What the Occupy movement should demand

Some people have criticised the Occupy movement for having vague or no demands. In this post I’ll make some suggestions as to what they should demand; bearing in mind the need to have demands that (i) lots of people can get behind, and (ii) will alleviate the economic problems we’re having and thus improve people’s lives. I’ll also say some of the things they shouldn’t demand.

Summary:

Demand Real Democracy:
- Proportional representation
- Get money out of politics
- Recall elections
- Referenda
Demand Economic Justice:
- Enact Buffett’s Law
- End tax avoidance for corporations
- No more rip-offs due to complex charging schemes
- Affordable housing
Don’t Demand:
- That there be no spending cuts
- An end to capitalism

Demand Real Democracy

The situation we’re in now — and the reason for the Occupy protests — is that the economic system works for the richest 1% but not for the other 99%. In a democracy, the 99% would be able to make the system work in their favour, and we’d never have got to the point where we are now. But we are where we are now, so therefore we cannot be a democracy.

(That’s not to say that elections are entirely a fraud, as they were in the Soviet Union. The current arrangements are a half democracy; we need to make it a full democracy.)

Proportional representation

We need proportional representation because under FPTP, only two parties get a look-in and they can conspire to thwart the people’s will. But with PR, if none of the big parties does what the people want, it’s easy to set up a new party that can get elected (under FPTP, anyone can set up a new party, but it has very little chance of electoral success, so doesn’t affect the Labservatives’ cosy little duopoly on power).

A good electoral system would be STV, or AMS as long as the region size is big enough (the bigger it is, the more proportional). In STV, one can vote for a small party without it being a wasted vote (because it would be transferred to one’s next preference). In AMS or a list system, the vote would count if it elected someone, which it would do if the threshold was small enough. If AMS or lists are used, ideally the votes should be transferable as well, so that voters for parties who get less voters than the threshold still count.

Get money out of politics

At the moment a party with lots of money has a big advantage in elections. This means that big corporations can subvert democracy by donating to particular parties. This favours certain parties and certain ideas, and biases the system in favour of the 1%. What we need is a level playing field where all ideas compete on equal terms,

(The reliance of parties on large corporate donations subverts democracy in another way; it directly causes those parties to change their polices to favour corporate interests.)

So:

Corporate donations and large personal donations should be banned, no-one should be allowed to donate more that £1000/year to a political party.

Political parties should receive modest funding from the state, for example 10p/year for each vote they got at the last general/devolved/local/European election.

The state should pay for printing of election leaflets. At the moment, the state pays for political leaflets to be delivered at elections, but not for them to be printed. This obviously benefits the big parties since they can afford to have more printed. Instead, the state should allow each party or candidate to produce a single A4 advert, then all the adverts would be put together in a single brochure that would be printed and delivered to every household. This would also have other advantages:

  • it would save money because the state would be delivering one leaflet per household not many (delivery costs, per leaflet, are more than print costs).
  • it would mean that parties could no longer say a different message to different voters, but would have to be honest
  • all the parties’ leaflets would be in a one handy package so they could be easily compared.

Recall elections

The people are sovereign, not the politicians. Therefore the people must have the right to kick out the politicians when they decide to do so, not just once every 5 years.

these should happen if enough voters in a particular electoral district want them. They should be possible if the voters don’t like what policies their politicians are doing; not just when politicians are caught in personal wrong-doing such as fiddling their expenses.

Referenda

The government’s epetition system should be beefed up. People should be able to vote against a petition as well as in favour. The popularity of a petition would be defined as votes in favour minus votes against.

If a petition is popular enough, it should automatically trigger a referendum. A smaller level of popularity should trigger a debate in parliament. This system should apply to all levels of government: local, devolved, Westminster, and Europe.

Economic Justice

Enact Buffett’s Law: no-one should pay a higher marginal tax rate than someone with more income than them. This should be true taking into account wages, income from investments and capital gains, It should continue to be true when loss of benefits is taken into account. It should also continue to be true when tax avoidance schemes (which the rich have more access to) are taken into account.

End tax avoidance for corporations. Corporations that make billions in profits should be made to pay their fair share.

No more rip-offs due to complex charging schemes. What do electricity and gas utilities, mobile phone networks, and private pension providers have in common? They all rip off their customers by having charging schemes that are impenetrably complex. They should be forced to simplify their charges, which would make it transparent when they’re overcharging.

Affordable housing. Everyone needs somewhere to live. They should be entitled to one where the cost to them is the cost of building and maintaining a house; at present whether one rents or buys, one has to pay an exorbitant price on top that profits the rich.

Some things not to demand

That there be no spending cuts. The public does not support a platform of no cuts; while many regard them as regrettable, the majority think they are economically necessary. And in any case, how many people can say know everything the government spends money on, and are assured that they is no waste whatsoever?

An end to capitalism. Either we continue to have a broadly market-based economy, or we have a centrally planned one. A centrally planned economy is not desirable, and even if it was, it would not be possible to persuade the British public that it was, given the examples of North Korea, Cuba and the Soviet Union. Instead we need to build a capitalism that works for the 99% not just the 1%.

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6 Responses to What the Occupy movement should demand

  1. I liked your thoughts on getting money out of politics. That seems to be Occupy’s focus right now, and I definitely think it should be the starting point.

    Once politicians are answerable only to the People, I imagine that the remaining reforms will be significantly easier to attain.

    • Phil Hunt says:

      Once politicians are answerable only to the People, I imagine that the remaining reforms will be significantly easier to attain.

      Yes, that’s why I put Real Democracy at the top of the agenda.

  2. FPTP is unfair and difficult to defend in terms of democracy. But there is much to be said for the single member constituency, and the system is simple both to vote and to count.
    Direct Party and Representative Voting (DPR Voting) is a form of proportional representation designed to replace FPTP that you should consider. It retains the single member constituency and the process is very similar to FPTP but it would make MPs more democratically accountable and responsive to the people who elect them.

    • Phil Hunt says:

      DPR is an interesting system, and fundamentally I am not hung up on which system of PR is used. I suggested STV and AMS because both systems are already widely used in the UK, and therefore it would be easier for proponents of PR to rally around those systems than another less-well-known one.

      • There are two ways of looking at this. STV is something of a marmite system. For supporters of PR, it is strongly divisive. It is very much linked with Lib Dems. AMS doesn’t arouse such strong antipathy, but having two sorts of MPs – list and constituency – is not liked.

        DPR Voting has the advantage that no group is strongly identified with it, and may be more acceptable to those who like many aspects of FPTP, eg the single member constituency, and the simple process of voting and counting. After all, we recently had a referendum where people voted against preferential voting and decided to stick with FPTP. Also a new electoral system needs to carry the House of Commons with it. In a DPR Voting election, many MPs may decide that they have a reasonable chance of being re-elected in their existing constituencies.

        Another thought is that if STV were chosen for an elected House of Lords, this might encourage its adoption for electing the Commons. However there is an alternative argument that says we need to preserve the democratic and constitutional differences between the two chambers so that any system used for the one rules it out as a system for the other.

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