Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Some Thoughts On How To Improve Political Debate

Any reader of this, or the General Election blog, will know that I have been profoundly depressed at the level of political debate that has been shown in the current campaign. Part of the culpability undoubtedly rests with the media, but when political parties treat the public with contempt, or resort to petty slurs, then something is wrong with the system.

The following is a brief and tentative outline of some ways in which the political balance could be redressed. It does not address the key point of the whole matter, which is the electoral system that we have which means the election will be decided by 800,000 people.

What I do think is that the American system of primaries has a lot to recommend it. It is by no means a perfect system, and to a certain extent presupposes the right of political parties to exist. But the election of party leaders by party members is surely becoming increasingly anachronistic in a Britain where party membership is falling?

If the election of party leaders or candidates was extended to a broader section of the population, then there would be a much greater engagement with the ideas of the party, the candidates, and a greater sense of direction could be applied than currently exists. For example, the Conservative party may be able to get a clearer sense of whether it wants to be a small government party, or a big-government party run on different lines to Labour. It should also serve to get more people involved with the political process. Yes, it runs the danger of political overkill - too many votes spoiling the enthusiasm. Yet most people are agreed something has to be done to arrest the decline in turnout. I will develop these ideas further, but actually engaging people in the decision of their candidates may be a very strong way of encouraging greater participation in the political process.