Now that we suddenly have another General Election coming on us fast on 8 June, an interesting topic for discussion came up on Newsnight last night between an older MP — Tory or Labour I didn’t discern — and the Secretary of the National Union of Students. It was of the increasing reluctance of young people to vote for a House of Commons in which a lot of name-calling is going on — little different from boys’ play-times at junior schools.
What students don’t realise, however, is that serious discussion is also going on in several Select Committees of specialised subjects where about a quarter of the most rational, responsible MPs in the House — from all and any Party — have been selected by informal chairmen, usually already the best informed in their subject. In the last 40 years, these Committees have now built up a reputation for objectivity and fairness and such that they can invite almost anybody they wish for prolonged questioning.
And — fortunately — we don’t have a written Constitution! There is no reason in our case why the reform mentioned above shouldn’t be broadened out into the whole body politic. The civil service already carries out hundreds of Focus Groups every year tapping into English people of all ethnic origins, incomes and both sexes. The result of these help the civil service develop future policies for the most ostentatious arm of the government — the MPs. How much better it will be when the results of these Focus Groups could be revealed to the public so much more quickly than they do these days.
In that case we would be approaching a state of something near to democracy instead of the mark on the ballot paper every few years or so — which often completely misses powerful public controversies building up underneath the politicians’ noses.