So. I’m not going to write about each person’s performance at the Leaders’ Debate – the polling today speaks for itself:

Guardian poll on the Leaders' Debate showing Nick Clegg winning

But I was struck by the Radio 4 panel of women from Worcester (geddit?) that followed the debate. Discussions of which leader had won merged seamlessly into discussions about the panel participants’ vote. One participant concluded a point with something like ‘So I think I’m going to vote for David Cameron’. Are you really, though, love? Or is the constituency in which you vote (Worcester is, incidentally, the constituency where the leader of the Pirate Party UK is standing) actually over 50 miles away from David Cameron’s constituency in Witney? Could it be that you are actually going to vote for some bloke called Robin Walker?

I’m actually making a point about the nature of our political system, it’s only that I’ve cunningly disguised it as being unnecessarily harsh to a woman from Worcester. Both constitutionally (because MPs, including party leaders, and unlike the president of the USA, are members of the legislature) and in reality (because of the concentration of power in very few hands which has by almost all accounts intensified under New Labour), Worcester Woman effectively is voting for David Cameron this year.

Representative democracy, much as I knock it as a concept on these pages, is based on people trusting other people to represent them. It’s well established that this means a certain amount of tension between pure representative democracy and the party political system, dividing politicians’ loyalties. To confuse the issue further, many MPs have claimed over the years that not to vote with their party in a particular instance would be to let down voters in their constituency, who had voted for the party on the basis of manifesto commitments.

The tension is exacerbated by the feeling that an MP has been elected precisely for his judgement and discretion in making his own mind up on issues:

Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not a member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.

Speech to the Electors of Bristol (1774-11-03); as published in The Works of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke (1834)

In contrast to Burke, Danny de la Haye is standing as an independent candidate on the basis that he will decide how to vote in Parliament by the results of an online poll of the public.

The more you think about it, the more this actually sounds quite subversive and I’m not totally convinced it would be attractive if implemented, offering as it does the nominal power transfer of participatory democracy, but without the infrastructure for consensual decision-making that is so badly needed to reunite social capital with political capital. But if it puts some ideas in people’s heads, I’m all for it. And in the absence of either fundamental constitutional reform or the glorious revolution, either of which I’d accept at this point, we could do worse than the idea of strengthening select committees so that MPs can make a name for themselves not just by following the party line for several years, but by being well-researched, intelligent, and even just plain right.

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