Lack of confidence in no-confidence

A friend directed me to a recent article by David McWilliams about the silliness of flogging all state assets in a firesale to cover a bank induced collapse in the Irish economy. It occurred to me that since the recession started (bear in mind property peaked in 2006) we’ve seen a huge number of useful and positive suggestions from commentators like McWilliams but very few of these have been taken up. Some have. In particular the idea of a national recovery bond is an excellent one and was suggested on many blogs including this one many months ago.

The Irish Times poll results are largely anti-government. I’ve been looking at them every day and, apart from wanting public sector employees to have pay cuts instead of larger tax cuts for EVERYBODY, there’s almost no area of government economic policy that people seem to agree with. The average IT poll is negative on the government, short term economic recovery, economic policies such as the bank-bailout, NAMA, carbon taxation, health sector cuts etc.

Accepting that people are greedy and want something for nothing 🙂 or at least less than its economic value (not always the most popular view but often the most realistic), there’s still a crisis of democracy when almost nobody you meet agrees with governmental policy. For example, we have televised debates on the economy facilitated by wonderful characters such as Vincent Browne, Pat Kenny and Miriam O’Callaghan. Each great broadcasters in their own way. The questions are cutting. The opposition complain vociferously but the measures are voted through anyway. The debate about any particular issue was pointless until the next election. What if there was some democratic innovation that actually enabled people to oust their government, propose an initiative or repeal a law? Well there is, it’s just most countries don’t want people messing up the democratic process.

Wouldn’t it be neat if a motion of No-Confidence in a government was raised and voted on by the electorate, rather than the very group where the majority be definition have a huge vested interest in rejecting the vote. A science teacher I had in school used to say that you can improve most processes by imagine you’re explaining them to a Martian i.e. someone who is both smart and has no preconceptions. Imagine explaining some of the Irish “democratic” processes and political machinations.

What I’d really like to see is a genuine “people power” article in our constitution and a government with the principles and gumption to put it into action. It could be modeled on the Californian Ballot Proposition, part of Proposition 7 and one of the legal groundings for direct democracy in California. Other’s being the notable Recall Election.

recall election (also called a recall referendum or representative recall) is a procedure by which voters can remove an elected official from office through a direct vote (plebiscite), initiated when sufficient voters sign a petition

Let’s look at the people’s veto.

Laws already adopted by the state legislature may be vetoed by means of a referendum. To qualify a referendum for inclusion on the ballot, a referendum petition must have been signed by at least 5% of the number of voters in the previous gubernatorial election. This is also known as a “petition referendum”.

Then there’s the ballot or initiative proposition that could help good ideas be passed into law.

A ballot proposition enacted by the initiative process may alter the state constitution, or amend the ordinary laws of the state, or do both. An initiative is brought about by writing a proposed law as a petition, and submitting the petition to the California Attorney General along with a submission fee (in 2004 this was $200), and obtaining signatures on petitions from registered voters amounting to 8% (for a constitutional amendment) or 5% (for a statute) of the number of people who voted in the most recent election for governor. The signed petitions are then sent to the Secretary of State of California for validation of signatures.

Considering the relative size of California and the high level of representation/government per capita we enjoy in Ireland, I can’t see why we couldn’t have direct democracy. We love to mock Arnie but he’s become more moderate, arguably, due to a keen awareness that in California the governor servers at the discretion of the people.

There have been a few suggestions that we need to remake our constitution, notably from Justine McCarthy. I don’t think this is necessary but constitutional evolution is necessary, if only to help resolve issues such as the rights of children and unmarried fathers. Will we ever see an Irish government that trusts those who voted for it enough to give them direct democracy? I hope so. We may be greedy but we also care about our legacy and that spurs people to make better decisions and take accountability. It’s a timeframe that easily outlives a 5 year term of office.

A direct democracy provision in our constitution might even stop a well known Kerry man from perverting the will of the people to get favours for his constituency.