democracy".

The Liberal Democrats are the only ones proposing greater localism.

Scientific advice and technical scrutiny

Furthermore, the sacking of drugs adviser Professor David Nutt and the level of ignorance shown by MPs debating the Digital Economy Bill (#debill) point to another failing in our democracy that needs tackling: we need more expert involvement in helping legislators scrutinise laws and government actions.

Science advisers must be able to give their advice freely and independently, without the fear of being sacked if their scientific advice differs from current government policy. Furthermore , laws with far-reaching effects that require technical knowledge need to be pored over in detail by specialist committees, advised by the experts, rather than rushed through Parliament by means of bravado, horse-trading and ignorance. MPs on the floor of the Commons (still less unelected peers) should not be trying to re-hash in pompous 3 minute speeches the discussions that took Select Committees months. They should be weighing up the rationale of the final report, and sending it for revision if it's not good enough. We need an evidence-based legislature not a public school debating competition.

The Conservatives have sided with Labour both in relation to scientific advice and in relation to the Digital Economy Bill. It seems to be only the Liberal Democrats who are prepared to champion such independent scientific advice and scrutiny.

The man or woman in the street

It's sometimes said that it's only the geeks that care about voting systems, local government and evidence-based laws. Maybe that's true. It shouldn't be.