A new campaign sees election candidates from all parties – and none – making a committed effort to changing the political playing field in favour of those who rely on it the most: the public
On the evening after the Scottish referendum, I was sitting in the pub with my friend Tom chatting about how amazing it had been to see Scottish homes becoming mini debating chambers for a couple of weeks; and how that contrasted with the shell of democracy we see in England.
Earlier in the day David Cameron had stood on the steps of Downing Street, promising to devolve more power to the citizens of the UK. But we all knew that expecting parliamentarians to champion people power is like expecting turkeys to vote for Christmas. The Electoral Reform Society has been campaigning for proportional representation for over 100 years and it seems more unlikely now than ever.
What really frustrated Tom and I was the realisation that our MPs don’t even ask for our opinion, despite their very own code of conduct, which says that MPs have ‘a special duty to [represent] their constituents’. All we ever got from our MP was a newsletter telling us how wonderful he and his party were. This went to the heart of how we felt politics had become more a job in sales and marketing than galvanising people. How could an MP possibly fulfil a special duty to their constituents if they never ask us what our interests are?
“Many of today’s issues can only be addressed if we each take responsibility for them.”
Rodda Thomas, the landlord of the Crown and Sceptre pub, suggested that I stand at the election and offer something different. I reminded Rodda that only four independents had won in the UK over the past 60 years and over 90 percent had failed to recover their deposits. He said, and this is when the penny dropped, “Rich, it’s not about winning, it’s about trying to change the system”. And so the MyMP campaign was born.
Now less than a week away from the 2015 general election we have over 100 candidates who have said they would like to work with us during the next parliament. Candidates from all parties and none. Candidates such as Conservative Zac Goldsmith MP; Liberal Democrat Paul Hodkinson; Green Martyn Curzey; and Saquib Ali for Labour. All of them have committed, should they win, at the very least to proactively seek public opinion on key parliamentary votes, and some have committed to experiment with direct democracy, giving their constituents the power to both sack their MP and vote on key decisions when enough of them want it.
At the heart of the MyMP campaign is the question: how can we have a better democracy? We are not claiming to have all the answers, but we are clear that inaction is not acceptable. According to YouGov, no less than 72 percent of people think that ‘politics is dominated by self-seeking politicians protecting the interests of the already rich and powerful’. Over the last 70 years, the proportion thinking politicians put their country above their own interests and those of their party has fallen from 36 percent to just 10 percent. So something does need to be done.
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We also understand that politicians are unlikely to win popularity contests. They have to make hard decisions, and this will make them unpopular. However, things are different today. Politicians no longer have a monopoly on information, the internet has changed that. And in this digital age when we can ask people’s opinion we should.
More profoundly though, many of today’s issues can only be addressed if we each take responsibility for them, be it climate change, care for the vulnerable or the issue of diabetes. If we want to create a more responsible society, then we have to stop being treated as children by our politicians. And, critically, we have to stop behaving towards politicians as if they are some kind of estranged parent.
The shift will not be easy, but 100 brave candidates have said that they are up for it. Not all of us will win, but all of us are now part of a movement laying the foundations for a more mature politics.
Photo title: Rich Wilson (centre, left) at the MyMP campaign press launch at the Crowdshed, London