Declaration of Purpose of the Independent Constitutionalists UK
POLITICAL-ECONOMY FOR PEOPLE AND PLANET
ICUK is a movement and political process to create a Constitution for the UK that instils integrity into Parliamentary debates, offers citizens participative representative democracy, voters a proportional electoral system and the people the means to build a just economy that reduces inequality and conserves and replenishes planetary resources
This Declaration is intended to be used as a meta-narrative and source of inspiration for the preparation of individual Constituency Manifestos by Constitutionalist and other Independent parliamentary candidates, who, sharing these principles, values and goals and by reason of their competence, integrity and civil experience shall stand in future elections.
Democracy is the art of thinking independently together - in the UK there is a way of making it achievable.
It is our belief that moral purpose, trust and belonging are the essence of social being, that the way we are governed is a matter of concern for every citizen and that entitlement to rights entails shared responsibility for the collective creation of the means for their enjoyment. We aim to use the system, to become the system, to change the system, to recover trust.
Our elective representative democracy in Westminster has ceased to represent the interests of the people adequately. Successive Acts of Parliament that have created our uncodified constitution have failed to ensure that the centralised decision-making power accorded to Parliament justly expresses the will of the people.
This democratic deficit is revealed in three ways. Many voters find it difficult to question the truthfulness of political claims in the mainstream and social media. The first-past-the-post electoral system can result in the votes cast bearing little resemblance to the party-political complexion of Parliament and in MPs representing a minority of constituency inhabitants. Winner-loser competition between political parties generates tribal loyalties which combine with lobbying pressures causing MPs to disregard the opinions and needs they hear from their constituents.
Voters thus feel powerless and angry. Governing the country in these confrontational and ritualized ways is not in keeping with the behaviour of the people around them. Most are remarkably social and unselfish. They cooperate more often than create discord, and volunteer supporters of beneficial causes are not hard to find in streets and villages across the country.
Trust in politicians has thus been severely eroded by this stark contrast. But these negatives can be redeemed by groups of constituency citizens using the system, to become the system, to change the system, to recover trust, and by invoking People Sovereignty underpinned by the notion of Constitutional Supremacy entrenched in a Written and Living Constitution.
We therefore propose:
I. SYSTEMIC POLITICAL REFORM
1. That the prevailing "elective" representative democracy whereby citizen participation is confined to voting in local or general elections at distant intervals be replaced by "participative" representative democracy. This combines the ongoing involvement of citizens in the management of public affairs with genuine bottom-up representation, mandated and accountable.
2. That current adversarial, bipolar party-politics and the winner-loser point-scoring Westminster culture should now give way to agreement and consensus creation by independent MPs - loyalty to constituents must take precedence over party allegiance and compliance with party disciplines.
3. That in future elections constituents ask candidates if they accept an ethical code for elected representatives.
4. That, in light of their comparative advantages, the processes whereby, at whatever level, representatives can be selected for or removed from office - election, sortition (selection by lots), combinations thereof, rotation, renewal and recall - be the subject of in-depth public debate and scrutiny. In this way, functional structures, mandated and accountable, based where possible on time-limited allocation of responsibilities, can be made to replace the fixed hierarchies that cause status-creation and corruption.
5. That the existing First-Past-the-Post electoral system be reformed as a matter of urgency and moved toward proportionality thus to obtain greater correlation of votes cast with the resulting representation.
6. That henceforth in all elections and, where resorted to, referendums, the people be responsibly prepared to make informed choices before voting.
7. That the franchise for all elections and referenda be a settled residency period for citizens aged 16 years and over.
8. That, where decision by simple majority vote is stipulated, constitutional checks and balances combine with adequate citizen preparation to protect minority interests.
9. That a fair political-funding system for the preparation of elections and referendums be established that upholds the " one person one vote " principle and prevents the unfair use of personal and/or institutional wealth to leverage political influence.
II. A WRITTEN CONSTITUTION FOR THE UK
10. That the principle of Parliamentary Sovereignty (of undemocratic origin) by which we are currently governed be replaced by that of People Sovereignty underpinned by Constitutional Supremacy and entrenched in a Written and Living Constitution.
11. That the initial purpose of Constitutionalist and other Independent MPs when elected to Parliament, either through occupancy of a majority of seats or of a significant proportion thereof, shall be to work for:
(a) responsible preparation and holding of a referendum on whether the people of the United Kingdom wish to continue with parliamentary sovereignty or adopt people sovereignty underpinned by a new principle of constitutional supremacy; and
(b) if the latter, establishment of an Advisory Constitutional Convention, whose task shall be, through widespread citizen participation combined with expert opinion, to advise the Westminster Parliament and government on the drafting of a new Constitution.
