15. Members of Parliament   Recently updated !

i-have-come-to-the-conclusion-that-politics-are-too-serious-a-matter-to-be-left-to-the-politicians-quote-1In order to get more immersed in the whole election process, I’ve recently stood as a councillor in our local elections.  If I’m perfectly honest, I don’t have much clue about what councillors do at your local council (nor am I expecting to get in against the incumbent councillor who is standing again). I guess that lack of knowledge is interesting in itself – how do people vote for a person to do a job that you don’t really know what it is.  But given that much of local council responsibilities cover refuse, parks, street lighting, local security, local events, and planning permission, I’m guessing that its these kind of issues that will be front and centre when people decide.  Or will it?

So what does one do to become a candidate for local elections?  Interestingly it wasn’t too hard at all. If you live in the local area that helps simplify matters – though I suspect if you don’t it is still possible, but slightly more challenging to prove you are who you say you are, than if your name is already on the electoral list as a resident.  Then I just wrote a 150 word pitch via an on-line process saying why you think you should be elected, and arrange a meeting with your local returning officer.  They check that you haven’t exceeded the word count (highly important!), that you haven’t written anything that might be considered inappropriate (not sure what that might be, and forgot to check whether my 150 words could include a website address, or social media handle…schoolboy error), then hand over $80, and you’re in the race!  Your pitch, and all the others for your ward, is sent out with the voting forms (postal in this instance), and then the punters can make their own mind up.  If you want to send out leaflets, or stick up posters, there are rules you have to abide by, but other than that, it’s up to you.  I did see one hopeful candidate who has stuck a few posters of himself on a trailer that he is driving around his ward.  Good on him, though not really sure of how effective that would be.  Personally I’m sticking to social media as I want to see if it is possible to promote oneself that way – I’m not hopeful at present, but I reckon in a few years this may be the only way to do it.  Again, I digress.

The point is anyone can and should be able to stand for election if they believe they have the skills and experience to be able to positively contribute (though given they nobody publishes the job description, your guess of what these are is as good as the next persons!)  As far as I can work out, council elections are essentially party-free affairs (though I suspect most candidates will have at least leanings toward one party or another), but it did reveal how simple it can be to put oneself forward for election.  Okay, perhaps too simple!  If you’ve ever tried to put across a message in 150 words, then you’ll realise how hard it is. This paragraph is 158 words, and it has told you very little.  Imagine you were considering employing someone on that basis!  Would you have enough information to feel confident that they could do the job based on just 150 words?  Of course not.

But really, that is what an election is. It is a recruitment process. We, the electorate, are the employers, and the candidates want the job.  We will discuss how we select later, but lets think again, about the skills that we are looking for in our Party-free system.

I’ve had the good fortune to have worked in a number of different organisations at many different levels.  Some of these organisations were very effective, some less so.  When it came to being productive and effective, the skills and attitudes of both myself and my colleagues was pivotal, and the same should be said for MPs and our Senators (from now on, I will use the term MP to collectively describe both).

I’d suggest that for most job roles, there are a core set of skills that would be invaluable, and Members of Parliament are no different.  MPs should be able to communicate well, both verbally and written, and vitally, they must be able to listen.  They should have a degree of emotional intelligence – an awareness of the emotions of themselves and of others, and act accordingly.  They need to be quick learners – digesting new information rapidly, and able to draw conclusions from it.  They should be able to work in teams with others, creatively developing ideas, and understand team dynamics and the value of diversity of approach and opinions.  And most importantly in a non party environment, have an open mind and be willing to listen to other perspectives.  The party system does seem to encourage a closed perspective – where repeating the “party line” is a more important skill than being thoughtful, reflective, creative and, most importantly accepting that the majority view is respected even if you don’t personally agree with it.

In terms of attitudes, it is clear that they should be hard working, but not to the extent that they no longer have a life.  That shared experience with the rest of the electorate is pivotal to ensure they aren’t so removed from the rest of the population that they simply cannot understand the issues and concerns that they have.  Fortunately, with the removal of parties, the degree of schmoozing for funds should significantly decrease, and our MPs can concentrate their time on the job that pays their actual wages if you don’t mind.

We also want people with life experience, not professional politicians who have never worked in the real world.  People with experience in health, in education, in the military, in commerce, in charities.  That insight is invaluable in working out what solutions might work, and which might not.

Personally, I’d like to see MPs with project skills.  In the brave new world, I’d like all MPs involved in the development of new legislation.  They don’t have to agree with what the majority decide, but their input will be useful.  If an MP has a particular idea that they would like to progress, and it is not contrary to “the vision”, the PM should be able to get them to progress it as a project.  Some other MPs might volunteer, or be co-erced to help, and lets get things moving.  Having listened to the daily business being conducted over the radio, MPs making speeches about charity events, or sports successes, in their local electorate is not what I personally consider a productive use of taxpayers money, nice though it may be to get a mention in Hansard.   MPs need to actually get on and do something.  Which needs me to my next point.

Accountability.  Every MP should be communicating what they are up to.  Let’s see some actual results.  Let’s see justification for why they voted as they did.  With the technology available, it should not be hard for an MP (or their secretary) to publish what they’ve been getting up to on their tax payer funded work.  Lets have some justification of what you are doing, because when election time comes, and you want our support again, you are going to have to be able to justify it, or we’ll get someone in who can do the job.

Finally, I personally think it helps that if you are going to represent an electorate, you ideally need to live there, and indeed have lived there for a decent time.  I’m tired of politicians being dropped into electorates purely to get voted in, then effectively disappear, rarely to be seen again.

Remember, they are working for us.  We are their employers.  And as their employers we need two things.  Firstly, at the time of hiring (i.e. election time), we need to see their resumes.  They need to justify why we should give them the job. With technology available now, it’s not hard to put together a short video introducing who you are, why you want the position, why you think you are qualified, and what your goals and objectives are.  Currently we get very little exposure to some candidates, so we have no idea whether they are up to the job or not.  Lets face it, most people vote for their party of preference and its leader at that time.  But wouldn’t it be better if we could vote for that AND the best candidate too?  I truly don’t want someone else deciding who I can vote for, and therefore who I can’t.

And secondly, we want to be able to keep an eye on what they are up to.  Are they getting involved with some useful projects, or committees, or just enjoying long lunches and playing Candy Crush, whilst throwing in an occasional “hear, hear” at Question Time?  Again, with technology, maintaining a blog as a means to communicate with your constituency seems a rather cheap and effective means of reporting status to your employer.

So now we know what kind of people we want to be our MPs, and we know what kind of people we want to be our leader, how do we adapt our governmental processes to work in a more collegiate manner, and conduct elections to get both the leader AND the local member that we want?  The next chapters are where things start to get interesting…



About Steve Laing

Political observer, free thinker and problem solver, Steve contends that the current democratic processes have neither kept up to date with globalisation nor modern business practices, resulting in increasing dissatisfaction with modern politics. However, new technology could be used to not only reconfigure our system, but give the electorate even greater representation than was previously the case. For more background information on Steve, please check his LinkedIn profile.

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