Best Conceivable Political Process

What good looks like, from the discussion about good characteristics, turns out to be as much (if not more) about building a good political process as specific social reforms. The reason for this is simple; to achieve consensus and commitment, for any changes to stick wider involvement is needed. Whilst our target should be to make society as good as it can be there will always be a need for trial and error. It will always be a work in progress.

This is an important caveat for a number of reasons, it has to be feasible. In the terms I have been using it needs to:

  • fit with human behaviour
  • build on the knowledge and systems thinking which is currently undervalued, about the complex interrelated nature of the world
  • reflect what we know about building consensus and winning commitment
  • have a learning process built into it

It is impossible, and undesirable, to be prescriptive – there is no right answer so why spend time looking for one. What one wants is a process that is more democratic, open and fair than now but which can continue to evolve. What is a good process will be constantly refined and improved.

There is a difference between utopian best and the next set of practical changes that might move us along in the right direction. The next set of changes that are campaigned for (which have to be known or worked out in some detail) represent a step from what we do now into an unknown future. This is a judgement call that brings in questions of practical politics which I address in Part 3 Consider - What can be done and in Part 4 Act.

But, our current political culture is highly combative, resulting in winner takes all. Having won the party in power will face obstacles, obstructions, and low tactics (if not plain old dirty tricks) from the loyal (so called) opposition. How bizarre. This may well have been a step forward when it was invented; many a speaker of the commons has been executed. But surely we know how to do better.

The need for Civic Equality and its implications

How much involvement do people actually have? Elections every 5 years, local government dominated by the centre, much of the administration hived off to outsource or government agencies of various types. Without changing our political institutions none of the characteristics that are used in large company change programmes all over the world can be brought into being. To be sure, companies are not democracies; many make imposition on their workforce whilst always trying to maximise returns for the shareholders and pay as little as possible to the employees. Nevertheless, total cynicism is out of order. Many companies go to great lengths to involve staff, especially when change is to be attempted; it is axiomatic that staff have to go on the change journey. The key point here is that the change management processes are researched, known to work and have a grounding in group behaviour. Sitting within capitalist enterprises are pockets of collaboration and co-operation, which show the way forward.

One of the bases for holistic political economy is the insight that we are all in it together – the world is finite and what we do affects others. The concept of civic equality – not just before the law but also before society has profound implications; everyone is part of it. We need to push at the notion of democracy.

If we go to war then in large parts of the modern period (since 1792) the state has called on its citizens to fight – either by widespread appeals for volunteers or through conscription. Unless we think it is right to treat people as cannon fodder it follows that, as citizens they may be called on (and we should expect them) to help run society in peacetime. One of the explanations for the success of the Conservative Party from 1979 was that the consensus following World War II (which was a social contract) had run its course and was finished off as the cold war finished. No more external threat, no more need for a social contract as a quid pro quo in the case of war.

Voting once every 5 years is not civic equality, especially when an elected dictatorship can be created and when powerful interests simply buy access to politicians. Clearly we need a voting system that guarantees a government can only be formed from at least 51% off the votes cast. We may also need a reform that makes constitutional change (which right now only need a simple majority in parliament) need a 2/3 majority (or 50% of the electorate) which is a common safeguard in systems with a written constitution. But I think we need to go further.

Jury Service is an example of civic equality – anyone can be called and expected to serve. The notion of random selection for the chores is part of the classical tradition of Greek city states. It existed alongside the town meetings, we seem to have forgotten it. It is an idea that has great potential

  • it requires everyone to be ready to serve and treats them as citizens
  • it exposes more people to the difficulties and trade offs associated with governance
  • it increases levels of involvement and the chance of involvement; as a result, over time it may be expected to increase levels of commitment
  • it breaks relationships with vested interests

Whilst not panacea, sortition (Note: Sortition?) could be used in a number of areas.

Reform of Political institutions

Continuing the thought process above, It is not difficult to envisage the over-sight of Government Agencies, Local Government and Public Services by jury style review bodies. An objection to PR (the use of party lists and the loss of local representation) could be mitigated by having adequate local representation through sortition.

