How much do you really know about your local MP and is it time for a radical change?
No surprise that Parliament is a toxic environment full of bullies; after all, politics is a dirty, divisive game where few, if any, holds are barred.
Nor do we voters know much of a given MP's personal views, let alone private conduct, because everyone is organised behind party flags and expected to toe the party line. Outspokenness is frowned upon, and dissent viewed as a crime.
Why then should we expect politicians to be honest, upstanding citizens when the basic premise of belonging to a political party is that they curb their own values and mute their feelings in order to present a united front?
In short, to lie about who they really are – by omission, at least.
Take a look around at your local MPs. Strip away the party slogans and ideological rhetoric, and what do you know about them as people?
Very little, I suggest. Even though you may have voted for them.
So to wind up with a Parliament containing a mixed bag of as many dubious all-sorts as there are in wider society is almost a given.
It's not a consequence of MMP, either. Sure, that fills a few more seats with bums you know nothing about, but you know next-to-nothing about most of the rest anyway – save what the media tells you.
They're supposed to represent us, so shouldn't we require more disclosure about who they are?
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And even though individuals have had to fight their way up inside their branches and go through screening and selection processes within them, still all of them are there courtesy of the party they belong to, not by and for themselves. Because the party is what we the public vote for, primarily, and the party vote determines the numbers.
Here's a radical suggestion: what if we banned political parties? What if every person who stood for election did so just as themselves, with whatever support they could muster from their local communities? What sort of result could we expect?
First, I suggest you'd get just as wide a range of viewpoints to choose from, because every stance has a natural support base.
But those standing would have to be more open and honest – and more particular – about exactly what their views were.
Second, you'd get a lot more emphasis on people's character and circumstances – their background, their business; what they do in their communities, how they conduct themselves, where they personally draw the lines on any issue, and why.
And because contests without party agendas would then be more open, there'd be a lot more interest from voters (especially current non-voters) and a lot more scrutiny of and discussion about candidates.
If this seems too large a burden on someone standing, bear in mind it's because you want the best. And likely the bad apples – the skeleton-hiders and kickback-takers and vanity-seekers and, yes, the bullies – would be put off from standing at all.
Naturally, once elected, MPs would gravitate to forming alliances with others of like mind, so something akin to party politics would arise within a Parliament. But a government would coalesce around natural leaders rather than be thrown together lump-sum, and MPs would be free to vote with their conscience and in their electorate's best interests, regardless.
Inclusion would have to be the watchword – drawn together in consensus, with the country's wellbeing the only true measure of success.
Okay, such an idealised democracy is a dream that may have little hope of evolving.
But given the reality-check of what we suffer under now, against the enormous challenges this century presents, isn't that a dream worth aiming for?
* Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet. Views expressed are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's.