Form follows function


Photo attribution below

I suggested in my first post that the UK’s system of government is not fit for purpose. I think it no longer really does what it’s supposed to do. So, if I’m right, how do we change it?

Simply voting in another government won’t change the system, of course. If the people change but the system remains the same, nothing signfiicant has changed. 

As I pointed out in a comment on the first post, the usual means of introducing changes to the government system is to place one or more eminent and suitably experienced people in a room together – retired judges or Civil Sevice mandarins, for exmaple – and to ask them to use their great brains to consider the difficult questions and come up with an answer. But I think we need something a little more organised than this.

If we want to introduce genuine, systemic change – a series of changes to the system of government – we need to design those changes in an organised and coherent way. Any design activity involves:

  • agreeing a clear statement of what you want the thing you’re designing to do;
  • working out the best possible way of achieving the what – or in other words, some hows – given any known constraints.

As we’re dealing with a system here – by which I mean a set of interacting parts which work together to do something – it’s important that our ‘hows’ work together with one another as efficiently as possible.

I’m bothering to say all this partly because it’s essential to have a process if you’re going to change or design anything. But I also I think that one of the fundamental problems with our current system of government is that it really doesn’t do the job of ‘design’ very well. In fact, quite the opposite but I’ll return to that in another post. In the next post I want to look at some of the purposes – the whats – of the government system.  

Photo: Pavilion by R Buckminster Fuller by Mathew Burpee  Used under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share-Alike 2.0 license.



No way to run a country


Photo attribution below

Imagine you are planning to start a big company. You know that some sort of board or committee is needed to oversee its operations and make the big decisions. What should this group look like?

You have decided, after carefully considering all the options, to divide the board into two or three separate groups who completely disagree with one another about how the company should be run.

In fact, you specifically set things up so that there is no possibility of achieving consensus between the groups. Quite the opposite: each group knows that if it can dominate the others it will control the company and, therefore, be able to award itself the main positions of influence on the board. It can pay its sub-committee chairs much more than an ordinary committee member and they will all get a paid for staff, drivers and company houses in which to live. There are, in short, many reasons why one group would want to keep themselves in a position where they can dominate the others.

Pleased with this revolution in corporate governance, you decide you need to refine the means by which board members are appointed. Instead of basing this on their track record, competence and overall qualifications you decide on a much more radical approach: whether or not people think they come over well on television. Do they look good? Are they able to summon up a crushing sound-bite on the spur of the moment? Can they avoid questions and shake their heads convincingly if someone else says something they don’t agree with? These are the sort of people you are looking for.

I probably don’t need to go on. I am, of course, suggesting that the way we run our country is no longer – to use a phrase which is popular with politicians – ‘fit for purpose’. Our current system of government in the UK has – well, I was going to say ‘evolved’ but that’s not the right word at all – accreted over many years. 

From time-to-time people have decided that things are getting a little out of hand and that we need to take some power back from those to whom we give consent to govern us. Magna Carta (1215) was an early example, the Reform Act (or Great Reform Act) of 1832 and the Representation of the People Acts of 1918 and 1928 also resulted in a redistribution of power.

I think we need another major reform now. The actions of the current coalition government in the UK are, it seems to me, completely out of line with any mandate given to either of the parties involved. But more generally I feel that political parties in government now see themselves as answerable to the (largely corporate) funders and the lobbyists they hire to ensure that political policy represents their – rather than our – interests. it seems to me that the votes of electors are merely a means to an end for politicians who have been ‘captured’ by a range of interest grups.

I want to use this blog to explore and discuss the kinds of reforms which might be helpful if my main confention – that our current system of government is in need of fundamental change – is correct. 

Although the actions of the current government have brought these issues home to me, this is not blog is not intended to be particularly ‘political’. As I say in my Twitter profile I am a ‘middle aged English male seeking a political party which bases policies on sceptical inquiry, rational analysis and evidence’. I am keen to work with others to develop ideas which apply these principles to reform. In my next post I want to look at why ‘belief’ appears to play such a big part in modern politics, particularly belief in different schools of economics. At some point I also want to look at how ideas like systems thinking could play a big part in what I see as a fundamental re-design of the way we allow ourselves to be governed. I also want to explore ways in which new ideas could be implemented, particularly given that our current party based system is probably part of the problem and may not be up to the challenge of doing so.

What do you think?


Photo: Police tug of war along Toronto waterfront by Bob Catnorth 

 Used under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share-Alike 2.0 license.