Monday, March 09, 2009

‘We must be purer than pure’

I’m sure nothing could possibly go wrong with this:

A new political party aimed at “cleaning up politics” is being set up by a multi-millionaire businessman. Sir Paul Judge, a former Tory grandee, believes the power of the internet and disillusionment with sleaze make the time right for a party dedicated to independent thought and open governance.

The party has no specific policies and no manifesto. Instead, it will select its candidates by public vote from anyone who puts themselves forward, provided they are committed to the principles of good governance, including selflessness, integrity, openness and honesty.
Nominees will have their details and interests published online; the public will then vote by text message, X-Factor-style, to choose the party’s election candidates.
Judge said: “These days the party selection processes of candidates are about as undemocratic as it gets. We think independent people can make good decisions. We use that model for juries. If you put a group of sensible people together and show them the facts, they’ll make good decisions.” Hence his name for the new party: the Jury Team.

Yes, promoting a political movement wholly on the personal integrity of its candidates is certainly not a recipe for disappointment. And self-nomination followed by a public text vote is exactly the model we use for juries.

The Jury Team – of course it was named after the 12 people in a court and not because it’s a nice accompaniment to the founders’ name – has a list of principles on its website to which candidates would have to sign up, but they seem a little more substantive than general support for “good governance”:

  1. End of the Party Whips
  2. Transparent Pay for MPs and MEPs
  3. An independent Politicians Complaints Commission
  4. Capping donations to political parties
  5. Elected Select Committees
  6. European Legislation applied appropriately
  7. Term limits for MPs and MEPs
  8. General elections every five years
  9. Referendums as requested by 5% of the electorate
  10. Government departments run by a Board
  11. Independent publication of Government statistics
  12. Applying these principles [to the EU]

We’re not told how these principles were arrived at.

A fair few of these I’d agree with at least in part, but I think there’s plenty of room here for reasonable disagreement.

There’s more than a whiff of deregulatory Euroscepticism about 6 and 12. Let me quote a passage from the explanation of 12:

The relation of the UK to EU has been a central feature of UK politics for fifty years but its various enhancements have generally not received particularly strong parliamentary support.
For example, the Bill to join the EEC passed its Third Reading in the House of Commons in July 1972 by only 301 to 284 (16 Conservatives voted against and four abstained and there were 13 Labour abstentions) and for the vote on the Treaty of Nice in 2004 there was an Opposition and a Government three-line whip and the Government won with a large majority even though 100 Labour MPs did not even attend.

I only note that’s the kind of long memory and attention to detail you don’t usually expect in a man building a broad-based political movement and with no other axe to grind.

Point 7 – a three-term limit – is intended to stop parliamentarians from becoming “too comfortable with their lifestyle and too separate from the rest of the population”, but it will actually mean they don’t become too experienced. Just as they’re getting to know the ins and outs of the place, they’ll have to leave. And if a party’s in opposition for three terms it’ll have to purge its top ranks just as it nears power. This will reduce the quality of scrutiny. Hilariously, the explanation of this proposal ends by saying that “if there are any particular people whose time as an MP comes to an end as a result but the Prime Minister still wants them to serve in the Government, then they could be appointed to the House of Lords”.

So unelected life peers are fine, but MPs who could win election four terms in a row are an affront to democracy.

Finally, given Judge’s obvious commitment to openness in politics and party funding, here’s part of his Wikipedia entry, relating to the time he spent as Director General of the Conservative Party (1992–95):

In 1995 Judge sued The Guardian for libel. The action followed an article alleging that Judge could face court action for contempt of court relating to donations made to the Conservative Party by fugitive tycoon Asil Nadir. It was alleged that, in September 1993, Judge and others at the Conservative Central Office had resorted to "old tricks" to obstruct trustees' inquiries. … The jury found against Judge, finding no-libel.

I make no comment at all on the case. However, Judge does now say that during this period, “I observed at close quarters what came to be known as sleaze” – although he gives no specifics.

(Update: I see Sunder Katwala has a rather more thoughtful and measured response to this “anti-party party” and the more general “anti-politics” movement.)

1 comment:

CS Clark said...

Democracy 2.0, eh? I don't wish to enable your paranoia, but I note, regarding us meekly obeying the EU while all other countries ignore all the rules and laugh, laugh at us, the filthy foreigners, that 'This ambivalence is only likely to stop if there is a UK referendum on continuing EU membership, something which the Jury Team expects would result from its governance proposals on referendums and which is supported by several political parties and by a wide share of the population.' I do wonder, however, why the bar would be set so low (5%? You can get 5% of the electorate to do anything) if everyone's in favour. I suppose it would result from their proposals on referenda. In fact, it's almost as if that point was there precisely for that purpose.

I like the fact that it's themed (presumably everything will be broken into 12 points) - it makes him seem like the sort of supervillain who really works on the design of his minions' uniforms to ensure they match the lair or only pulls capers that involve the letters Z and X. It's only a shame that Justice League is trademarked.

When (if? no, when) candidates game the text-voting system, the party will be, ahaha, jury rigged.