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More information on why

Our voting system is not sufficient for the modern world.
We can't have a Referendum on every issue.
Public opinion is poorly measured
We need to represent all interest groups.
We need our government to deal with difficult problems.
We need our government to administer competently, not just to rush

Our voting system is not sufficient for the modern world.
We need other, coordinated ways of making it clear what we all want.

With one vote every 5 years, we are trying to achieve three different things:

  1. We are trying to select a good local representative;
  2. We are trying to select the party which will be able to select the best administrators to run the country; and
  3. We are trying to select the best manifesto to represent what we want to happen.

It is not reasonable to be trying to achieve all three things with one vote.

If we are voting for the best administrators to run the country, or even for our local representative to select the best administrators to run the country, it doesn't automatically follow that we are also voting for everything those administrators say that they want to do. We might want a bit of what this lot say, and a bit of what that lot say. We might want some other ideas, from other people or from other groups.

Just because we vote for one lot - perhaps even because we think that they are the least embarassing, and that they will be the most competent administrators - that doesn't mean that we are realy passionately want them to do everything that they say they will do. That's too much.

And yet, when a government is elected, it often starts saying that it has a mandate to do such-and-such a thing.

Also, remember that our first-past-the-post system means that a government with a majority of MPs might actually only have got a minority of the national vote. In 2015, the Conservative Party got a majority of MPs (331), but only got 36.9% of the national vote. [Even worse, with only 66.1% of people actually voting, that means that only 24.3% of the UK voted for the Conservative Party. That's not a mandate!]

The system is not adequate for the modern world.
We are all better educated and better informed that we used to be, we think more, and we care more.
We have more to say, and we want things to work correctly for everyone.

We should concentrate our vote on selecting a good local representative, and trust that our representative will be able to select (or even be part of) a good government.

But we need another way of setting out what the manifesto for the country should be.
We need another way of letting our government know what we want it to do.

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We can't have a Referendum on every issue.
It is a crude tool, time consuming, and expensive.

Since the 1970s, referendums have been used on quite a few issues, from joining the European Economic Community (as it was then) to the recent Scottish Independence Referendum, and it looks as though we are soon to have another referendum on whether we should stay in the European Union.

But the referendum is a very crude tool.
A lot depends on how questions are phrased.
On the whole, a government only holds a referendum when it is already pretty sure of the outcome. It is just about bolstering the strength of public support for what the government wants to do anyway.

And holding a referendum is pretty expensive.
Manning the polling stations.
All the campaigning beforehand.
All of us taking time to vote. Well, some of us.

Talk Together is about achieving everything a referendum could achieve, but with a lot more detail, a lot more insight and learning - not of whatever statistics politicians might throw as us, but of what is actually the case, vetted by balanced, independent research institutions. And it's about achieving an overall manifesto of what the people actually want to happen.

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Public opinion is poorly measured -
Just look at opinion polls before the 2015 General Election!

Well, we knew this before the 2015 General Election.
Opinion polls are not very accurate, even at simple details like which Party is going to get more votes: the Conservatives or Labour.

Opinion Poll organisations take a sample of 1,000 people, and ask them how they plan to vote if the election were held the following day. For a start, as we saw above, only 66% of us bothered to vote anyway, so what the other 34% might tell the pollsters might be completely misleading.

And what if the pollsters don't get a representative sample of the population?
It's sometimes compared to tasting a big saucepan of soup. If you take a spoon from the top, you might end up with more croutons and mushrooms, but you might miss all the lentils at the bottom.

Having said that, public opinion is very important to our politicians. They want to get re-elected. To be fair, most of them want to do the right thing. They want to do what we want them to do. But how can they know what we want, if opinion polls are so rubbish?

Our politicians can listen to lobby groups. They can listen to people in their political party. They can listen to their friends. They can read the newspapers. But they can't actually find out what we think - not all of us, together.

We can do better than this, using information, inviting everyone to take part, and by sharing information, clearly, succinctly, impartially.

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Lobby groups, interest groups, pressure groups.
We can't just act according to the person who shouts the loudest.

The bulk of interest group activity in the UK is heavily tilted towards the better off end of society, and scarcely takes into account the interests of the less well off, even less of the very poor1. We can't just let the best organised or best financed or best connected interest groups exert the most pressure.

We need to represent all interest groups, not just those who are best organised, best financed, or best organised.

It's excellent that there is so much passion out there for different issues.
We all benefit from the great thinking and lobbying which interest groups bring to important issues.

And, just because you want to save the planet or the countryside, and so join Friends of the Earth or CPRE, that doesn't mean that you don't care about other things, too.

But you can't do everything yourself.

So, it's great that other people are doing those things.
And we need to hear from all of them.
We need to pool our ideas and our energies.
We need to ensure that we are all heard.

We need to ensure that our government knows what we want to happen.

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The Wicked Issues : the 'too difficult' tray.

We need our government to deal with the difficult problems, too.
Not just the easy ones.

We don't just need soundbite-friendly options, driven by ensuring that ministers are re-elected.

The nature of our political system is that ministers and MPs think short term - at the very most 5 years, to the next election.

But many things which need doing which have a longer term impact. These are called the Wicked Issues, because they often require a bit of discomfort at first.

Like getting fit and losing weight. It's worth it, but it takes a bit of effort

Ministers think that voters are not prepared to put up with a bit of short term effort, even if the long term effect is much better for the country, and for all voters1.
But that's simply not true.

In 1997, people voted for higher taxes, and for a government which would invest in the NHS, because the NHS (for all its problems, is a good thing).

We are not stupid, and we know that good things can take a bit of effort.
We need to make that clear.

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Ministers Decide

More generally, we need to encourage consensual, less confrontational government. Our system of government enables executive decision and action, and ministers today seem actively impelled to take action and to make news headline grabbing decisions. Simmilarly, too much of the noise made by politicians is about (party political) point scoring, not about constructive government. We mostly don't want or need this; we just need existing systems to be competently administered.

Ministers are encouraged to make an impact, to make their mark. In sound bites even if not in sensible, constructive contributions. And with average ministerial tenure (<18 months) being much less than the time it takes for an initiative to be full realised, or assessed, they move on with impunity from hastily contrived catastrophe to ineffective mulch.

We need a different, quiet competence from our ministers, not this brash, rash, rush for headlines, marking their arrival like a puppy in a new garden.

We need a system which encourages due deliberation, considering all the options, taking counsel, drawing on advice, considering the impact of a policy, and the assent (or at least the acquiescence) required for a policy to work. We need our politicians to take time to consider how a policy is actually to be realised.

We need to enable government to work with opposition politicians to deal with the 'wicked issues' by sharing both power and electoral risk. And to do this, we need to take away the pressure for ministers to rush to have an impact by doing any old thing, by telling them what we want them to do. It's not their opportunity for a headline or for career advancement : it's our country.

We need this, as a first step in increasing the respect which the public could hold for our political class.

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1; Who Governs Britain by Anthony King, Penguin Random House (2015) p90

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