12. That said Draft Constitution make provision inter alia for:
(a) the existing Supreme Court to act henceforth as a UK Constitutional Court or Council, empowered with major new constitutional responsibilities, including power to declare unconstitutional and therefore invalid any laws that violate the Constitution.
(b) special procedures for amending the Constitution's provisions;
(c) clear specification of the roles and functions of the branches of government and of civil society;
(d) the expression and entrenchment of the shared values of the people of the United Kingdom, and of the principles of true democratic self-governance, thus serving as a compass to guide the people in their moral aspiration and direction of political travel;
(e) following public deliberation, the adoption of the said Draft Constitution by the people of United Kingdom in a responsibly prepared referendum and subsequently its enactment into UK law by Act of Parliament;
(f) inclusion (in the voting papers for said referendum of adoption) of an option for continuation of the House of Windsor as titular head of the United Kingdom following its oath of allegiance to the Constitution.
III. SYSTEMIC RENEWAL OF THE POLITICAL ECONOMY
13. That Independent parliamentary candidates, supported by constitutional change and constitutionally entrenched citizen participation, shall campaign for the gradual creation of a Political-Economy for People and Planet that provides curative reform of the existing system through implementation of the values and principles set out in this Declaration. Further, said process of creation shall include democratic scrutiny and citizen deliberation of inter alia the policy options set out hereafter:
(a) Economic Sanity Whereby the Economy and Economics are no longer confined to the so-called "efficient" production and distribution of goods and services, but are seen as integral with the Political-Economy as a whole, the locus of rich patterns of trust-based social relations of intrinsic value, and the theatre of activities that are integrated, inclusive, regenerative and distributive by design. Within this Political-Economy, Markets combine with Households, the Commons and the State to produce human and planetary flourishing, organised and managed sustainably. The Circular Economy is but one one example of such organisation and management;
(b) Measuring Economic Efficiency Replacement of GDP as a measure of the UK's wealth by the UN's Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI), and other metrics such as the Inclusive Wealth Index (IWI);
(c) Economic Inclusion & Distributive Justice Building social justice and fairness into the process of wealth and value creation through inclusion, enabling people to be part of the process and to benefit directly and not just passive observers and recipients of benefits downstream, compliant to the decisions of others;
(d) Reform of the existing Monetary System and renewal of Public Oversight of Finance Convinced that the current financial and monetary "mess" is the result of almost 40 years of dominant economic thinking that (1) money, finance, and markets are neutral, and know best; that (2) banking and finance should be unconstrained, and (3) that central banks and governments should simply step out of the way, Constitutionalists propose:
- Promotion of public understanding of money, banking and finance and their uses, which releases the latter from the control of a supposedly "neutral" technocracy and exposes the poor understanding and misconceptions of classical and neoliberal economics;
- Development of regulations that make possible public control and oversight of finance so that finance serves people and the productive economy rather than the speculative interests of a minority;
- Democratic deliberation towards consensus on, among other issues: Money Creation o Credit/Debt o Interest o Central-Bank and Real Interest Rates o Monetary Financing (People's Quantitative Easing) o a debt-free Sovereign Money System o Community Currencies o Credit Guidance and the respective roles of Public Finance Institutions and Private Banks o Government-supplied Safe Assets o and International Capital Controls;
(e) Ecological Transition Promotion of a healthy environment and of public awareness through inclusion, (e.g. Democratisation of renewable energy production);
(f) Reform of the existing Fiscal System and Funding of Public Investment:
Knowing that one of the principle functions of government is the funding of public services through, among other sources of income, taxation, and convinced that governments must take the lead in developing effective tax regulation rather than relying on self-regulation and negotiation, Constitutionalists propose:
- Promotion of public understanding of location value, of land use and ownership, and of the concepts of "good" and "bad" sources of public revenue;
- Democratic deliberation towards consensus on:
- An Annual Ground Rent or Land Value Charge - a rental, that is, on all private land use (1) as a significant means of financing the public services to which that land gives access and (2) as a disincentive to property ownership for purely speculative purposes, in particular "land-banking" (the holding of land "out of use");
- Measures to ensure the fair levying of "good" revenue raisers, and effective regulations to prevent global tax avoidance by individuals and multi-national corporations.
