This is part 3 of my “Achieving True Democracy: A New Breed of Party as Realistic Next Step” articles. Here you can find part 1, the introduction for the article series, and part2, a short description of the idea of the Proxy Party.
The Proxy Party could give itself the normal type of program like a normal political party. But I would argue that it should go a different route to emphasize that. This route includes:
…the Proxy Party is more trustworthy,
…will be more open and adaptable to add topics based on the will and current priorities and their members and
…will ensure it will stay to be more representative than the conventional parties.
Why a party program at all?
A program should achieve the goal to rally people around a set of values and goals and enable its officials and elected representatives in parliament to act efficiently guided by this program.
A new party could decide not to have a party program at all. It could ‘simply’ ask its members or even all politically interested persons to give input and could aggregate this and drive forward these topics according to demand.
This would send a message to all politically interested that there is a new party in town that truly listens and will take care of these topics. But there were many new parties that promised to listen and act in the last years and decades.
I argue that this approach without an explicit program would only go half the way as the mass input will only be converted into good politics if the democratic process in the new party is not distorted like in the conventional parties.
It will only have a chance to achieve a meaningful democratic change if it puts safeguards in place for the information and democratic processes. It will be only trustworthy if it acts far more transparently than conventional parties.
My argument is that the implicit rules that everybody agrees on should be made explicit.
After all, we all long for a new party that listens to us, doesn’t take silence as consent, doesn’t select facts like it pleases it (or even make them up), doesn’t lie to us, follows democratic rules internally and is transparent so that we can check all of these preconditions for a good political process. Let’s agree on these values as ground rules! Otherwise, the new party would miss out on the chance to signal that it will be a fully better and trustworthy democratic alternative. A promise to be different and to listen is not enough. We need guarantees for democracy and transparency outlined as a very specific party program to finally have a trustworthy partner in parliament.
I propose to split the party program into two separate parts: the core program and the extended program.
This thematic restriction underlines the focus to provide a new breed of political party as a better democratic alternative. It offers a commitment to fundamental social values and is at the same time open to current issues and decisions. It focusses on the core promise of the Proxy Party: a good representation based on well-balanced facts and a truly democratic process. It also prevents the party from deterring potential members or voters in the initial phase by prematurely selecting topics and future proofs of the party.
The reason for the split of the program
The main reason for the proposed split of the program is the establishment of common ground. We are all in desperate need of real representation. Instead of hoping for the best and see democracy dwindle, we have to take care of this ourselves.
We can install new ground rules that form the rules for future political representation and offer a better alternative to the existing party system that forces us to hand out blank checks to members of a profession that have proven untrustworthy many times in the past. We should offer a better alternative:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a better new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”Buckminster Fuller
The core program should be constructed as a kind of new ‘ground rules’ or ‘operating system’ for political parties. It should focus on democracy, transparency, fact-checking, deliberative and democratic processes, and true representation.
Of cause, you could just write internal rules and duplicate the text and incorporate this into a normal party program. But this wouldn’t achieve the same as ..
.. this ‘normal procedure’ would not underline the importance of this democratic upgrade as a prerequisite to be able to achieve all other goals and
.. would mix the core values with the other topics and would thus abandon the chance to split the party program in a more fixed part (e.g. approval of 75%) and a more flexible part (e.g. 60%).
In the best case, these new ground rules will act as a seal of trustworthiness for parties that chose to play the higher democratic game with the true meaningful participation of its members.
In theory, all of the alternative political parties could unite under the roof of a new Proxy Party, agree on these ground rules, and build a better alternative for representation. All groups could agree on transparency, focusing on facts and deliberation based on these facts, informed decisions, true co-determination (with the 5% takeover vote), and representation with a 1:1 transfer of votes to parliament and form one strong alternative to the conventional parties.
How should the core program be determined?
The core program is the operating system for the new party. It needs to be decided by a broad majority of the members, e.g. 80% of present votes with a minimum of 60% of total existing votes. By deciding on the core program, the members give themselves and their representatives rules to follow.
I would suggest that later changes to it can be only made by a two-thirds majority vote or even 75% or even 80% and with at least 50% of total existing votes. The challenge, especially at the very beginning, will be to formulate these rules specific enough but also flexible enough as they certainly will have to be adapted according to experiences made to optimize for efficiency and effectiveness.
