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On Direct Democracy

In 1647 the New Model Army held its famous Putney Debates to decide the future of the revolution for which the army had fought so hard. Now in 2017, at a time almost as momentous if not of actual warfare, we hear there are to be UKIP policy discussions at Derby in which members will be invited to participate. Hoorah! We badly need some real involvement if our own people’s army is to be kept happy.

Regrettably they got it wrong in Putney, notwithstanding the ‘Grandees’ of the New Model Army allowing the Levelling element of the army to have their say on behalf of the common soldiers who had borne the struggle and the sacrifice for so long. That much they owed them, and all alike were united in their suspicion of the politicians and the machinations of a defeated ruling establishment. Many of the officers had come from humble backgrounds, yet still the power lay in the hands of the gentry and country squires, who in the end proved simply too conservative to contemplate a world turned any further upside down than they could ever have envisaged when first they took up arms against the king. The revolution had gone far enough. The cry for a say in the nation’s affairs, which was to echo in remarkably similar terms in the radical movements of the nineteenth century, had come too early. The moment passed; the common man would have to wait another two centuries to get his vote and Britain, having first led the world in constitutional development, lost the chance to be truly, democratically, revolutionary.

Well, someone is going to institute direct democracy one day. The Swiss come pretty close to it already, and no-one accuses them of being a hotbed of unrest and instability. The barest lead in one of their referenda is accepted as the people’s decision. We in UKIP should not have to waste time convincing ourselves of the role of referenda, but ironically it seems we do when it comes to a bit of direct democracy in our own party.

The principle of members of a political party deciding its policies is an idea for our time. We do not mean the fig-leaf appearances which pass for membership participation in other parties past or present, but rather the kind of close consultation so well championed by our own John Rees-Evans, and in passing we should also welcome the current attempt at democratisation in the Labour Party. People, whether whole electorates or party memberships, must be responsible for their own future and their own decisions in pursuing it. The technology makes it feasible, the moral imperative desirable, the political appeal persuasive.

Just think – a political party that actually does what its foot soldiers want! Of course, say the old guard, it would be a hostage to fortune, a charter for the naïve, a recipe for disaster, since it would throw up extreme or unrealistic policies which would not stand a chance in a general election. But how can we, espousers of referenda and of trusting the people, possibly believe that? We should be standing by our collective wisdom, arguing the case through until we have individual policies most of us can agree on. No doubt the MSM would cite it as continuous mayhem and us as unelectable, in the same way the old Liberals used to be derided, but it would not take long before the wider public came to see it as a strength:  a party which had not just had an open debate but had put into practice what it preached about democracy.

The only difficulty is the practical one of dovetailing the will of the membership with the role of the leadership, but there will always be a place for a strong leader, not least in the debate and the selection of options to be voted upon, and ultimately in the charge on the field of battle. The system would have to be approved by a vote of the entire membership, and no doubt would itself need to be refined with experience. The point, however, is that it should not be beyond our wit to devise something a good deal better than we have now. At present we have no means of ascertaining the membership’s true feelings on any detailed policy, and no means of influencing that policy by real debate.   We do not even bother to take a show of hands at conference, not through oversight or lack of effort but, one suspects, because the very idea fills the hierarchy with horror.

Something else also needs to be done, which too would be revolutionary. In government and UKIP alike there should be a two-terms-and-you’re-out rule for all elected office holders. We do not want or need careerists, but plain russet-coated captains willing to fight for the cause and lead their soldiers where the fight is hottest. This alone would transform British politics, since it is the obsession with keeping seats at the ‘next election’ and personal advancement which drives most calculations, which explains our country’s inability to think beyond the short-term, which explains much of the mess we are always in.

Could the debates at Derby emulate those at Putney? They are a great idea, and we must all thank Paul for his initiative. We all have experience though of meetings where either nothing at all seems to come out of them despite soothing sounds from the top, or the outcome is fudged in some way, or there is not enough time to do the arguments justice, or where most people never get the chance to participate. Every one of us has their views, and in the end there is no substitute for getting alternative forms of words on paper and taking the votes of all those who have an interest – if we want democracy, that is, and if we want to win.

Quite what the right policies should be to deliver victory we may look at in future articles.

Photo by Internet Archive Book Images

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10 Comments on On Direct Democracy

  1. Quercus, what an interesting article.
    Personally for me, who never had the benefit of the Putney conversations explained, nor the advice that we are to have a Derby re-run..
    If I read you correctly, you are advocating Swiss style Direct Democracy and as a national model I go along with this suggestion – surely it has already been a tenet of UKIP for many years (which went along with flat rate income tax)
    If this is to be adopted nationally, then I think it should be adopted as a UKIP modus operandi and be operated digitally.
    Is there any hope this will b e discussed at Derby and adopted immediately, because if it isn`t instantly actioned by us, we would have no hope of pushing it nationally – we have to put our money where our mouth is.
    When is the Derby meeting?
    Who of “us” intends to speak?

