A few years ago, I went to a recording of Mark Thomas’ “Manifesto” radio show. Members of the audience can suggest humorous changes to the law and society that they would like to see enacted, and the rest of the audience votes on whether they’re good enough – or funny enough – to be in a proposed election manifesto.
My manifesto suggestion was very simple – every time you visit an MP, it should cost you £5 or £10. If you want to go and speak to your MP you have to hand her a crisp new note. This has the dual advantage of weeding out vexatious visitors and, more importantly, reminding the MP who exactly they work for.
It has – I’ll grant you – some drawbacks. If you can’t afford a fiver (and many can’t) you’re denied access to your elected Member of Parliament. It also means those with the biggest cheque-books get to write the law. This is, many would argue, extremely unseemly and a recipe for corruption.
Before he became Health Secretary, the Tory MP Andrew Lansley accepted large donations from private health companies. When he became Minister, he helped drive legislation which – it would seem – directly benefited those who had donated to him.
John Nash, the chairman of Care UK, gave £21,000 to fund Andrew Lansley’s personal office in November.
Mr Nash, a private equity tycoon, also manages several other businesses providing services to the NHS and stands to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of Conservative policies to increase the use of private health providers.
Source: Daily Telegraph
It’s important to stress that this is not bribery. Bribery is when a Tory politician receives £30,000 to ask questions in the House of Commons (See the Cash For Questions affair on Wikipedia).
Taking money to ask questions is wrong. Taking money and then independently helping to change legislation is fine. It’s an important distinction.
Let us take, for example, the Kingdom of Bahrain. They sent MP’s investigating the regime luxury hampers worth at least £200 each. They funded flights to the country for several MPs, and gave the PM a fountain pen and jewellery.
On May 18th 2012, the Queen invited the King of Bahrain to dine with her.
It is perfectly legal and acceptable to use cold-hard-cash, to fund foreign trips, or to purchase goods and services – in order to help MPs understand complex issues and take the tough decisions which are needed.
This year has seen the rise of Kickstarter and similar crowd-funding websites. An aspiring author, inventor, or musician takes to the Internet and says “If X number of people give me Y pounds, I’ll be able to produce product Z!”
It’s a nifty system. I’ve used it to help support new books and video games this year and been very impressed with the results.
It’s obvious that sites like 38degrees and Avaaz are doing something right. They’re attracting huge numbers of people to attempt to engage with politicians. But sending letters or – worse – a truck load of email “signatures” on a petition just doesn’t cut it any more. If we want to influence politicians, we have to pay.
The campaigning site 38degrees raised £50,000 to run an opinion poll and place an advert in national newspapers. That money was wasted. It didn’t help change the Government’s mind on NHS privatisation. Why should it?
I’m suggesting it would have been better to give that money directly to Andrew Lansley. It’s over double what he received from the chairman of Care UK. They could have given him half now, half on scrapping the Health and Social Care Act 2012.
£50k might be overkill. They could have matched the original donation and then the rest could have been used to buy him a nice holiday, some chocolates for his wife, presents for his kids, etc.
So, that’s what I’m proposing. A crowd-funding political “donation” site.
Putting it into Practice
There are two ways to make this work.
The first is like a regular Kickstarter campaign.
“I want to raise £30,000 to buy something nice for the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson if he will repeal the ban on Fox Hunting.”
Members of the public could then purchase gifts to send to the MP(s) – in a similar fashion to Oxfam Unwrapped. Select how much you can afford and then purchase, say, a tasty treat to pack into a luxury hamper.
Once enough money is raised, the gift or the cash is given to the MP. Now, there is a slight risk that an MP won’t behave honourably. An MP could accept the money or gift but then not do what we want them to do. This leads us on to the second option.
Popular website Arrest Blair wants people to perform a Citizen’s Arrest on the former Prime Minister. They’ve raised a bunch of money and will give a quarter of it to anyone who attempts to arrest Tony Blair. So far, they have paid out around £11,000 between the four people who have attempted to hold Blair accountable for his alleged war crimes.
That, in essence, would be the second model. A citizen would say
“I want to raise £30,000 to buy something nice for any MP who helps repeal the ban on Fox Hunting.”
Once the money is raised, any MP who helps successfully to bring forth legislation can claim her share of the prize.
This system is not fool-proof – which is a pity as there are no shortage of fools in the House of Commons – but I am confident that it would help to alleviate our democratic deficit.