Political Parties: Past Their Sell-by Date?

Do political parties still work? Do they serve the purpose they were created for? Or, perhaps more importantly, is it even possible for them to do so? These are key questions for our times.

Political unrest unbounds and perhaps more so than ever; even in countries that have historically been stable – most notably the UK and USA. As the long-time bastions of democracy this is alarming. It begs questions as to the very future of democracy.

Particularly noteworthy is that both are largely two-party nations, governed by the political party that secures the most candidates – albeit in radically different systems. Yet both appear to be so divided as to be almost ungovernable. So much so that some doomsayers are even predicting the possibility of a second civil war in the US. The UK, on the other hand, is suffering from a complete anomaly in that, while it is possibly equally divided, one party – in what may be a victory of epic pyrrhic proportions – has just won by one of the biggest margins in its electoral history.

In both countries trust in politicians is at an all-time low. In the USA the constitution is held as an infallible, timeless guide that will help people overcome all odds, and deliver “the American Dream.” In the UK, however, where the constitution is largely unwritten, there are mounting calls for a new written constitution to address the ills. These are somewhat limited at present but growing, and underscored by increasing demands for:

  • Proportional representation;
  • A lower voting age;
  • Greater devolved power or independence.

While there is no doubt that fresh thinking is called for – which will more than likely make new constitutions inevitable – you have to ask whether current thinking is just papering over the inherent faults built into our existing systems. And perhaps the biggest fault line is the concept of the political party itself. What if the concept of the political party is itself an anachronism?

In an age of increasing change and complexity, the concept of a “broad church” organisation being able to address all the concerns, values and issues of a significant proportion of the population is no longer the proposition it once was. Scientific and technical advances dispel the dogma of the past and it simply isn’t feasible for traditional conservative values to meet the demands of feminism; nor can the melting pot of mass migration and diversity easily meld with the idea of tribal sanctity and purity. It is like a reverse prism: you simply cannot collate all the different causes into a single, white policy beam.

In such an environment ideas like greater proportional representation or a lower voting age are simply a desperate attempt to hold on to the past and promote your opinions or beliefs. This may lead to greater compromise but the historic instability of countries like Italy and Israel are not good advertisements. In a world being battered by humanly generated environmental and climate challenges, compromise is not going to be good enough.

Similarly the concept of independence, in an increasingly globally interactive world of mutual inter-dependence is a quixotic fantasy. Already the concept of the nation state is being challenged, and it seems likely that one of the root causes of our distrust of politicians is that they are “in the pockets” of the people who hold and control the bulk of the money. As Nobel-prize winning authors Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo point out in their book, “Good Economics for Hard Times” developed economies now face the same big challenge as developing economies: an increasing wealth gap between the wealthy few and the rest.

Those problems will never be addressed by political parties spouting passé ideologies and supported by an electorate who cling to those ideologies out of a sense of tradition or because of the way their parent always voted. It’s imperative we find a new way of governing ourselves and protecting our resources. Political parties in their current guise are certainly not going to achieve that. Nor, I would argue, are they capable of being reformed to offer that kind of ability. They are a dog that has had its day and won’t hunt any more.

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My book, The Democracy Delusion: How to Restore True Democracy and Stop Being Duped presented ideas as to how we could change our economic and socio-political systems and attempted to promote discussion and debate around them. Now, however,  I have written a new book that takes them further through what I call “The Universalist Manifesto.” Provisionally entitled. “Searching for Better:  Exploring Ideas for Eliminating Conflict and Improving Quality of Life” I am currently searching for a publisher, but if you are interested in the learning more and/or would like to help in that quest please contact me.

Calling for Proper Disaster Recovery Planning!

Disasters are difficult to predict. Their timing, cause, extent and effects all vary. The only thing you can say for sure is that the better prepared you are the less dire the consequences will be. That is why every good executive and every well-run organisation has a Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP). For the last half century or more – ever since computers became an integral part of doing business, and perhaps even before that – a plan for meeting and recovering from disaster has been deemed an essential part of good organisational governance. The Coronavirus pandemic provides a glaring example of why you need one. Unfortunately, it also provides a good example of poor Disaster Recovery Planning.

With Covid 19 deaths on the scale we have been witnessing, it is perhaps natural and inevitable to point fingers and look to assign blame. Certainly there are many who are jumping into the fray to do just that, even as the crisis rages and before any balanced assessment can be undertaken and the various different approaches taken can be compared. Unfortunately, much of this is simply partisan posturing which demeans carers, critics and criticised alike, and does nothing to ensure that lessons will be learned and lives will not be lost unnecessarily in the future. Nor will a DRP. A DRP does, however, provide a proper framework for conducting a post-disaster review. Not only that, it provides the foundation for plan improvements that will help mitigate the effect of future disasters and save lives.

For starters, key to any DRP is that it is regular tested to ensure preparedness, as well as to gauge both how appropriate and effective the action to be taken is likely to be. Most governments claim to comply with World Health Organisation (WHO) requirements and so have had a basic DRP in place for dealing with a pandemic. It may or may not be possible to verify this, but it seems clear that, even if they did, they were never tested. For proof of this, you need look no further than the lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) available when the crisis broke.

