Our political processes and structures are about to undergo a period of change as the number of parliamentary constituencies are reduced to 600 from the current 650. However this change will not improve the public attitude towards those who make decisions on our behalf. Indeed some may become even become more cynical when it is clear that the reduction will disproportionately affect the parties. We have also (once again) been promised a major reform of the Lords but this depends on the Commons and the Lords agreeing to the changes which has prevented such grand intentions being realised before. One of the big challenges for our democracy as confidence in politicians and political parties diminishes (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12934148) is to avoid tinkering around the edges of a process that is clearly running out of steam. Instead we need a new political paradigm that will allow those who support the status quo as well as those who have lost confidence in it to find something they can believe in and vote for.
We need to explore how ideas and concepts can be translated into public policy in a way that enables electors without strong party political allegiances (or confidence in the current tribal mechanisms) to play a full part in decision-making. What is required is an approach that will enable the views of the elector and those of the candidate to be aligned irrespective of any formal party commitment or identification. This alignment must be something that is clear to both the elector and the candidate in a way that gives confidence to both. Any new approach will need to accommodate the old parties with their complex breadth of views, founded on core concepts and the dominance of existing power networks, alongside local and national single issue lobby groups whose role has become ubiquitous. The end result will need a more participatory element to it than the current system, but not to the exclusion of the representative elements that still work for many of us.
The role of independent candidates and small parties appears to be on the increase but one of the barriers for them to address is how they can link together to influence the decision-making process. As Caroline Lucas MP has recently shown in Parliament, and several others before her, it is possible to wield a great deal of influence in debates even if this does not translate directly into power. However if there is to be a rigorous challenge to the existing parties from independent candidates or small political parties they will need to progress beyond one-off alliances on individual votes. At Wealden District Council, Independent Councillors were given a boost when the Lib Dem vote collapsed. All of the three Independent Councillors are members of the same family. This provided them with a link that is not available to most Independent Councillors. The future depends on an integrated response by a range of unconnected groups. The recent example of the 8 English Regional Assemblies outside London (London is a special case) is helpful in this context. The wide range of diverse Stakeholder representatives resolved to find common ground on many issues and then exert a more significant influence on the outcomes than their numbers would suggest, simply because they could offer a rationale that inspired some of the more open-minded party politicians to modify their own policy positions. In order to properly serve the electorate, both Parliament and our Local Government arrangements will need to be a great deal more sophisticated in their inclusion of Independent voices and thinking than at present.
The changes needed should also extend to finding a structural balance to the Scottish, Welsh and Irish Assemblies for English voters. The decision by voters in the North East was never adequately understood in public terms by the major parties and it was certainly not the clear rejection of regionalism that was claimed for it. An irrational fear of EU domination cannot be allowed to prevent English electors from having an adequate governance structure. We need a stronger connection between Local, Regional and National policy making structures so we avoid duplication of decision-making and suspicion between these tiers, and aid a two-way transmission of ideas. It also seems bizarre for local people to have to take their problems to both their local MP and Councillor separately before some issues can be resolved. A more meaningful one stop shop is needed. We cannot allow the successors of Pickles, Blair and Thatcher to use Local Government as a punch bag when policies are failing, or waste time wooing them when it suits their purposes.
What is needed is a much more robust set of proposals than those that are being considered by the current Parliament. These must be the result of wider debate than the one being held in the Westminster village and the contributors should include people with no vested interest in the current status quo (or some minor variation of it).