Friday, 27 November 2009

My Citizen MPs article published on Power2010 website

My article suggesting the introduction of a system of Citizen MPs has been published on the website of Power2010.

More about Power2010:

Our democracy is in crisis. MPs fiddle while the planet burns. Our rights and freedoms are under attack. Bankers blow billions and the taxpayer foots the bill. We can't go on like this.

We need a healthy democracy that works for all of us and not just a powerful few. POWER2010 exists to help create it. It gives you the chance to have your say on how our democracy works so that together we can change it for the better.

Do you want cleaner funding? Fairer voting? More accountability? You decide. Tell us your ideas for changing the way we run our country. Those with most support will become the POWER2010 Pledge and the focus for our national campaign at the next election.

What is POWER2010?
POWER2010 is a unique campaign to give everyone the chance to have a say in how our democracy works for us.

What is different about POWER2010 is that you're in the driving seat. We're not asking you to back our goals. We're asking you to help create them.

At the next election we will work to ensure every candidate commits to the reforms you most want to see as part of a nation-wide campaign to reinvigorate our democracy from the bottom up.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Murdoch leads the way to end the conspiracy of 'free internet' content

Good on Rupert Murdoch. Those are four words I never thought I'd type. But nonetheless, he and his son James are to be congratulated for their decision to start charging on-line readers of The Times. It's a risky move for News International, but it's a brave one. In asking on-line readers to pay, just as readers of the newspaper must, they risk the wrath of the internet generation, who have grown obese through gorging themselves on the product of the great myth of the noughties - that everything on the internet is and more to the point, should be, free.

Let's get this straight. The internet is a wonderful thing and has emancipated millions of people through opening up information on an almost unimaginable scale. But the damaging corollary of this emancipation has been the belief amongst users that the only role they have is to consume content, not pay for it. This pernicious trend has had profound implications for other forms of entertainment. First music, and now film. Ordinary people, not merely youngsters, have assumed that it is perfectly acceptable to obtain copyrighted material by illegally copying it on-line. What I hope that the News International decision may do is strike a blow for creative people, wherever they exist. Be they up and coming rock bands who struggle to sell their music due to illegal file sharing, or film-makers whose work is ripped off shortly after it leaves the editing suite.

You wouldn't expect to be able to steal perfect copies of a painter's artwork. You don't have a right to free newspapers in newsagents. All creative art or journalism has to be made by real people, doing real jobs. We do not live an a Star Trek-style utopia where everyone just pursues his or her creative dreams. We live in the real world in which people need to make money from their intellectual property and their creative talent, just as readily as a plumber needs to make money out of his or her plumbing skills, or a doctor their medical training. We need to rebalance the on-line world so that it provides appropriate revenue streams for those who create the content. In this world, you don't get anything for nothing. It is time the internet generation accepted this truism.

More on this later.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Rights and wrongs of the DNA of innocent people - letter to The Times - NOT PUBLISHED


Shami Chakrabati and Chris Grayling make strange bedfellows in criticising the Government over saving the DNA samples of people arrested for but not convicted of a crime. It is not solely a matter of the rights of these people as they suggest, but also of the rights of the wider, law-abiding community. These samples are stored not because of some Kafkaesque conspiracy but for the practical reason that, sadly, a minority of these currently 'innocent' people do go on to commit heinous crimes. Grayling and Chakrabati must not be allowed to occupy the moral high ground without being challenged as to whether their defence of the rights of innocent people not to have their DNA recorded on a database trumps the right of society to maximise the chance of solving a rape or murder and therefore of deterring future crimes. Their position can only be respected if they concede that some rapes and murders will almost certainly go unsolved and therefore more committed, as a result of the Government being forced to change its policy.

Yours faithfully,

John Slinger

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Article of mine on Citizen MPs published by Progress (online)

Progress Magazine have published an article of mine.

By the people

We should inject the people directly into parliament, in the form of Citizen MPs

10 November 2009

Commentators say British parliamentary democracy is in crisis, that public outrage is taking on the tendency of ‘mob rule’ and may emasculate politics for a generation. What is certain is that the people are, with good reason, furious with their representatives. But if we are to move forward constructively, the anger felt by the public must be harnessed in a way that helps to reconstruct and improve our democratic system or it will be exploited by those who seek to undermine trust in politics, be they extremists or the most cynical elements of the media.

