JOHN HALSTEAD believes that British democracy is not fit for purpose. This is his recipe for change.
It is the contention of this brief paper that British democracy is not working, either philosophically or practically. Philosophically speaking, there is no effective representation; practically speaking, no political party is proposing radical reform to break the sclerosis currently evident in the system.
I believe the following suggestions represent a radical programme. I am putting these forward in an effort to prompt debate and see what other people think.
Save Democracy Manifesto
 The British system of democracy is one of representative democracy. In law, Parliament is held to be sovereign. But in practice these principles have been violated by referenda. The argument for the sovereignty of Parliament and representative democracy is the need for deliberation and checks and balances in governance decision making. It follows that referenda should be abolished, but if politically not completely avoidable, only be initiated in exceptional national interest circumstances and under specific conditions.
 Power is too highly centralised. The first demonstration of this point is the existence and exercise of the royal prerogative, a device to allow government to act as an absolute monarch. Such feudal constitutional arrangements violate democracy and should be abolished.
 The second demonstration of excessive centralisation is the lack of an effective voice for the regions and nations comprising the UK polity, despite current devolution arrangements. The consequence is that the country outside London and the south east is subject to subordination, associated with economic and social decline.
 The remedy for  is twofold: a coherent rather than the current ad hoc system of devolution, advocated by an expert commission and determined in a constitutional convention; and reform of the second chamber, the so-called House of Lords.
 The case for a reformed second chamber is that bicameralism is preferable to unicameralism. Good politics and political decision requires checks and balances. The current bloated second chamber is constituted undemocratically and should be reformed on an elected basis, different from that of the Commons.
 Election to a reformed second chamber should be indirect, from bodies of government amongst the nationalities and regions devolved as at . It should also include a limited number of members drawn from constituencies of expertise. This would strengthen its capacity to act effectively as a revising chamber. The elected basis of the chamber would lead to greater powers relative to those of the Commons, but that should be welcomed as it would balance the distribution of powers within the polity.
 The constitution of the Commons is in need of radical reform. The Commons should not be elected on the first-past-the-post system. The system ensures that elections are determined by a relatively small number of swing voters in a relatively small number of marginal constituencies. Moreover, the representatives elected inadequately reflect the distribution of political views among the electorate at large. No system that does not produce electoral outcomes that more or less reflect the distribution of popular opinion among the voters can claim to be representative or express the spirit of democracy.
 Reform as required by  should be devised to retain a tangible link between representatives and their constituencies and this militates against a theoretically perfect proportional system, but systems to replace simple first-past-the-post and introduce a greater degree of proportionality. They should be examined by an expert commission and recommendations adopted after debate in a constitutional convention, as at .
 Voting regulations are inadequate. Voters should be automatically registered by the state and qualified from the age of sixteen. Voting should be compulsory. Ballot papers should have provision for writing in reasons for not voting for any of the above.
 The law on political campaigning and expenditure is in need of drastic revision. Social media, data analytics, and expenditures within and outside election campaigns, need to be considered as a whole with respect to their impact on true democracy. Parliament should not be just ‘the executive committee of the bourgeoisie’, or of spread-betting billionaires and rich hedge fund managers with fortunes protected through ‘treasure islands’ and non-domicile status.
 The polity reformed as above should be enshrined in written and federal constitution. The written constitution will require a mechanism for its adaptation in the light of changed circumstances and challenges, but the writing will ensure more certain legal mechanisms for its observance than under our unwritten version. Federalism will prevent undue centralisation and block too frequent policy reversals by political factions.
Further Relevant Reading
Edmund Burke, ‘Speech to the Electors of Bristol at the Conclusion of the Poll’, in The Political Tracts and Speeches of Edmund Burke, Esq., Member of Parliament for the City of Bristol, Dublin, 1777, pp 345-355.
(See for the classic statement of the argument for representative democracy.)
Bernard Crick, In Defence of Politics, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1952, Bloomsbury, 2015
(See for a classic persuasive argument for the Aristotlean view of politics as ‘compromise’.)
Bernard Crick, Democracy: A Very Short Introduction, OUP, 2002
(See for the best introduction to democracy.)
Norman Davies, The Isles: A History, Macmillan, 1999
(This is the best treatment from an English historian in a general history of the Irish, Scottish and Welsh dimensions of ‘our island story’. It takes a critical view of English historiography and its ‘imperial’ distortions.)
AC Grayling, Democracy and Its Crisis, One World Publications, 2017
(The essential contemporary text dealing with our present situation.)
Robert Hazell, The English Question, Manchester University Press, 2012
(A useful set of essays on England in the union and English regionalism.)
S. Lindahl, ‘Early Democratic Traditions’, in E. Allardt, ed., Nordic Democracy: Ideas, Issues and Institutions, Copenhagen, 1981
(This illustrates a different tradition than the Greek one, relevant to at least some of us from ‘the tribes of Britain’!)
Wolf Linder, Swiss Democracy: possible solutions to conflict in multicultural societies, Macmillan, 2nd edition, 1998
(Of interest in relation to referenda and participative democracy.)
John Lukacs, Democracy and Populism: Fear and Hatred, Yale University Press, 2005
(A essential text on the degeneration of modern democracy.)
David Van Rebrouck, Against Elections: The Case for Democracy, Bodley Head, 2013
(Makes the argument for a form of participatory democracy in relation to at least some political functions.)
John Stuart Mill, Considerations on Representative Government, 1861
(The classic text on the need for an ‘educated’ democracy.)
Tom Nairn, The Break-Up of Britain: Crisis and Neo-Colonialism, New Left Books, 1977. Expanded edition, Verso, 1981, Third edition, Common Ground, 2015.
(The essential prescient foundation text.)
Carole Pateman, Participation and Democratic Theory, CUP, 1970
(The classic academic study.)
Charles Seager, Plutocracy as a Principle: Does the Possession of Property Involve as a Moral Right that of Political Power? A Letter in which are Addressed Both Sides of the Question, 2nd edition, Whitaker & Co, 1867
(The 19th century argument about the interests that should be represented in a democracy. Not entirely irrelevant to today’s ‘money’ politics.)