What should go inside the core program?
All of the mentioned points below are only a first approximation of the texts that should go inside the core program. These should aim to establish the ground rules for a trustworthy political party, that facilitates fact-based, well-balanced, deliberative processes to help its members to form their individual, well-informed political mind independently and its 1:1 representation in parliament.
Purpose of the Party and Grassroots Democracy: The Proxy Party aims to improve democracy and the direct representation of voters. From the point of view of the situation at the time of the founding of the party, it considers the next step to be the supplementation of representative democracy with a meaningful direct-democratic corrective.
The party will assist its members to form their individual political will based on checked well-balanced facts and deliberative processes and will represent their will 1:1 in parliament. It will strive to add strong direct-democratic elements to the representative political system, strengthen the system’s resistance to undemocratic influences, and remove existing rules and such that hinder a fair democratic representation of voters. The party will work to achieve true democratic separation of powers, namely the three pillars of democracy: executive, legislative, and judiciary, and its fourth unofficial pillar: media.
The party is a grassroots democracy. The party officials act as representatives of its members. The members have the right to insist that decisions have to be taken by the basis of a qualified takeover vote. This starts a pre-defined process of gathering well-balanced facts, fact-checking, and deliberation. All elected representatives of the party are bound to represent the results of this process as accurately as possible in parliament.
The party will strive to install referendums and popular initiatives at all state levels with uniform, reasonable hurdles, full transparency, fact-checked input papers, and multiple mandatory planning cells of 25 randomly drawn representative citizens independently evaluating the proposal. The results of the discussion of the cells and their recommendations will become part of the official voting documents sent to the voters.
The party will work to implement ranked-choice voting to make tactical voting unnecessary and achieve a far better translation of the will of the voters to elected parties/representatives.
Transparency – The party is transparent internally and externally as “sunlight is the best disinfectant” and transparency is the best preventive measure against patronage, corruption, and other abuses. It will install systems that prove its’ adherence to its rules for well-balanced fact gathering, fact-checking, information preparation, deliberation, voting, and representation.
The party and especially its officials and spoke persons will strive to use clear language that reflects the issues as they are instead of giving them a distorted meaning. Some ideas for the core topics democracy/transparency to think about for concrete ideas that a Proxy Party might be able to agree on include:
New Rules for Politicians: Make income statements of all elected representatives public, grade of accuracy: $10,000. Prohibition of the acceptance of lecture fees during the active term of office. A three-year ban on any lobbying activities for high-ranking parliamentarians who leave office. Establishment of an approval commission.
Lobbyists: create a mandatory lobby register with strict rules (whom it applies to, required data and transparency to provide, sanctions for misconduct, etc.). Lobbyists can talk with politicians, but they can’t give them money. Paid lobbyists can’t work in ministries. Have an introduction of a publicly accessible register of meetings with lobbyists for every elected representative (attendees, topics, time).
Party Financing: ban on corporate donations. No hidden financing through advertising in party newspapers or stands at party conferences or the like. Restriction of private donations to $500 per person per year. Better: Conversion of party financing to a system financed exclusively by the voters, whereby each citizen receives five $20 vouchers for each election. Unused vouchers go in a fund for election system improvement projects. Create a mandatory real-time register for party donations.
Decisions on their own behalf: establish laws for the financing of the parties and/or the delegates (deciding on their own behalf) come into power only in the next legislative period. This vote has to be pre-approved by the member base of the Proxy Party.
Control the State: install an independent central unit for whistle-blowers on the federal and state level that acts against the misuse of state power. A blockchain-based log for access to personal data by authorities. There will be only logged access with registered proof of a judge authorizing it. Shorter archiving periods to allow for a timelier political reappraisal.
New Rules for Parliament:
- Establish a documented ‘legislative footprint’ who gave input or otherwise influenced the creation of a draft bill or regulation, etc.
- Ban lobbyists from pre-writing laws and implementation of strict rules for exclusion of representatives from votes that have conflicts of interest as described in my book Upgrading Democracy.
- Well-balanced allocation of speaking rights and time by the members and not by the chairmen of political groups and banning of the obligation to follow your political group (whip) but opening towards grassroots democratic votes.
- Tightening of laws so that a minimum number of representatives must be present during votes.