When it comes to democracy, the past can and should inform the present. With its genesis in ancient Greece, democracy, literally, means ‘the power of the people’. Yet it is Abraham Lincoln’s take on democracy - 'rule of the people, by the people, for the people' – which has gained common currency. Holding recent events up against its rigours is revealing. Ironically, far from being a crisis of democracy, perhaps the continuing shaming of parliamentarians in the court of public opinion is a triumph of democracy. After all, the strictures of the Kelly report show that ‘the people’, thanks to their henchmen in the Fourth Estate, have exerted their collective will upon their representatives. A tick for ‘rule of the people.’

Yet democracy is more than this. At the centre of public displeasure has been a sense that MPs have been acting in their own interests rather than those of their constituents. Again, the recent furore should lead to a system and behavioural standards that can better ensure that MPs rule ‘for the people’. Another tick for Abe.

But the second clause in Lincoln’s maxim, ‘rule by the people’, offers us the best chance of diverting public outrage into improving our political system. The best way to do this would be injecting a little direct democracy into our overtly representative system (notwithstanding the anachronistic House of Lords). To put it bluntly, we should inject ‘the people’ directly into parliament, in the form of ‘Citizen MPs.’ Citizen MPs, selected at random as with our jury system, would serve for a year and would inhabit a third of seats in both Houses of Parliament. They would place a block on the power of parties to whip legislation through our supine legislature. They would force both parliament and ‘the people’ to get better acquainted with one another. They would make our system more truly 'democratic' and would do much to bridge the gaping chasm between the populace and their representatives. Perhaps above all, they would restore a sense that as citizens we each have civic duties, up to and including making legislation and representing our fellow citizens.

This suggestion may get short shrift, but before it is dismissed out of hand, consider that the response of our MPs to the crisis to date as been woeful and shows little sign of improving despite Kelly’s alleged lancing of this particular boil. Consider also that the Kelly report itself recommends that ‘the people’ be brought into the hallowed environs of parliament in order to scrutinise MPs’ behaviour, in the form of lay members of both the Speaker’s Committee overseeing the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and the Standards and Privileges Committee. Even some MPs have made murmurings, such as Patricia Hewitt, a champion of ‘citizen juries’ designed to help policy-formulation. People in think tanks, such as Guy Lodge of the ippr, and Matthew Taylor of the RSA, have looked at the concept. Anthony Barnett has even written the book ‘The Athenian Option: Radical Reform For The House Of Lords’.

Citizen MPs have excellent antecedents, as explained by Daniel Lightman, who was corresponding with me in the letters page of The Times earlier this year:

'In Ancient Athens, the day-to-day business of government was entrusted to the Council of Five Hundred, which was chosen annually out of the whole citizen body by lot. The only qualifications were that one had to be aged over 30 and of good standing.

The Athenians were not alone in recognising the value of using the lot to select a representative group of citizens. The Talmud records that Moses used lots to choose the 70 elders of the Children of Israel and the 22,000 designated first-born. “The ancients knew,” observed the renowned classical scholar Jowett, “that election by lot was the most democratic of all modes of appointment.” Selecting some MPs by lot would be the easiest way to ensure that truly independent voices are heard in Parliament.'

Of course there would be numerous practical and procedural difficulties to bringing in a system of Citizen MPs, but these can be overcome by a country that truly values democracy. To those who argue that citizens would not wish to be MPs, nor have the sufficient experience or understanding, I say that if no less a concept than justice can be served through citizens being selected at random to sit in juries, then there is no logical reason why a similar system ought not bestow on each of us the responsibility to serve the interests of an equally important concept – democracy.

John Slinger is a member of the Labour party’s national parliamentary panel, a former parliamentary researcher to Labour MPs and currently works as a public affairs consultant

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Letter about my pet project of Citizen MPs - NOT published in The Times


Now that the Kelly Committee is recommending that lay members sit on the Speaker's Committee that appoints the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and on the Standards and Privileges Committee, surely this admirable principle should be expanded to a system of Citizen MPs. A third of MPs and peers could be appointed by lot, as with Jury Service and serve for 12 months terms. Such a bloc of lay people in Parliament would act as a counterbalance to the Whips, would make our system more truly 'democratic', would do much to bridge the gaping chasm between the populace and their representatives and might restore a sense that each of us has civic duties up to and including making legislation. This suggestion may get short shrift, but as Kelly is showing, the concept of bringing 'ordinary' people into the fabled world of Westminster is now gaining credence at the highest levels.

Yours faithfully,

John Slinger