The reform of the House of Lords could be completed by replacing it with a second chamber that was filled with randomly selected volunteer experts, and in order to balance this there could be a new chamber composed entirely of members randomly selected from all citizens. 

Without becoming prescriptive it is possible to lay down some guiding principles;

Distribution of Power

Power is like fissile material, concentrate it too much and it goes critical; because of our natures if it becomes to concentrated it can cause all manner of undesirable consequences. It may seem trite to remember Lord Acton’s epithet “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” but it is a deep truth (Acton)

It seems reasonable therefore to advocate:


Sortition is democratic because it is based on an the expectation, and real chance, that you can be called upon and expected to serve. This immediate dissipates some power and starts to revitalise legitimacy – we really are all involved so we really should go along with the result (Note: Sortition Compared to Jury Service)

Separation of powers

Separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial areas of government should be as complete as possible. This is a long standing principle, so much so that it was built into the US constitution as one of the checks and balances needed to stop power being concentrated in one place (Note: Separation of Powers). In the UK we’d have to start thinking about the fact that many of the ruling party in parliament are or want to become ministers, and are are therefore easily whipped to follow the executives wishes. This arguably makes it harder for parliament to act as a brake on the power of the executive because it is not independent and leaves little room for cross party cooperation or independent thinking. 


Power should be decentralised to the lowest practical level commensurate with good governance and administration. Clearly dustbin emptying and drainage are local concerns, foreign policy a central one. This is another long-standing principle. In the EU it is rather inaccessibly referred to as subsidiarity. In the UK we’d have to consider reversing to total subordination of  local government to central rule and the overhaul of all government bodies and other services to make them accessible to scrutiny.

The discussion on about participation in the previous chapter had examples of how undemocratic our current arrangements are (Assess - Timeline - Limited Participation and Disengagement)

 Legislatures (central and local)

Having a majority

The electoral system which delivers a majority in parliament must do so based on a majority in the country, regional assembly, council or parish. The reason is simple, holding a majority in the legislature enables the both legislation and executive control. Given the absence of a separation of powers (discussed above) this seems perverse. Being in a position to force things through without majority support in the country is rich ground for accusations of illegitimacy and guarantees that no debate will ever be settled.

Politics vs governance

Only by separating power can we avoid ministers (who are also in the legislature) playing politics with things that just need good governance. It is too tempting to impose an idea using the majority and too tempting to make the grand gesture. This is a systemic problem that stops the political debate being about what services are to be provided and what level of resources are needed to deliver it

The Executive

Once a majority has been established, control over the executive follows. It is reasonable that this be subject to scrutiny and we have seen how parliament is compromised. Subject to control and scrutiny there seems little wrong with idea that leadership (say the position of being the minister, chair, leader) of national, regional, council and parish administrations, (including all agencies, trusts and other organisations delivering publicly funded services) is allocated to a representative of the group having the legislative majority at the appropriate level as happens now.

However, what about the rest of it? If much of the work of the executive has been hived off to agencies then the appointments to their executive positions become the gift of the winning party. This is essentially just a modern form of patronage, legal cronyism. 

Accepting that all citizens are equal and that the executive supervision is a chore (i.e. there is nothing glamorous about it we just need to ensure good governance) it would be entirely reasonable for all these other positions on the oversight bodies for national, regional, council and parish administrations to be drawn from the local population. The service users, and the service providers in equal proportion with the representation of service providers being split between its management and its staff

  • The detail of service delivery is a matter of management and best practice. It needs to evolve, as a result all service delivery must allow for change in the light of experience. The application of feedback and changes in practice must be must completed as fast as possible. Before any service is rolled out it should be trialled and lessons learned.
  • Services should be administered by professionals (civil service, council staff, specialists even outsource companies) but, in all cases and without exception, they will be overseen and held accountable for service delivery by panels drawn from the users and wider society that is providing the resource (usually tax revenue). This is only political with a small “p” and should be removed from party political influence
  • Where services are outsourced the details of their provision must be in the public domain – all clauses in all outsource contracts are, by definition public property.

