Politics has become a dirty word, and politicians the definition of an untrustworthy profession. It’s not hard to see why, from blatant corruption to obvious incompetence the world is littered with good reasons to distrust anyone linked with politics.
Yet everywhere we still yearn for effective action, and nowhere more so than in the political arena. We don’t envy anyone the job; either because it is dangerous, or futile, or thankless, or all of those.
Being the chosen representative of your peers in the affairs of state should be an honorable and respectable position, a job that our best and brightest aspire to hold. We need to make being a politician a respected role, if we are to attract the quality leadership that we will need to guide us down The Path.
A politician is a representative of the people, selected to provide executive leadership of the government apparatus and civilian leadership of our societies. This is one of the most important roles that anyone can serve in our society. We not only want, we really need people of character, ability and integrity to provide leadership for our societies in this time.
If we are going to make being a politician a truly meaningful job that garners the best candidates from our constituency, and which commands our respect and trust, what do we expect that job to look like?
Here are some elements of what a political job description should include:
- First and foremost, it has to be a position that allows the holder to get things done, to change what has to be changed and align the priorities of the government with the needs of the people. A politician has to have sufficient power and freedom to make decisions, and hold the civil service responsible for enacting those decisions.
- They need the support of a legal framework that describes the extent and the limits of their authority clearly, so that they can be held responsible for that which they are responsible for, and not for what they’re not. A framework that also frees citizens to be responsible for their own actions, as partners in the process.
- We want politicians to be dealmakers, but not consummate dealmakers. We want people who can put a manifesto in front of the electorate, and then go and get it done. Preferably with the support of as many as possible, but where a majority is a mandate.
- They need to be paid well. Well enough to be comfortable, and well enough to make holding the job a reasonable prospect compared to other leadership positions in a constituency. Well enough to want to hold on to the job without other income or taking bribes, but not so well that they can afford to pay bribes!
In summary, a politician should be a leader, with the weight of their popular support behind their executive decisionmaking, operating in a clear and supporting legal framework, with sufficient pay and administrative support to allow them to focus on being the best representative of their peers that they can be.
Creating that is going to mean changing the political system. These changes are entirely possible in a democracy, and you quite probably live in one. They just require that you, the voter, demand them.
Let’s look at some of the attributes of a political system that will attract the kind of candidates that you would be proud to call your representative. Below are some of the facets of such a system, the kind of super-democracy discussed earlier in this book and laid out in detail in the Standards of LIFE.
In a super-democracy, a representative actually has the decision-making power of the voters that support them. A representative who wins 60% of the vote can get things done without the support of another who won 10% of the vote. At the same time, our representatives need to represent us in all our dimensions and diversity. To resolve these two requirements we need an assembly for each constituency in which all voters in a constituency vote for the same slate of candidates, and the elected representatives vote in their assembly with the weight of the share of the vote they received.
For instance, in a state election, everyone in the state votes for the exact same candidates; no subdivisions, no geographic areas and no sub-constituencies. One constituency and one list of candidates that everyone votes from. When all the votes are added up, the candidates with the most votes occupy the available seats in the assembly. But when the assembly votes, each representative votes with the full weight of the number of voters that supported them in the election.
Politics has to operate within a legal framework where the rule of law is paramount. The law protects the people and describes the limits of the power of the politicians. Part of this framework is a requirement for transparency, which is essential to restraining corruption and keeping the citizenry informed. This is what a constitution is for.
Aspects of a helpful constitution include:
- A legal structure that accords each layer of government with the authority for their particular constituency. Power needs to originate close to the voter in local government, and only be promoted to regional and state layers by choice. This system allows for differences and provides harmonization. It uses a legal system called Variable Law, which allows for the promotion, and retrieval, of aspects of law between layers of government.
- Election to office must be open to all citizens who wish to be candidates, and must provide equal access to mass media for all of them.
- No presidents, no upper chambers or lower houses. Just one assembly for each constituency, full of elected representatives voting with the power of their direct electoral support.
- No term limits: if someone’s good at their job and retains the trust of their peers and wants to carry on, they should be able to. (Obviously subject to fair-access election system, see above.)
- No constitutional recognition of political parties. People are free to organize, join and support parties, but individuals are elected irrespective and independent of their party affiliations.
- The assembly needs to be the highest authority in the land, under the Constitution. All civil and military services must report to, and be subservient to, the assembly. All management positions of those services that report directly to the assembly should serve at the will of the assembly, who may appoint replacements as they see fit.
- Public funding of mass media access for campaigning to control the influence of money on elections and politicians.
- No funds from outside the constituency or corporations.
- All representatives should be equally compensated and their pay should be proportional to the income of their constituency – something between 5 and 10 times the average income of their constituents would be about right. This links the personal interests of the politician directly to the interest of the majority of their constituents.
- Administrative support and expense should be provided to each representative. It is in everyone’s interest that they are well-informed, able to order research and provided sufficient support that allows them to focus on the decisions.
A political system built on these principles, and working within this kind of framework, would be a lot more responsive and responsible to its voters, and would attract candidates who have the desire and ability to effect change.
If we can couple these changes to the job description for a politician with election campaign funding reform, will lay the foundation for the quality decision making that is so vital to our progress through the difficult times ahead.
Not only can we make politics a clean word again, we must. The changes we need to make to our societies and economies require quality leadership in our democratic systems. We need systemic change, and that means changing our system of representation.
A full description of how “super-democracy” is structured can be found at: http://www.StandardsofLIFE.org/Representation. The full text of the current LIFE Constitutional template can be found at: http://www.StandardsofLIFE.org/Constitutional+Template.
Part 17 in the serialization of the The Path to A Future.
A new section will be posted every 2 weeks during 2011. Enjoy!
To get a free PDF of the book go to www.standardsoflife.org/thepathtoafuture.