A collective journey
You may feel that the vision is light on detail. Partly that is because it needs to be expressed in terms of broad principles on which there is a fair chance of getting agreement – the detail is the work of the collective.
Earlier I outlined why having a good process is important; it is more likely to deliver good results. There are plenty of other reasons, a central one is that by going on the journey people are more ready to accept the results (even ones that might have disagreed with or would not have been predicted). In a holistic political economy people will work out solutions for themselves.
So, whilst I have some strong views on policy the first step we need to take is to have a good process and a way of measuring progress. My views will be in the mix along with those of everyone else.
Transformations and small improvements- how good can we be?
To return to the theme of realism, how good will this future be? My mental picture of the change that can come about has two aspects. It is both radical and modest at the same time.
Without insisting on free will it is still possible for people for people to be persuaded, to change their minds and to change how they act. I have described this as the emergent behaviour that comes from the interplay of mind, body, nature and culture in the Human Activity System.
A radical view is that it will be transformative because the paradigms underlying our current culture will change. When paradigms are changed big changes become possible (See work of Donella Meadows in Appendix on Systems).
A more modest view simply notes that people are people. On any continuum there is a distribution of people and the best we can can hope for is keep pushing the distribution curve towards the good end of the spectrum…(The so called nudge unit more properly The Behavioural Insight Team was discussed in Part 1 Review - The Human System - The Weight of Culture - Implications)
Examples compared to what we do now
If we look at how we do things now we can contrast what we do now with what we will do in the future. This should help bring the vision to life.
Let’s just take four areas for now:
- Overall approach to politics
- The party mechanism
- How change is delivered
- How we pay
Overall approach to politics
We seem to swing between two extremes, at one end is the call for large changes and at the other to simply be better at managing things we already do. The radical wants to sell an idea that will of course work and will be transformational. The managerial approach says we can run things better than the other party.
The problem with both is that this sets up an “I am right, you are wrong” type of debate. That fosters tribalism in support as well as outright opposition.
In the alternative the starting point is the articulation of a problem and the garnering of views about how it may be solved. All interested parties are brought into the analysis and policy making process (by right not because they won an election). Debate and voting is about the solution to the problem, its urgency and importance not about whose gang has the right to deal with it.
The party mechanism
We are habituated to parties with manifestos seeking control of the state through the mechanism of an election.
The voting mechanism (in our case first past the post) can and often does result in parliamentary majorities for thing that have minority support. The manifesto mechanism means that things we agree with are mixed up with thing we disagree with (or are ambivalent to) but we have to go for the full bundle. In addition, unless we work for a think tank or are a “policy wonk” within a party we are very unlikely to be involved in (or even consulted) about the contents of the manifesto.
The alternative for policy making is to create open panels that bring in all views. We already do this (to some extent) when we want to postpone thing through commissions. There is no reason why the commission process could not be adapted to be faster, nor is there a reason why we should not have a presumption that, having looked at a problem in depth, the recommendations would be acted upon.
The alternative for delivery is to have democratic scrutiny of all areas, the executive ministries, all agencies, local government and all public services. This should be conducted by independent representatives of the users, workforce and citizens at all levels of delivery.
How change is delivered
Today when a majority is achieved we effectively have an elected dictatorship, we (in the UK) are one of the most highly centralised states.
The mechanism of the whip together with the massive overlap of the executive into parliament destroys independence of thought and action which exacerbates the competition between parties. When change is delivered it is a top down, do-it-to-you process.
In the alternative the approach is that when we reach a consensus we will carry out a trial and if that works will roll it out. If it does not work we’ll use the same open process to rejig the solution and try again. Here too the service users, workforce and citizens will be part of the implementation and have oversight as described above; they are the users, practitioners and true experts.
How we pay
Our current attitude to payment is ridiculous; we think of tax is a bad thing. For many years it has been successfully framed (by those who want to shrink the state for ideological reasons) as an arbitrary levy that is (always unfairly) imposed, for which we get little or nothing back. On top of this we make it legal for people to do as much as they can to avoid it and make logic chopping distinctions between avoidance (which is OK) and tax evasion (which is not). Measured both per capita and in absolute value we disproportionately bear down on those in receipt of benefits compared to those paying tax.
In the alternative we regard payment as a user charge or the payment of compensation for something that was insured against. Alongside open policy making there is an open debate about the level of payment, how it is spread and how it is collected so that it is sufficient for what is needed and born equitably.