I’m beginning to wonder whether this week’s Royal Wedding in the UK is one of the most audacious feats of political skulduggery ever.
My suspicions were alerted when I saw a headline in the Daily Telegraph this morning.
Archbishop of Canterbury hails plan to measure national happiness
It wasn’t the normal Easter address from the head of the Anglican Church, calling on Christians to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. Instead Dr Williams used the occasion to praise Prime Minister David Cameron’s proposal to replace GDP with GWB (= General Well-Being) as the primary indicator of the nation’s progress.
And then he called on us to celebrate the union between our future Defender of the Faith and his Kate, proclaiming ‘Let a thousand street parties blossom!’
Is it only your TwitFace correspondent who has noticed that hard on the heels of The Wedding – just a week later, when we’ll probably still be trying to find our shoes before we stagger home from the party – comes one of the defining moments in our political history? What defining moment? You’d forgotten? May 5th is the date set for our referendum on AV, the Alternative Vote, possibly changing the way we elect our politicians.
Every time I turn on the TV, I hear people talking about street parties. And what parties they’ll be! Starting on Friday, running all weekend, and continuing on Monday, MayDay. How do I read the timing of The Wedding and this incessant call for partying? Surely it must be an elaborate collusion between Church, State, Monarchy and Media to ensure that not a single person votes in the referendum? ‘Politics – blah! Pass me the Alka-Seltzer.’
A conspiracy? But of course. After all, AV goes against everything our Big Society stands for. The current system is monogamous: a voter chooses a single politician and pledges loyalty. But AV – ranking the candidates on a list – is designed to encourage open relationships with multiple partners. Some would call it a loosening of our moral standards. Some would say that at best it’s a ‘least worst’ electoral system.
Ever since he was hustled into his shotgun marriage with Nick Clegg, it’s been clear that Mr Cameron has regretted his vow to put AV to the public vote. And now I see that the Royal Wedding is simply a plan to scupper the referendum.
Some would call this plan devious – evil even – but not me. I’m full of admiration. It’s been brilliantly conceived, carefully concealed, and skilfully executed. And I’m sure that our Prime Minister will take no pleasure in the thought of those millions of people waking up with a headache after a week of partying, far away from their polling-station, and trying to remember why May 5th was important. I’m confident that his motives are exemplary because he’s a forward-thinker and a democrat. How else could you interpret his quest for General Well-Being?
I’m convinced that, like me, the PM realizes none of the current proposals for electoral reform address the fundamental flaws in our democracy. Which isn’t democratic. He’s done his sums, I’m sure. He’ll know that even when a candidate secures a 50% majority, the voting turnout is rarely more than 70%. What does that tell us? That there will always be a majority of people who either actively oppose the winning candidate – or could care less. Surely there must be a better way.
And of course, there is.
Tell me how many people in your household voted in the last national election? How many in the last local election?
Now tell me how many people in your household use one of the social networks – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, for a start? And how many of them have registered a vote for something they’ve Liked in the last 24 hours?
No contest, is it? You may have exercised your chance to vote in an election once every few years. But here on the web we do it several times a day. The beauty of it is that we don’t even have to read more than a few words. As soon as we see a smart headline or a face we recognize, all we need to do is click on the ‘Like’ button. Surely that’s how democracy was always supposed to work!
It’s only unfortunate that having reached this conclusion, Mr Cameron then commissioned a quango – the Office for National Statistics – to carry out a £2 million, 9-month research project to give him the answers he already knew. I know! I know! Old habits die hard.
But with respect, Prime Minister, may I suggest that the time for action is now – or at the latest May 6th – the day after nobody has voted in the referendum. Close down the Office for National Statistics immediately, demonstrating your firm yet even-handed control of the nation’s purse-strings, and implement these reforms. The country will thank you.
1. Abolish elections
Let the people’s representatives be those who garner the best support in the social media. Those who are most followed, most Liked. Or perhaps you could use The Independent‘s clever algorithm, which ranks Twitter users by Authority, Audience and Activity.
With your 1 million plus Twitter followers, you need have no fear for your own seat, but abolition would result in the de-selection of almost all sitting MPs. At a stroke, you’d remove the lingering public suspicion of expense-mongering. And instead of Vince Cable, Ed Balls, Theresa May for company, you’d have Stephen Fry, Russell Brand, Rio Ferdinand … luminaries whose voices and opinions the people really trust.
Think of the change as a move away from end-of-year exams and toward continual assessment.
2. Abolish campaign funding
Approximately £67 million was spent on campaign funding in the UK during the 2010 election year, money that could be usefully diverted to other urgent social causes (such as my upcoming sequel to “The Social Network” – “Birdman of Folsom Street“).
Not one of The Independent’s influencers owes their position to external funding. Surely this must also increase public confidence in the integrity of our representatives.
3. Abolish parliament
My proposal is actually that we should restrict political statements to sentences of not more than 140 characters. Twitter has shown how completely unnecessary longer utterances are, and it provides the perfect platform for debate. I had a concern that replacing parliament with Twitter might lead to a devaluation of content, but research from Pear Analytics shows that in fact, the two forums are virtually indistinguishable. Analyzing Twitter content over a 2-week period in 2009, Pear organized tweets into 6 categories:
- Pointless babble – 40%
- Conversational – 38%
- Pass-along value – 9%
- Self-promotion – 6%
- Spam – 4%
- News – 4%
4. Sell off the Houses of Parliament
Since our representatives will communicate in cyberspace, there’s no further requirement for a property which occupies a prime development site in the heart of London on the bank of the Thames. No longer will Members need to maintain a second home in London (no more expenses scandals!), and the money raised from the sale could also be used to support my film.
5. Re-brand democracy.
The public is tired of hearing the same call to action for over 150 years – ‘One man, one vote’. That’s why turnout is often so low in elections: people expect different these days, people expect more. My suggestion is ‘One man, 104,000 Likes’.
The number has been carefully calculated. In a single week, each person would be allowed a maximum of 2000 Likes, in my view perfectly sufficient to express a point of view. More than that, and there’s a danger that campaign farms could be set up by candidates eager to wield influence, persuading followers to Like them day and night.
I’m not quite comfortable with ‘One man’. It cleverly builds on the original campaign, but perhaps we should make it clear that women have the Like too. Your suggestions would be welcome.
I’m quite certain that Mr Cameron’s thinking will be far in advance of mine. That’s what you’d expect from a man who has stated that the National Well-Being scheme should ‘lead to government policy that is more focused not just on the bottom line, but on all those things that make life worthwhile’. That he wants Britain to be ‘in the vanguard’ of efforts around the world to change the accepted measures of national progress ‘rather than following meekly behind’.
But he needs our support. So if you believe this plan could reawaken the public’s interest in tired old politics and politicians, then please click on the Like button below. Remember that in Egypt, it took only a month for social media activists to transform the political landscape. With your help, Mr Cameron could do the same.
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