20 Jun 2009

Cascade Democracy


Two years ago I posted an idea that had been percolating in my head for a while.

With the recent expenses debacle, this idea is even more worthy of further examination.

The idea, in summary, is to make each level of government the electorate of the next level, with candidates drawn solely from that electorate. For example, the local council is made up of 100* people from the area, each of whom stood for election to represent the 100 households that included their own. This council elect one of those 100 people to represent them to their regional assembly, which is a collection of 100 local councils. The regional assembly elect one of their number for the national government, and so on.

The point of this system is that every candidate can have a personal interaction and understanding with every member of their electorate. What is more, every representative at the higher levels retains their role(s) as representative at the lower levels, so a member of the national parliament would simultaneously have to perform their duties at regional and local level. What is more, any of those three constituencies would have the right to recall the representative, having the effect of denying them the right to remain in any higher post.

For example, let's say that Joe Bloggs of 47 Acacia Avenue, Newtown, Southshire, England stands for election to represent Nos1-100 Acacia Avenue. He wins because he is well respected and his neighbours appreciate his honesty and intelligence.

After a few years serving on the Newtown Council there is an election for a representative to serve Newtown at the Southshire Assembly. He is nominated and gets elected because the 78 other Councillors in Newtown have grown to respect his integrity and clear debating style.

Things carry on for a few more years, and Joe serves on both the Assembly and Council. He regularly talks to his neighbours and the other Councillors, and always takes their views into account when he votes. He has even taken advantage of an online straw-poll system to let his constituents know what votes are coming up soon, and how he intends to vote and why. Whenever the poll goes against his advice, he scrupulously follows the mandate, despite his personal feelings. One or two of his fellows failed to do this, and they were rapidly recalled.

Then the long-serving MP for Southshire retires, having been told by the Assembly to support a windfarm subsidy and deciding that he could not. The 35 Assemblymen decide to send Joe to Parliament, considering him their best candidate. Joe now spends three days a week in London, One at the Assembly building in Southshireham, and one back in Newtown covering Council business. His remaining time is spent talking to constituents and spending time with his family.

Joe is a Councillor, Assemblyman and MP all at the same time. He cannot forget any of his constituencies, because they can recall him at any time. If he moves house away from Acacia Avenue, he will immediately lose his eligibility for the seat. If his conscience forces him to vote against the wishes of any one of his electorates, he can be recalled and replaced in under a week.

This is pure personality politics. It is not a person's party affiliation or policies that get them elected, it is their ability to carry out the wishes of the people they represent. There is no need for a party machine, because the electorate is never larger than a few hundred people, and every individual in the electorate can communicate directly with the candidate if they wish, and he has time to reply and the personal relationship with them to make the reply meaningful.

Now some might say that the Assemblyman for Newtown is only answerable to the 78 Councillors and 200-odd residents of Acacia Avenue, which leaves the other 150,000 voters of Newtown out in the cold. This is far from the truth. Each Councillor will advise their constituents how they plan to vote for the next Assemblyman, and offer them reasons. They are at liberty to mandate him to vote differently. In effect, although only 78 votes will be cast, every resident of Newtown will have had their say.

Because constituency sizes are always very similar, each of the 78 votes will, in effect, be a block vote. However there will be some variation when, say, a student area with an average of four adults per household elects one Councillor and a block of Council flats with an average of one adult per household does. This could be overcome by varying the wards by occupancy rates, but I feel this is unnecessary. Council tax is currently levied per household, and many local services are on a per household basis. Moreover, occupancy rates are seldom equally high or equally low across large groups of households, so the problem will be relatively infrequent.

The title of this blog post is Cascade Democracy because I feel this system allows greater democratic accountability by cascading voting onto each level. It will create a greater involvement and a greater sense of responsibility among voters, as well as changing the relationship of politicians to their constituents fundamentally for the good.


As always, I really should search Google before I imply any idea I have is original. In this case, I even managed to coin the same term used elsewhere!

* As before, 100 is for illustration purposes. It might be seen as the upper limit, with smaller numbers used according to geographic convenience. I think the 100 household number should be fairly fixed, however, with deviations of no more than 10 houses allowed.