Given that one party won an election why would the scheme above be acceptable? Simply because the broad generality of views, that won on the hustings and carried the majority in an election, would be represented by a random selection of citizens. Moreover the model for this comes from Jury service (which is generally supported and has a long provenance). It is also a forgotten feature of the Greek democracy from which we still claim inspiration.

How to scale up democracy has long been pondered. In the UK our solution has been to attenuate it to such an extent that we are highly centralized and only vote once every 5 years. Our so called representative democracy is pretty much exhausted and corrupted and is vitally in need of rejuvenation.

Only by giving everyone the very real chance that they will have to take responsibility for the oversight of public service delivery (for the rest of us) will we really make progress with involvement or tackle the feelings that lead to disengagement. Introducing sortition will make the idea of equal citizenship a reality. It will reinforce the fact that citizenship applies to everyone regardless of wealth, access or ambition. Not only that it will break long term links between vested interests and career politicians. 

The economy and business

I use the term political economy throughout deliberately because what businesses do has an impact on wider society, it is axiomatic within holistic political economy that what is good for politics is good for the economy and business.

One of the most remarkable quotations by a tory prime minister recently was this;

 “We do not believe in untrammelled free markets. We reject the cult of selfish individualism. We abhor social division, injustice, unfairness and inequality. We see rigid dogma and ideology not just as needless but as dangerous." (Note: May Manifesto Rejects Legacy of Cameron Era)

It looks risible now in 2018 and one wonders if any of it was sincere. What is remarkable is that somewhere in the deep recesses of the tory party (or wherever the speech writer came from) there must be a dawning sense that the game is up as far as neo-liberal economics is concerned. This may explain why the minority of true believers in untrammelled free market capitalism, those who accept social division, unfairness and inequality as the cost as the cost for the losers (in a social Darwinist sense) feel the need to hold the rest of their party to ransom over Brexit.

What we do know is that worker owned businesses outperform traditionally run ones (Pérotin)

We need to remove the mono-culture of plc's. We need to change the idea that the goal is to go for an IPO, sellout by their founders, and replace it with the idea of building something permanent. We need long term commitment to a value adding productive business sector. Agile worker and customer friendly co-operatives, partnerships, and social enterprises will characterize a much larger segment of the business environment than they do now.

In the new economic culture what is right will be accepted as much as what the rules can be interpreted to allow. Corporations will not be allowed to ignore their externalities (impose costs on the rest of us) nor will they be able to free ride on the results of public investment. That is because society and the workforce will be represented at board level. The politicians of the alternative will be self-confidant enough to resist the transfer of losses to the public domain and the public will be willing to support them.

In the new political economy a “level playing field” will mean that small efficient business gets a fair deal, that there are many and varied forms of enterprise and all are allowed to thrive.

In the new politics “re-balancing the economy” means moving away from the accepting and working within a monoculture of large companies to a sustainable network of smaller ones.

Business itself should not be about rent seeking behind a shield of licensing and pretended competition. Business means organisations that create or add value, recognises the cost of their inputs, do not free ride; and critically pay to Caesar what is due to Caesar.  These businesses understand lifetime value and customer service. When the Alternative fully exists no one has to leave family, friends and their homes to escape tyranny and oppression or make a better life (though they may want to for a host of other reasons and because there will always be clusters of industries, expertise and best practice); but crucially everyone can make a living where they are and access the resources they need to be as good as they can be.

Now some businesses may also wish to have a political stance that they be left to get on with the business of making money – fair enough with this proviso, they shouldn’t be surprised if they are excluded from public tendering processes, and find themselves subject to higher levels of tax for recouping societal costs which would include but not be limited to pollution clean-up and wage subsidies. I can hear the howls of protest but this is special pleading (with access paid for through the lobby and the revolving door). In holistic political economy we should not tolerate it.

To come back to that Teresa May quote (above) we do not believe in untrammeled free markets.