Friday, 9 April 2010

Get a Vote – Denny de la Haye’s unique election campaign

[caption id="attachment_355" align="alignleft" width="173" caption="Denny is planning to give power to the people with his idea of online direct democracy."][/caption]

His name might be a bit of a mouthful, but Denny de la Haye's plan for representing his constituents if he wins the vote of the people of Hackney South and Shoreditch is very simple. Angered by the lack of ability of the public to influence politics and have their opinions heard and represented, he plans to stand on a platform of direct democracy - handing power to the people by letting them vote on the legislation presented before Parliament. The majority vote of his constituents would then be carried over into de la Haye's vote in Parliament.



Direct Democracy in its purest form hasn't been used for thousands of years, and even when it was used in Ancient Greece, where citizens could vote on issues, but it was only available to adult males. In modern times, representative democracy is used throughout all democracies, with varying degrees of ability for the public to have their input. In Switzerland, for example, referendums are used often - such as the recent controversial minarets referendum - and their results are legally binding. In the UK, we've seen referendums used more often since 1997, when Labour got into power, but still very rarely, and usually only when the government is confident of victory, shown when they ducked out of a referendum on the European constitution by using the excuse that the name had changed. We can, however, go further than referendums - de la Haye believes that people should be able to ensure that their MP is voting in their interests by telling them through a democratic process. Whilst it would be a big hassle to have everyone who wants to turning up at Parliament and debating and voting, perhaps the best alternative is allowing us to ensure that we can, in our constituencies, democratically ensure that our MP will vote how we want and represent our views. Currently, we elect an MP in the hope that they'll represent us well, but all too often the needs and views of constituents fall by the wayside as our MPs seek to keep in line with party policy and avoid the wrath of the Whips, even if this means going against the will of the majority of their constituents.

[caption id="attachment_358" align="alignright" width="318" caption="There is already an prototype of the voting and discussion website."][/caption]

As a web developer, Denny plans to put his skills to good use by using the Internet to let his people in his constituency vote on legislation and raise issues. So, let's take a hypothetical, nonsensical bill: the Shed Banning Bill, which seeks to ban people from owning sheds. Usually, MPs would vote how their party tells them to - so that would probably entail members of the governing party voting yes, and the Opposition voting against it. However, for the people of Hackney South and Shoreditch, they would be able to directly tell their MP how to vote by having an online discussion and then a vote. If a majority of people in the constituency have some uncontrollable anger at those damn sheds, they'd vote Yes on the website, and Denny would then vote with the wishes of his constituents at the vote in Parliament.

Since I find our current system of politics mostly deplorable, I was rather impressed with this idea. I think there's a massive divide between the public and most politicians, and we don't get nearly enough say in the legislation that affects us. There's this rather arrogant, haughty impression I get from Parliament, with MPs generally believing they know what's best for us, and doing all they can to keep us well away from influencing the running of the country.

I wanted to know more about Denny's idea, so I've had a little mini-interview with him:

Bradley: What inspired you to run as an MP on such a different platform? Was there a particular event that made you think that the views of the public needed to be better represented in Parliament?

Denny: Actually there wasn't any particular item that triggered my idea (it's been building over the last 10/15 years or more, and fairly set for the last few years), but the progress of the Digital Economy Bill has made the point for me in quite spectacular fashion while I've been campaigning.

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Bradley: You mention on your website that you’ve been involved in political campaigning in the past – is there anything in particular that you have felt especially passionate about campaigning for in the past?

Denny: Various things, but in particular lately the right to protest, and the Digital Economy Bill.  The former because I think it's an important part of a free democracy that we can protest against unpopular political decisions, and that our political leaders heed those protests.  The latter because ironically it's going to go some way towards damaging our chances of being a strong competitor in the digital economy, and that's my industry.  That's before you even start considering the civil liberties issues with it.

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Bradley: There could be problems with your proposed online system of voting - such as difficulty for those without Internet access; multiple voting by one person; and people voting from outside your constituency - do you have any ideas for overcoming such kinks in the system?

Denny: Multiple voting is easy to block out - we don't let people spend money from their online banking multiple times, and it's just as easy to block multiple voting, if you're only counting verified user accounts.  The verification stage will include the geographical verification you're asking about too - people will say "I live in Hackney South and Shoreditch", and that will trigger a notification to an admin for that area (probably someone on the MP's staff), and they'll do an offline checking process (using the electoral roll, and possibly the postal service) before ticking the 'verified' box.

Digital exclusion (people without 'net access) is a harder problem, but also one that the Government are currently throwing a lot of money at, because they've realised that they can save money if they can put more public services online and get people to access them there.  On that note it's a shame that the 'broadband tax' was dropped from the recent Finance Bill in wash-up, but I'm sure another similar plan will be along soon enough - it's in the Government's interests to get people online.

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Bradley: From reading your website, I got the impression that you’re far more in-touch with ordinary folk than many MPs. Do you think that part of the problem with many of our current MPs is that they are detached from most people due to being more wealthy or career politicians who have little experience outside of politics?

Denny: It seems likely.  There's an established career path for MPs of coming up from a PPE degree at Oxbridge, then interning and so on.  It's all very internal.  I'd like to see more MPs with general experience of working in an external industry before they aim for politics.  That said, I think we'd also benefit from some younger MPs, even if they are inexperienced, because they'll be passionate and dedicated.  More of a mix is the main thing we probably need.

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Bradley: If you are successful in becoming the MP for Hackney South & Shoreditch, and are given the chance to present a Private Members’ Bill to the House, what will it be?

Denny: That will depend on what issues people raise on my website.  I hope that I'll be able to push for a wider deployment of the direct digital democracy idea, if it seems to be working well, but that might take care of itself if other areas get DDD candidates in the next election.  I'm happy to share the web platform with other MPs and PPCs.

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Bradley: Thanks very much for your time, and I wish you the best of luck with  your campaign. You’ve restored a little bit of my faith in politics – we need more people like you to help sort out our mess of a political system!

Denny: Thanks again for the kind words.

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He may have a name worthy of the aristocracy, but unlike most politicians, he's down-to-earth and in touch with the likes of you and me and is leading the campaign to empower the people.  It was very pleasing for me to see that there are people out there who, rather than just moaning like I do, are trying to make things better, and give people a voice to be heard. I think it would be a fantastic leap forward for not only the people of South Hackney & Shoreditch, but also British democracy as a whole, if Denny were to be elected at the upcoming election. Whilst independents traditionally have a very difficult time winning seats, Denny's platform and promises are so unique and appealing that he seems to stand a better chance than others. Furthermore, if he can topple the Labour majority there, it would send a clear message to the established parties that the public don't support the current system, and aren't happy with the state of our politics. It would be fantastic to see the idea catching on, and at the next election seeing a growing number of independent candidates campaigning under the same platform of giving power back to the people and genuinely representing the public.

If you'd like to find out more about Denny's campaign, you can find his website at getavote.org.

With thanks to Ara McBay for the  photo of Denny.

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