- Public Investment in the localisation and balanced regionalisation of public services: education, social care (including family support and services for older people), health, and social housing;
(g) Social Responsibility A requirement that companies, as co-creators of the country's wealth, declare their public benefit purpose and ownership obligations, and abide by them, thus diminishing their financial commitment to disconnected shareholding that limits their research, development and innovative capabilities;
(h) Subsidiarity Decisions affecting the lives and management of communities shall, where and whenever possible, be taken by those more directly concerned by the consequences of such decisions;
(i) Regionalisation In which over time capital cities, subregions and districts are granted statutory powers within boundaries that are formalised through participative referendums;
(j) Accountability All public institutions to be endowed each with its own charter, including Trust Status for public utilities such as the NHS and the BBC, the latter being required to support the deliberation of citizens prior to elections and referendums;
(k) Equality To the equal political and legal status of all citizens be added their right, through greater democratic participation and economic inclusion, to equality of opportunity irrespective of gender, sexual orientation, race, belief or other arbitrary form of discrimination. Such equality of opportunity must enable them to live long, healthy and creative lives and to achieve outcomes that they have reason to value;
(l) Citizens' Rights Extension of the International Bill of Human Rights (accompanied by a Citizen Code of Responsibilities), to include a commitment to life-long learning and quality of work. Democratic scrutiny of the idea of a Citizen's Dividend;
(m) The Commons (see Explanatory Note below):
- Prevention of all further commodification and appropriation into private ownership of all public space, amenities and institutions whereby to preserve them as Commons for the benefit of the communities which share in their stewardship and management.
- Constitutionally established: protection of all Commons; identification of their boundaries and of the user responsibilities and rights of the communities involved; and promulgation of Ground Rules for their future sustainable management.
- Restoration of Commons theory and practice as an essential component of economic thinking and a main pillar, together with Markets, Households and the State, of a new Political-Economy for People and Planet;
(n) Education In constitutional literacy, democratic practice and civics in all schools and places of education;
(o) Big-Data, Technological Innovation and the Political Economy The current rising-tide of digital and technological innovation is seen by some as a source of unbounded opportunity, generative of new forms of political organization, as something upon which the survival of our species will ultimately depend. Others see it as immersive, intrusive, disruptive, inscrutable, beyond democratic oversight and ultimately destructive of what is valued in human society and even of human kind itself.
For Constitutionalists, however, three things are important:
(1) Technology is never deterministic, and can be used to create very different kinds of society. Deciding which of these to realise may well be the most important moral challenge humankind will have to face in the coming decades. Humanity has become a major agent in shaping the circumstances of its own existence, and for this reason if for no other, the decisions it makes in devising a future for itself within its planetary habitat will be matters of political choice and not of engineering or scientific inevitability.
(2) The survival of our species will depend not on palliative technological fixes but on curative systemic and mindset change, on our being able to move away from our current unsustainable, growth-based system that generates inequality and has humans competing with each other for increasingly scarce resources. It will depend, ultimately, on our ability to subject accelerating technological change to democratic control and oversight. An "ought" cannot be got from an "is" and just because something becomes possible does not mean that it is desirable. In other words, the grasp of our moral imagination must catch up with our technological reach.
(3) It is unlikely that of and in themselves digital eco-systems with their virtual connectivity will offer a new global civic space - a viable real-world structure of political organisation - capable of driving co-creative activism. Algorithm-based digital and robotic technologies will doubtless prove valuable tools in creating a better world, but only real-world participative deliberation can define and confer legitimacy on the ends that will make that world better.
IV. ADDITIONAL NOTES
Guidelines for consideration in creating the new constitution
The range of national constitutions around the world shows each one is crafted to suit the country's geography, history, population distribution, cultural traditions and political aspirations, normally with provision for amending its clauses over time. And they vary in forms of government and political systems on a scale from confederation through federation to regional integration, and even more decentralised devolution.
The Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is exceptional because it does not have a single codified constitutional document. But its rich tradition of incremental amendment by successive Acts of Parliament provides a base on which to build a codified constitution that offers moral progress, trust, and a sense of belonging.
Confederation - the functional coming together of sovereign equals - might well prove the desired future extension of this constitutional inititative, three of the four nations already having their own assemblies and cultural identities.
But account needs to be taken of emerging demands for more devolution - for instance from Greater London and Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, etc., and from Cornwall (Mebyon Kernow), Yorkshire, the Northern region, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man - whose constitutional integration may best be served by a federated or confederated system of regional governance.
In short, the range of options is plentiful. But so also is the documentation available to inform future debates on constitutional change: not only from other countries but also from previous parliamentary debates in Westminster, particularly those from the 1960s onwards.
