In the first three parts of this series (1, 2, 3), I have suggested reforms to make the British parliamentary system better equipped for what could be an especially turbulent period in our history. I proposed: greater devolution; a slimmer, punchier House of Commons; and a House of Lords with a mix of elected, co-opted and politically-appointed members.
Now: some thoughts on elections, which are – as things stand – the epitome of everything people hate about the public sector (inconvenient, confusing, dingy, etc). With a little redesign, we could make them so much more entertaining, user friendly, and festive: fit for the modern media age.
Consider. We live in the age of live. The online revolution has destroyed many business models, but it is driving the value of one-off events through the roof. Rock stars release albums to promote their live shows (ten years ago, it was the other way round). Sky’s business model is based on the capture of live sport, especially football.
Master manipulator, Derren Brown, understands this better than anyone. His recent series was structured deliberately as a series of events – designed to provoke and gel together a stream of frenzied media and online coverage.
To be sure, a British general election is gripping, but almost inspite of itself. We’ll soon be having the first British general election of the Twitter era, but as always the results will dribble in the middle of the night (thus ‘were you still up for Portillo?’).
That didn’t matter a jot in the print era – and television has learned to make the most of the bad timing. But it’s surely wrong for the new media age. When we next go the polls, most of the British public will be asleep when we get to the climax.
So I suggest:
- A Democracy Day every two and a half years – with a general election in June and a mid-term in November.
- All elections – Westminster, devolved government, councils, European parliament, referenda, etc – will be held on one of these days (by-elections would be the only exception).
- Voting would be as easy as possible, with polls open throughout the week before, and voting could be made compulsory (with a ‘none of the above’ option, of course).
- Democracy Day would be a public holiday – with polls closing at 6 o’clock.
- Sunderland would then do its usual party trick and gets its result out within the hour. The rest of the action would then unfold across prime time; even in the closest years, the result would be clear before the nation went to bed.
- The TV audience would be huge; Twitter and its ilk would go berserk (think of all the local coverage from counts); while election parties and victory rallies could happen at a sensible time.
– Fixed terms: a predictable, harmonised electoral cycle, with a clear rhythm for politician, bureaucrat and public.
– The creation of a consistent democratic system, even as devolution leads to confusing fragmentation.
– Economies of scale for electoral commission, political parties, media, etc, from running fewer, bigger elections.
– Opportunities to expand the role played by direct democracy in British political life, by running more referenda, elections to quangos and other public bodies, etc.
– An unmissable media event.
– The June election might need to float slightly, depending on the date set for European parliamentary elections (though hopefully Europe will settle). But – before Eurosceptics start frothing at the mouth – there are great advantages to having national and European elections in the same cycle. The party in power in Westminster would also lead in Brussels, providing a much more consistent voice for the British electorate in Europe, while turnout would be much much higher, ensuring a better reflection of UK opinion.
– The general election would cover the House of Commons, Europe, and the devolved administrations, plus some councillors and seats in the (new) House of Lords. The minor election would be just local government, the Lords, and any odds and sods (referenda, quangos, etc).
– In the remodelled Lords, there’d be 160 members, of whom half would be elected. I’d like to see elected members able to serve only a single 10-year term – staggered, so 20 members would be elected each Democracy Day (a small enough list for people to vote for individuals, not parties).