The Blog

The Anger With Westminster in This Election Is Intense - The Solution Is to Give People a Direct Say Over How MPs Vote

We are constantly told that giving the ordinary public a direct say will lead to bad law driven by populist, ill-informed opinion. Far better, apparently, to leave it to MPs to make decisions based on their own, expert judgement...

By Adam Lent and Richard Wilson

If this election is proving anything, it is that we live in an era of zombie politics. Politicians keep stumbling forward long after the life force of mass membership and popular allegiance has been sucked out of their parties. Like them, the Westminster media also stagger blindly from one concocted daily story to the next ignoring the biggest issue of all: the draining away of the public's faith in our political system.

The only group of people in the UK who deny this are the zombies themselves pretending the disengagement they encounter is the result of apathy or ignorance. But this is a self-defence mechanism. Those who care nothing for any particular party - the vast majority in other words - see things far more clearly: our leaders are now held in deep contempt by the population.

The stats uphold the majority view.

A survey conducted by YouGov and Southampton University found that 72% agreed that 'politics is dominated by self-seeking politicians protecting the interests of the already rich and powerful'. Only 8% disagreed. This research also revealed that everyone feels the same about politics whatever their party allegiance, their age, their gender, their social class or location.

Further research by the same partnership found the alienation has been getting worse. Over the last seventy years, the proportion thinking politicians put their country above their own interests and those of their party has fallen from 36% to just 10%.

Anyone seeking to understand why parties such as the SNP and UKIP which position themselves as an alternative to the Westminster elite are picking up support and members need look no further than these figures.

So what is the solution? Again those outside the Westminster bubble know the answer but for the benefit of those who spend their life in the WC1A postcode, the research is enlightening.

The Hansard Society's Audit of Political Engagement conducted fourteen in-depth discussions with 153 citizens across the UK. When asked to identify reforms that would address disaffection, the overwhelming majority of the suggestions focused on "how politics is conducted, who should be involved and who should be more influential and who less influential."

The research was clear. People want a greater direct say over what their elected representatives do and a greater capacity to hold them to account when they fail to deliver. Other research confirms this. A 2012 survey found, for example, that while 64% believe MPs should pay a great deal of attention to the majority view of their constituents when making decisions in Parliament only 4% actually think they do.

The newly launched MyMP campaign, which we support, aims to give the public exactly what they want. It hopes to pressure MPs to vote in parliamentary debates in line with their constituents' views rather than the whips, the media or the party donors. The idea has not received warm support from our elected representatives and their friends in the political establishment!

We are constantly told that giving the ordinary public a direct say will lead to bad law driven by populist, ill-informed opinion. Far better, apparently, to leave it to MPs to make decisions based on their own, expert judgement.

Leaving aside the fact that the whips very rarely let MPs exercise their own judgement, this 'fear of the people' argument was used every time democracy was extended firstly to a wider franchise, then to all adult males and then to women. Despite the argument, the deeper involvement of the UK's citizens has always led to a more mature and rigorous democracy.

The educated, well-informed twenty-first century citizenry are clear: they feel excluded from a political system run by elitist parties they fell out of love with decades ago. They want more say and more accountability not more of the same. The latter, however, is all that is on offer from a political class desperate to deny the overwhelming alienation found on the doorstep, in the pub and on the pages of academic research papers.

The best zombie movies always pit a handful of the living against the masses of the undead: the odds are rarely good. In this case, however, the zombies are in a minority. It may take many years to wake them up to reality but never underestimate the power of millions when they finally decide to press for democratic change.

Find out about the MyMP campaign here. Adam Lent's book Small is Powerful is published by Unbound next year. Rich Wilson is standing as the MyStroudMP candidate in the election.