Explanatory Note: The Commons That it is necessary to explain the Commons, perhaps the oldest-known model of social organisation, testifies to their neglect. In these times, when conceptions of the world tend to be prescribed by notions of individualism and private property, it's no surprise that the Commons are often misunderstood. A Commons is neither state nor market nor any thing. It is a material, institutional or cultural resource - such as land, water, minerals, scientific research, hardware and software or a facility for democratic deliberation - plus the community of people who have shared and equal rights to this resource and who organize themselves to manage it, plus the rules, protocols, systems and negotiations they develop to sustain it and allocate its benefits. The activity of such communities to achieve such ends is known as "commoning".
A true Commons is managed not for the accumulation of capital or profit, but for the steady creation of prosperity and wellbeing. It belongs to a particular group, who might live in or beside it, or who created and sustain it. It is inalienable, which means that it cannot be sold or given away. Where it is based on a living resource, such as a forest or a coral reef, the commoners have an interest in its long-term protection, rather than the short-term gain that could be made from its destruction.
Over the centuries, the Commons have been attacked by the forces of rent-seeking capitalism, frequently abetted by the state - a process that has accelerated since the early 1980s. Thus, resources that no one invented or created, or the value that a large number of people through commoning have co-created, are stolen by those who sniff another opportunity for generating unearned income. This theft of value by people or companies who did not create it is called enclosure. Originally, it meant the seizure - supported by violence - of common land. This practice of land-grab started in England, spread to Scotland, then to Ireland and the other colonies, and from there to the rest of the world. It continues to this day as a global phenomenon. Behind all forms of enclosure lies the continuing unequal prior distribution of wealth that characterises capital-controlled economies the world over.
Now enclosure, which can be seen as the polar opposite of resource use and maintenance through commoning, is in fact the commodification or privatization of shared wealth. It means that things that were previously freely available, or collectively managed, pass into the hands of individuals or, in collusion with governments, are privatized and made available for market exchange. This process is cast as 'progress' by Neo-liberal market economics and put forward as the way that human development happens - i.e. the way that wealth is generated. But in fact, it is often just a radical way of dispossessing people of resources that are rightfully theirs and whose value they help to co-create and maintain. Moreover, and perhaps most important of all, it creates a damaging and dangerous disconnect (*): it removes things from their organic context, be that a community or an ecosystem, so that they can be sold. In so doing, it disrupts the relationship between a community and its resources, destroys the shared rules and protocols that govern their use, and reduces said "resource community" to a collection of isolated individuals vying unequally to maximize an individual share of what was commonly theirs in the first place. Indeed, the Commons Enclosure story helps us talk about and understand what continues to be the great unacknowledged scandal of our times: the removal into minority ownership and rent-seeking exploitation of the wealth that belongs to all of us.
But for Constitutionalists, more than a system for managing individual resources, the commons presents a model for a new (old) way of organising society, a new politics, neither capitalist nor socialist, and a radical path towards the co-creation of a truly ecological political-economy. Constitutionalists are fully aware that restoring Commons thinking to the public mindset and its widespread practice constitute a colossal challenge. They are calling for a national debate about an alternative to the current system that permits a rent-seeking minority to capture increasing quantities of public wealth and in so doing to destroy, with virtual impunity, widening areas of public value. The Commons, Constitutionalists are convinced, will be a crucial part of that alternative. Some of the issues that debate will need to address might be:
(1) Commons relations: Recognition of the trust-based existential nature of relations within a co-created Commons economy. This contrasts with the competitive, strictly contractual nature of relations within a commodifying market-economy. The members of a Commons develop deeper connections with each other and their assets than we do as passive consumers of corporate products. This must mean reshaping governance to meet the needs of communities and not just corporations, and reviving the Commons to act as a counterweight to the fragmenting, alienating forces now generating a thousand forms of toxic "populist" reaction.
(2) User Fees & Location Value: This is the idea that land and its resources belong to us all (but only by reason of our shared stewardship and management of them), together with the notion that the value of land is a function of its location, i.e. its proximity to community-created amenities. Since land and its resources are inalienable, it is suggested that they can only be temporarily removed from the public domain for private use in return for a user fee or Annual Ground Rent. The value of any existing property on land, or of its subsequent development at the user's expense, would accrue to the user and be subject to market exchange when use of the land in question is passed on or returned to the public domain. The proceeds from land-use rents could constitute a community reserve, part of which could be used to fund a social rent dividend (or Universal Basic Income) to citizens as a return on the location value they help to create. The payment of such dividend or income would constitute the single most effective protection of the Commons against free-riding "land-bankers" and rent-seekers. It could be part of a root-and-branch reform of the current fiscal system whose taxing of earned income places a punitive and unfair burden on productive effort;
(3) The notion of local "user expertise" as an essential pillar of sound Commons design and management. Outside expertise should be "on tap but not on top". This will require a massive ramping-up of local participative democracy whereby Commons Communities "belong" to their members by reason of the membership's involvement in their design and ongoing management;
(4) Restoration and promotion over time of a Commons mindset leading to the co-creation of a systemically reformed and curative Political-Economy for People and Planet which integrates Commons, Markets, Households and the State (genuinely reformed and representative Regional and Central Governance), thus providing a viable alternative to the prevailing mismanagement which continues to produce so much inequality, social injustice and ecological degradation.
