Friday, 6 September 2013

Honest Politics and the Common Good

If we have lost trust in our politicians and political parties, how are we going to govern ourselves? What might reform and rejuvenate our politics?

Recently I went to a talk in London by veteran American campaigner Jim Wallis, and I think his proposal of a return to the old concept of ‘the Common Good’ could be the fifth thread of possibility for a faster revival of Independents in local and national politics.

Independents are able to speak out, but have often not been listened to because people do not know what they believe or what they stand for. Independents are not a political party, they do not have policies.

But over the last few years, as the Independent Network has discussed and experimented, four threads of possibility have emerged:

Honest Politics – we have set the Bell Principles as the standard by which we believe Independents should act in local and national politics.

It’s the Person not the Party – we encourage candidates to promote their campaign by getting prominent local people to endorse them, write about them, commend them: in this way, rather than the Independent Candidate asking to be believed and trusted on their own assessment of their own competence, the Candidate is calling on independent evidence from known trusted sources.

Improve the Election Process – Political Parties have the benefit of members who can deliver leaflets, so the election process is weighted against the small parties and Independents. Very often people will vote by post without seeing many of the candidate manifestos. Independents can set better standards by setting up a website and posting up all the candidates’ manifestos, by working with other candidates to share deliveries, by persuading more voters to vote by post only after looking at all the candidates, and to campaign for manifestos to be included with postal voting forms.

The Party Party – a Political Party is also a social network, where people enjoy working together on a shared interest. Many enjoy talking about politics, but do not like the idea of commitment to any one political party. ‘Politics for All’ meetings are a way of inviting anybody (including members of all the political parties) to a social event that will include wide ranging debates on local and national issues. Through such meetings, people with an interest but no commitment can find out how to get involved.

None of these four threads address the issue: but what do Independents stand for or believe?

Perhaps Wallis’ revisiting of the Common Good as a rallying point for political activism is a possible fifth thread that would make up a platform for Independents under the banner of Honest Politics and the Common Good. Wallis does not advocate utilitarianism, the greatest happiness of the greatest number, as Bentham put it. The Common Good has to take into account individual rights and the rights of minorities, so for an Independent Politician there will need to be constant listening and negotiation.

The Independent politician will need to be a leader and an advocate, a person willing and able to argue the case for a minority against vested interests and big business, a person able to persuade and inspire. Politics is not a clean game. It is messy and by its very nature requires compromise and fudge. Maintaining personal integrity is a major challenge for an Independent politician, and so having an over-arching vision of the Common Good will help set a framework and a compass when in situations with conflicting demands.

So how do these Five Threads of Possibility sound to you?

• Honest PoliticsPerson not Party • Improve the Election Process • Politics for all, we know how to Party • Our Policy is the Common Good of our nation and community

All of this works best at a local level – Parish, Town and District Council. When it gets to County, National and European levels, there is a need for political parties that are shorthand for a specific type of policies. However, as coalition becomes more likely, the Independent or group of Independents all focused on the over-arching Common Good can have great influence, out of all proportion to their numbers.

Reproduced with acknowledgements to Independent Network

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