Policies without politics?

From: John greenwood

My introduction to the discussion on 17th May 2013

We tend to make the tacit assumption that the only way to get better government is by getting a better party. The question is: are there any important steps towards a “better society” that can be had without depending on a party to promote it?

What we are looking for are single items of policy that could appeal to the majority of citizens regardless of party loyalties.

One particular idea that I want to explore today is the idea of “Proper Governance”. Here is a definition:

Governance is defined as:
“How an organization controls its actions. Governance describes the mechanisms an organization uses to ensure that its constituents follow its established processes and policies. It is the primary means of maintaining oversight and accountability in a loosely coupled organizational structure. A proper governance strategy implements systems to monitor and record what is going on, takes steps to ensure compliance with agreed policies, and provides for corrective action in cases where the rules have been ignored or misconstrued. “

There are all sorts of governance models, for example the mutual society, the limited company, direct state control and special cases like the BBC charter. Different organisations work best with different models, there is no “one size fits all”. However, one feature that seems to be essential: effective critical oversight. So I would argue that where the nationalised organisations failed it was because this was missing. Smaller limited companies and cooperative do work because they have critical oversight from the share holders in the former and the members in the latter. In both cases this oversight has power, like sacking managers when they screw up.

To illustrate what I have in mind, let us consider what be a Proper Governance for the railways. There is one group of people that would seem to be very critical and very concerned, the passengers. Computerised ticketing systems could allow feedback from passengers which is far more relevant and informed than any shareholders of operating companies.

Lets not get carried away with details but rather look at more general issues.

Creating Proper Governance is not be just a choice between private and state control. Privatization should be seen as a cheap and easy way of dodging the responsibility of working out a proper system. The only proper purpose of “privatization” is to acquire critical oversight. If a better means can be devised then there is no case passing control to shareholders with no direct interest and perhaps in a different country

Capital investment will still be needed, but even here, why not consider some sort of crowd funding? And where is the large and concerned crowd? The passengers of course.

What is needed is for the idea of Proper Governance to become widely recognized and discussed. It means general acceptance that creating good governance for a particular organisation is not a trivial task. That we should be looking at cross-party agreement rather than a quick fix by the party of the day. We should be asking all the time: how efficient is the organisation? and: in whose interest is it being run?

In particular there must be a clear-sighted acceptance that a good system of governance has to deal robustly with human fallibility: corruption, greed, laziness and self-delusion. Further that this is for  the long term. Many organisations work well at first but, over time, become stale, inward looking or bogged down in bureaucracy.  Many of the major issues in politics, The NHS, education, transport, the police, supply of services. all come down to problems in governance.

The idea of “Proper Governance” needs to become acceptable to people of all political persuasions. It has to be presented in such a way that the advantages are obvious to all and not part of some conspiracy

There are other policy ideas like this which we have discussed in the past, for example:

– The Citizen’s Income, which incidentally has been regarded positively by people on the right, such as Napoleon, Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek as well as on the left.

– Support for the environmental movement is across party lines.

– Most people will agree that inequality is a bad thing, but don’t have any ideas about what to do  about it.

It is unfortunately true that people tend judge ideas by where they come from rather than their intrinsic merit. I think that we need to consider how the idea is promoted, by whom and the language used.  Any of these policies should be developed, presented and judged each in isolation on their own merits and as far as possible be detached from party politics and each other.

This approach is an aid to building a better party, not an alternative.

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