- Banning of ad-hoc votes to allow for due preparation.
On the last two points mentioned above, a very narrow definition of exceptions should be given in order not to undermine the democratic control weights; the explicit consent of the Chairman of the Assembly is required.
New Rules for Drafting Laws and Laws: Transfer of the preparation of legislative papers to an independent policy assessment department that acts as ‘impartial judge’ and prepares each case for/against changes of laws incl. an internal group that is vetting factuality, reason, and balance. “This would ensure that the debates improve in quality, accuracy, and accountability. That is, for each new law, independently create a publicly available case for and against, based on vetted contributions from all interested, including any costs and risks of change. Then have all of our legislators take the time in parliament to hear the vetted evidence and reasoning within those cases and make an informed and well-considered collective decision.”[i]
Automatic sunset clauses for all changes. The results of the change have to be measured against the expected effects. The measurement has to adhere to a predefined framework. If ever possible, a change has to be trialed first in a pilot project with a thorough evaluation of its effects before it is rolled out to the whole nation.
Elections and Ballot Papers: add an option on the ballot paper ‘none of the above.’ This offers frustrated voters a more differentiated expression of their will than to stay away from the election or to hand in an invalid ballot paper. It also allows a statistical evaluation of the percentage of the ‘none of the above’ votes.
Reintroduction of Freedom of Speech: abolish all laws that counteract freedom of speech or a clear distinction between intolerable incitement to commit crimes against persons on one side and politically uncomfortable reports and opinions on the other side. Objective criticism should always be welcome, especially when this is based on facts and logical argumentation.
New Rules for Public Organizations: conversion of public sector accounting to a publicly accessible blockchain-based accounting system.
New Rules for Media: Reduction of the participation of parties in media companies to one which must clearly bear the party abbreviation in its name, e.g. “SPD Media.” There should be a ban of ownership of media companies for persons or organizations involved in the production or trading of arms or other military material (ownership of at least 1%) and also a disclosure of the ownership structure of media companies above a certain range. The last beneficiaries have to be mentioned in the imprint from 5%.
New Rules for Public Media: Abolition of politics filling positions in public media institutions. All content has to be provided under a Creative Commons license. Restriction of the public-law bodies to a quality-assured basic supply of information. Introduction of a ‘Consumer Control Council’ at state and federal level, composed of non-party citizens elected by lot for four years. Advice to the Control Council by a citizen-elected honorary committee consisting of retired non-party journalists.
How should the extended program be determined?
The extended program is the second thematic layer for the new party. New topics can be added with a two-third or a three fourth majority. Unlike the core program, the extended program is more flexible and can add or drop topics more easily.
As I have written in my book Upgrading Democracy:[ii]
“You can compare the Proxy Party with a white canvas waiting to be painted. The canvas itself sets the frame with its form (democracy and transparency). The painter should wear clear glasses (media) so that he can judge his environment and the results of his work on the canvas as objectively as possible. The party members must agree on the theme of the picture, the materials used, and the atmosphere of the picture. They co-operatively design the work.”
Discussions about topics to add should focus on shared values and common ground. The challenge is to find shared values and common ground in spite of political discussions majorly being shaped by discussions in different languages:[iii]
- A progressive will communicate along the oppressor-oppressed axis
- A conservative will communicate along the civilization-barbarism axis
- A libertarian will communicate along the liberty-coercion axis
It is so easy to think of someone else as being politically crazy, stupid, biased, lazy, or deceitful as ‘he doesn’t get what is really at stake.’
The Proxy Party is about all these schools of thought and some more, like the Democracy-Strengthening- Dismantling axis. It’s not about moral superiority. It’s not about demonizing the other side. It is about an appreciative discussion with the goal of finding solutions for our common challenges. This does not require agreement on all points, but only on some basic values that almost all of us share. In most cases, the participants of a discussion don’t differ in the values themselves, but in their assessment of where society currently stands in achieving these values, the priorities of these values and how they should be achieved.
Since a 100% achievement of one of these basic values is hardly possible or requires a great deal of resources and affects other values, it is almost always a matter of weighing up how we want to achieve the optimum in achieving the common values. If we discuss on the basis of verifiable facts, logical conclusions, and a weighing up of these basic values, good solutions will emerge.