It seems pretty obvious that any contagious disease will make demands on your frontline healthcare workers at the very least and that they will need protective gear in order to limit the contagion and spread of the disease. So how come we not only did not have that, but struggled to get access to it? Again it is obvious that if the pandemic is global there will competition for the equipment and thus there should be enough for immediate needs with clear steps for additional sourcing or manufacture.

As most of us now know, the basic requirements to deal with any pandemic are:

  • A constant state of readiness, since it is a disaster that can occur at any time;
  • The identification of the disease and how it spreads;
  • A method of testing for the disease;
  • Creating the capability for mass testing;
  • Steps to prevent the spread of contagion;
  • The safety of healthcare and other essential workers;
  • How and when to scale back on the measures taken in an appropriate manner.

DRP switch button

This is unlikely to be a comprehensive list but at the very least these should therefore provide the framework for any pandemic planning. Accordingly the steps to be taken should already have been established, the resources identified, and their availability secured so that the time it takes to “kick into gear” is reduced to an absolute minimum and there is little chance of avoidable delays. Naturally, as a layman observer, I cannot comment on the extent to which these were or weren’t in place, but the circumstantial evidence – the time things have taken and the problems being encountered – suggests that they were not. As a pandemic is probably the disaster we are most likely to face it begs the question as to how well-placed we are to face other disasters.

In fact, following the Great Recession of 2008, the pandemic is the second disaster to befall us in little more than a decade. Clearly, the time has come for all governments to have a proper DRP in place: one that is regularly checked, audited and which can be used to assess how well government is meeting its accountabilities and safeguarding the interests of its citizens. Hopefully this will also provide a framework for governance that will reduce partisan bickering and improve government effectiveness, both in the planning and the execution.

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Please get hold of my book, The Democracy Delusion: How to Restore True Democracy and Stop Being Duped to read my ideas as to how we could change our economic systems and promote discussion and debate around them so that we can answer these questions to restore democracy and safeguard a better future for future generations.

Rethink the Response to Civic Nationalism

The status quo is not what it was. The recent referendum in Scotland is having an ongoing ripple effect that carries the promise of inevitable change. And we need to ensure that we shape that change to safeguard a better future.

Many people are still wondering how the result turned out to be as close as it was and how a relatively small and seemingly innocuous minority reached a groundswell of over 2 million people. Yet, for once, political analysts seem united.

They all agree that the separatists were able to exploit the percolating prevalent and persistent dissatisfaction with central government and surf the wave of discontent. They call this “civic nationalism.” They see this as disillusionment with politics and politicians, resulting in people looking to regain control of their own destiny.

Feeding Frenzy at the trough 14289342_sIf, however, that is the case, the answer is certainly not to create more levels of government. Not to create more troughs for incompetent, self-satisfied and self-serving politicians to feed at.

The answer to any problem cannot be more of the same. Yet, all the solutions currently being proposed to civic nationalism revolve around a model that offers more of the same. You need to think very carefully before you allow this to happen.  Einstein said, “You cannot solve a problem from the same level of consciousness that created it.” If the system is not doing what it is supposed to, then you have the wrong system. You don’t need to repair the system, you need to replace it. So let’s rethink our response to civic nationalism and focus on the causes.

While the situation seems unique to the UK, civic nationalism is a widespread problem with the causes fundamentally the same everywhere. So let’s work together to develop a new system and not be rushed into anything that will not solve anything and ultimately leave us even worse off. Let’s ensure that we enable a future that is better for all.

A Fractured Society: Pointer to a New Dark Age?

“Rich double their wealth in five years.” That was the front page headline in a recent Sunday Times. Now I don’t know about you, but for me that is ominous, because living standards for the rest of us are falling.

A BBC report claims that, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, a mid-range UK household’s income had declined by 6% in this time. So here you have clear evidence that the rich are getting richer while the rest of us are getting poorer. And, while the report suggests that this decline “was felt equally across high and low income groups,” (one has to question the dividing line between rich and high income) it adds that, over time, the affects will be felt more by the lower income groups.

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Fixing a failing political system!

If you believe that our political system is failing dismally, you are not alone. Leading thinkers like Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum are trying to alert us to this fact. Not only that, they are also stressing the need for urgency. In their recent book, ‘That used to be us’  they state, “Our sense of urgency also derives from the fact that our political system is not properly framing, let alone addressing, our ultimate challenge.” (P10.)

Their book is focused on the US political system, but the problems it portrays, and the fact that many of us are sleepwalking through them, are not unique to the United States; they are phenomena that are endemic throughout the developed world today. Friedman and Mandelbaum bemoan the failure to reap the dividends of “winning” the cold war, the rapid decline and the threat to the country’s “exceptional nation” standing, but the issues they describe are by no means unique to that nation. Unfortunately, US dominance of the world economy compounds the problems for the rest of us, and we therefore are as dependent on their ability to address their own problems as they are.

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