    • Roger
      Thanks for comments. We’re waiting to hear, but end of this month, that’s all I know, and how we get the chance to attend or speak I know not. But it sure needs to be discussed – nothing should be off the table.

  2. Foreign Immigration is as big an issue now to the Kingdom’s future as the eu was. UKIP should adopt a policy of holding a national referendum upon it, & campaign on that point & abandon the mealy mouthed nonsense about getting an ‘Australian Style Points System’ that’s is converting Oz into an outpost of Asia demographically a a rate of steady knots in historical terms.

    The question should be something along the lines of:

    Should the United Kingdom have a limit for the next 10 years on foreign immigration into its territory for settlement of no more than 1000 people each year?

    Yes – No.

    If YES wins the invasion stops, if NO wins it continues. The Swiss had a Referendum along these line in 2014, so why can’t we?

    Let the people decide, not the political class on Westminster & the banks that increasingly covertly own H.M.G.

    It’s time for UKIP to be bold in these matters & strike whilst the iron’s hot, not continue to hesitate for fear of a Leftist Media backlash, which it routinely gets anyway.

    • Ajax,

      You will never in the month of Sundays get our immigration levels down to 1000 people a year, did you mean 100,000? because that also seems to be an impossible attainable figure.

      • Apologies I`ve come late into this debate, but I would prefer the words “Desirable” or “Necessary” rather than “Attainable”

  3. I am painfully aware of the “first law of IT systems” – if it can go wrong, it will. The second law is that it is people who tend to create system failures, not the technology. For that reason I for one would not wish the party processes to become impersonal. We would need safeguards (a) to prevent outside agencies from taking over the Party by flooding us with new members (b) to stop hackers (c) to ensure that people join our Party because they like our policies – not because they want to overturn them and (d) to prevent the situation where the party leadership is tasked to implement policies which they do not support – some sort of balance is required here. The traditional approach is that those who would be elected leader make their pitch to the voters and when elected get a fairly free hand in how they deliver. Prudence suggests that we hasten rather slowly and very carefully if we want to move away from this model.

    Finally I would suggest that our historic mission was actually to get us out of the EU (any revolutionary aspect was incidental). No successful Party can live in a state of permanent revolution, but with our historic mission now in hand, it is time for UKIP to think about its raison d’etre post Brexit. My suggestion is that we continue to be the common-sense party that dares to speak from a fresh perspective to the vital issues that the other parties will not address – I think there will never be a shortage of these!

    • Thanks for the comments Jim.
      Can’t think there would be a high risk of entryism – benefits of bigger and livelier membership would outweigh anyway. Hacking possible but precautions could be taken and some paper used if necessary. Lots of people like our policies but they’re not joining – we need to give them more of an incentive. Do we know what PN’s and SE’s views are about the major issues? – no-one has to lead us if they can’t support the policies members want.
      We can have all the prudence and common sense we like as we toddle off into the sunset – we need to be radical and imaginative if we’re to succeed.

  4. LET THE DERBY DEBATES BEGIN
    Members need an invite to attend after applying. Let us hope the selection process is sensible.
    As to direct democracy etc etc this is the future and the sooner UKIP realises this – esp the NEC and MEPs the better. We need to reach for the stars. Our membership is tiny, sclerotic, and stale. A true revolutionary party because that is what our historic mission is – would have no less than a million members. Trust the British people and they will be sensible and clever and creative.there is nothing to fear from direct democracy but fear (of the unknown) itself. With the exception of Nigel Farage all the MEPs and for that matter any other party member is replaceable. But collectively we won and we can win and win and win again.
    Aux armes citoyens! A bas les saloppes (liblabcongreensnppc)!

  5. Potentially the Derby meeting is a good start. It remains to be seen of course if the leadership and, in particular, the “usual suspects” take any notice of what the members propose.

    However, let’s hope that some bold policies emerge and any thoughts of trying to appeal to an impossibly wide spectrum of voters are banished to where they belong.

    Now is not the time for caution in the face of the enemy; we need our country back and soon.

  6. I didn’t think the Derby meeting was about policy but rather a garnering of talent that could benefit UKIP. Obviously only those who can attend might be heard; what about those who cannot attend because of cost and time? We shall see. There are many tasks which are non political such as data protection and security, financial and constitutional.
    I like the idea of two terms and out. I would support that if the incumbent was able to put themselves forward again for re-election. i.e. success deserves reward.
    Direct Democracy will be a failure for UKIP if we are not first to implement. We uttered the words but the action is missing (or not yet apparent}. Almost every online retailer keeps its customer data in a database. This data can be updated by the customer e.g. addresses and card details. Surely UKIP should follow this example which would result in an up to date database of membership. Lapsed members could be moved (not actually necessary but tidier) to a separate database which would sort out the mailing mistakes. Access to internal UKIP matters could be via this membership login.
    WE need to get savvy in the digital age to allow everyone to contribute regardless of geographic location.

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