In order to achieve these solutions together, we must all be open and not simply fall back on the learned answers of our ‘quick thinking’. We must follow a deliberate critical process in which we do not think as ‘aggressive lawyer’ but rather as ‘impartial judge’.
As Hannah Arendt aptly pointed out, reality does not lie with one person, but between persons:
“If someone wants to see and experience the world as it really is, he can do so by only understanding that it is something is shared with many people, lies between them, separates and links them, showing itself differently to each and comprehensible only to the extent that many people can talk about it and exchange their opinions and perspectives with one another over and against one another.”Hannah Arendt
You can compare the common search for truth with the addition of extra senses, which give the truth more sharpness through the addition of further perceptions:
- The second eye corrects the perceptions of the first and adds depth perception and peripheral vision
- An ear complements the perception with an echolocation
My suggested course of action for the extended program of the proxy party would be ..
.. to renew all topics of the extended program at the end of the year and the annual member conference.
.. to send each topic, which doesn’t receive a 60% majority vote, into the official deliberation process described before and decided upon at the next annual member conference.
The Proxy Party offers benefits to dedicated individuals and groups with specific issues. Based on thorough preparation of their topic they have a good chance to be heard in the Proxy Party. This gives them a much better chance to make their concerns heard than by founding their own party, which has only a marginal chance of political representation.
My personal opinion what the Proxy Party should focus on in the extended program
While the core program focuses on democracy and transparency as a precondition of an honest and representative system, the extended program has to focus on solutions to our pressing problems. Let me share what I proposed in my book Upgrading Democracy (with some minor changes):[iv] In short, it is foreseeable that ‘business as usual’ continuing will lead to a catastrophe and that the changes proposed by most parties will not suffice while others bring us too close to an authoritarian regime.
The following is a list of what I consider to be the central and most urgent questions we as a society should ask ourselves and find solutions for:
- How do we provide billions of people with a livelihood and meaning if technological progress destroys far more jobs than it creates?
- How do we reduce poverty so that everyone can lead a dignified life?
- How do we raise money for the elderly with fewer workers and far more older people?
- How can we change the game to produce more winners and fewer losers, soften the fall of users and make people act kindlier and more fairly while playing the game?[v]
- How can we prepare for a global financial crisis?
- How can we prepare for a Euro crisis?
- How can we make a decisive contribution to improving the situation in developing countries quickly and sustainably, so that people no longer need to immigrate to Europe/the US in large numbers?
- How can we massively reduce environmental degradation?
- How can we prevent ‘The New Cold War’ from becoming hot?
- How can we modify our economic system to positively influence the above-mentioned points?
- How can we assure that we don’t just “dream up the nicest fantasy and drift of a cliff in search for it but look at the real world, be strong enough to face it – and from there on, try to do what’s best and most realistic given the circumstances?”[vi]
List of the main underlying factors:
- Our economic and financial system
- Technological progress
- Environmental policy
- Demographic development: aging society
- Economic and development aid policy
- Societal development
- Geopolitics and foreign policy
Some approaches in the form of questions:
- How can technological progress be used more effectively to achieve a significant improvement in the quality of life of all people, including those who are not in official employment or have already left the labor force, without weakening the entrepreneurial forces that generate these innovations?
- How should an economic and monetary and societal system be designed so that as many people as possible experience a noticeable improvement in their quality of life? How can it be constructed more resilient?
- How should fair trade be designed and how should it be complemented by an effective development aid policy so that the quality of life in developing countries can be significantly and sustainably improved?
- How can an adapted or a new economic system and an environmental policy ensure a massive reduction in the depletion of resources and the accumulation of toxins, without limiting points factors one to three too much? How can technological innovations contribute to this?
- How can we contribute to a de-escalation of the political situation with a new foreign policy?
- How can we establish a ‘learning political system’ that focuses on well-balanced facts instead of political fiction and self-critically checks the results of its decisions and is open enough to change its course if required?
Tony Bracks, Solving for Democracy, p. 241
Upgrading Democracy: Claiming a Say to Achieve True Democracy, Peter Monien, p. 116
The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divides, Arnold Kling
Upgrading Democracy: Claiming a Say to Achieve True Democracy, Peter Monien, p. 118
Nordic Ideology, Hanzi Freinacht, p. 190-191
Nordic Ideology, Hanzi Freinacht, p. 47