(5) Constitutionally entrenched acknowledgement of Commons Regimes and their accompanying Rules and Protocols, and protection against external commodifying encroachment. Should not a major new chapter of any future constitutional settlement, alongside the existing separation of the three functions of government, be entrenchment of protection of the Commons and of the participative/deliberative processes (fair, facilitated, respectful and informed) that make both the Commons and Democracy possible? One of the basic principles of Commons governance is subsidiarity - the idea that decisions should be made at the lowest level practical. While there will always be some benefits to centralisation to reduce duplication and to deal with large-scale or global issues such as climate change (hence the reference above to Regional and Central Governance), many decisions can and should be made by local communities for themselves within democratically determined limits. The Constitution will need to identify such limits and to show how Commons Communities can be fitted into an overall, readable structure of political organisation and governance that citizens can understand and value (see Section IV of the Declaration of Purpose).
(6) Minimum individual entitlements: Finally and more generally, in parallel with the widespread promotion of Commons regimes, the members of every household, as well as a minimum livelihood, should be guaranteed a safe, private space in which to found a "home".
(*) A disconnect that in our day has achieved astonishing proportions: where all previous social organising principles saw markets, land and money as 'embedded' within social relationships, today's rent-seeking mismanagement of the economy has 'disembedded' such relationships. It has removed from the operation of market any social, religious or moral constraints, and disconnected finance from the productive economy altogether, whittling shareholder commitment and "interest" down to a single narrow goal: the short-term maximization of return on investment.
Examples (largely unacknowledged) of functioning Commons: subsistence economies the world over ● community-owned forests in Nepal and Romania ● lobster fisheries in Maine ● pastures in East Africa and Switzerland ● FOSS: free open-source software that has underpinned the creation of Wikipedia, Internet, Linux, digital libraries and a whole range of other Commons : intellectual, literature, music, arts, design, film, video, radio and heritage preservation (#) ● journals published by the Public library of Science ● the Helsinki time-bank ● local currencies and open-source microscopy ● lollipop ladies ● households ● the British NHS (at least until recently) ● pubs, meeting places and other ACVs (assets of community value) ● and probably the greatest of them all: democratic deliberation! Or as the song might put it: " those best things in life that are free!" Free, of course, at the point of delivery, but created by painstaking commoning.
(#) The main principle in Knowledge Commons is the issue of 'copyleft' licenses (as distinct from copyright) which grant licensees all necessary rights such as the right to study, use, change and redistribute on the condition that all future works building on the license are kept in the Commons.
Examples (again largely unacknowledged) of fragmenting Enclosure: the recent PPI fire-sale of franchises over sections of the health, social welfare, security and transport services and other public utilities to rent-seeking private firms and companies ● the conversion of fines for anti-social behaviour into fees for dispensations ● the use of the social good or Commons that is Money as a speculative asset ● the temporary renting-out of public park-space as Event Venues to offset shortfalls in funding from public revenue ● attempts by the recent US administration to destroy internet neutrality and to prohibit community broadband ● the extension of commodification of intellectual property through trade agreements ● academic publishers' capture and commodification of the research freely provided by scientific communities ● the increasing use of business bottom-line models for the management of social services ● and a double-whammy this one: the weakening through commodification of our already ailing system of elective democracy by those who use "our" wealth to purchase and leverage "their" political influence. Alas, the list is virtually endless!
Explanatory Note Acknowledgements: ICUK gratefully records its indebtedness to the ideas and in some instances the language used in articles and books by the following authors: David Bollier, Fred Harrison, Tim Hollo (and The Griffith Review 59: Commonwealth Now), George Monbiot, Richard Murphy, Kate Raworth and Guy Standing.
Editors’ note: without being overly stipulative, the purpose of this Declaration, together with its Explanatory Notes, is to provide a clear and comprehensive statement of ICUK values and proposals. It is designed essentially for use by collaborating activist individuals and agencies and by Constitutionalist and other Independent parliamentary candidates in preparing their manifestos in future elections. It remains work in progress.