Interview with Denny de la Haye: PPC for Hackney South and Shoreditch

By Chris McCarthy

Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats have evidently struck a chord with an electorate yearning for change. In a recent Populus poll 75% of people said “yes” when asked if they wanted a change from Labour. Whether that sentiment endures to polling day remains to be seen. And whether the change sought comes in a shade of red, blue, yellow or a mixed palette is one of Dick Cheney’s ‘known unknowns’.

Denny de la Haye, an independent candidate for the Labour seat of Hackney South and Shoreditch, hopes to tap in to that appetite for something different by running on an innovative platform for the May 6th elections. Will the electorate be enticed by the change he offers? I went to see him last week to find out more.

What is your platform and why are you running?

It’s called Direct Digital Democracy. Direct democracy is one man one vote taken to its extreme where people vote on each issue as they come up. The idea is that people are interested in issues even if they’ve never gone out to vote. I’m trying to get people interested in politics by offering them just the bit they care about.

You talk on your website about the stranglehold that our whips system holds on a free and open parliament. But aren’t political parties a necessary evil? They offer a vision for the country, leadership, a holistic approach to governing. Not just ad-hoc voting.

They can give you that consistent platform but they don’t always stand by it. Parties present you with their manifestos and then so often fail to follow through. The 1997 election is often cited. Labour promised a referendum on the voting system and then when they got into power with a huge majority they decided they quite liked the system after all.

Maybe some of the things parties bring are good but overall they are the main reason people have lost faith and interest in politics.

You’ve said in a discussion on opendemocracy.net “people aren’t politically engaged because they see a huge gap between their vote and what happens in Parliament.” How can your one vote change that apathetic mood?

Obviously I will only have one vote but with a hung parliament a real possibility and with half a dozen to a dozen independent candidates in with a chance of winning, they will be to the parties in parliament like swing voters are to them during an election. Parties might have to come to them and they will have to make a good case for a law or piece of legislation rather than pushing it through on a party whip. If anything they might end up with a disproportionate amount of power.

As to how much any one vote will affect my vote: obviously it is only one vote among 60-odd thousand in Hackney but I don’t anticipate everyone will vote on every issue. People have particular issues that are relevant to them that they will vote on so people will see their vote having some influence on the way I behave in Parliament.

Is there not a danger once the novelty wears off people may not participate or that the only people who will are those with the most vested interests?

People often raise that and I’m not sure it’s a problem. On the first question; it’s possible but there’s no way of finding out the impact of offering direct democracy to voters without first doing it. I think it could work well – obviously I would or I wouldn’t be running on it! – because people can see their vote effecting the change they wanted. Conversely, those who ‘lost’ on a vote could be more motivated to rally greater support for their position next time.

With regards the latter, where situations are confrontational, you will find groups on both sides. When you have a minority group you will often find that they have greater inter-connectivity so when it came to votes in parliament I think you’ll find they balance each other out.

On issues such as fishing in Scotland the only person whose going to vote is the woman with an uncle or cousin in the fishing industry in Scotland. Are my constituents going to care that she was the only one that voted? Probably not because it doesn’t affect them.

How are you going to convey complex legislation to your constituents in an accessible way but without being prohibitively reductionist or imparting your own opinion?

It’s difficult but one of the things the site has to do is put information alongside the function to vote so that people can make an informed choice when they vote. So if a vote came up on the equality bill I could post my opinion; “I think we should vote yes on this. Here are my reasons. Here is some information you can read that tells you why I think that.” But someone else could post that it’s a terrible idea and post something else up about the sanctity of marriage. People would then be able to vote on those resources.

As for the detailed nature of a bill a briefing would be made available on the site and they are all publicly accessible for anyone to look at.

You have identified three exceptions, areas of law, that you will always vote in favour of, regardless of your constituents’ preferences. Laws that, improve equality; improve civil liberties; and improve our democracy. Do these exceptions not offer you carte-blanche on very major issues; do they not undermine your project?

To some extent I have to answer yes.  However, I believe that on most votes where they would be relevant, there would be very strong public support for the way I’d want to vote anyway; most
people are in favour of improved equality, and nobody wants the UK to turn into a police state. Democratic reform isn’t quite as exciting as those two subjects, but I suspect that people who
end up with me as their MP might come to feel quite strongly about it when they start seeing the ways in which the current political system works against their involvement.

I don’t think my platform is an ‘all or nothing’ situation.  I’m offering people something far closer to a real direct democracy than any other candidate in my area, possibly nationally.  It may not be a perfect direct democracy, but it’s still a pretty unique proposal that puts vastly more power in the hands of voters than anything any political party is offering.

Do you realistically think you can win or is this an awareness project?

I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t think it was possible.  I’m offering something unique. That uniqueness gives me the chance to win votes from all kinds of people, whether they usually
vote for one party or another, or whether they’ve never voted before.  One thing you hear a lot about politicians is “they’re all the same” – that’s clearly not true of someone running on my platform,
and I think that will appeal to a lot of people.

What about the other roles of an MP; will your scrutinise the Executive, sit on committees, etc?

One of the things my site will do is let my constituents raise issues they would like me to pursue, and vote to prioritise those.  I’d be very interested in sitting on select committees related to their top-priorities, to gain a deeper understanding of them and to contribute to the scrutiny of related legislation at an early stage.  I’m also personally interested in civil liberties and political reform, and would like to be involved with policy-shaping in those areas if I had time after dealing with constituency business.

Finally, in light of events in the past few years, is trust in British politics permanently damaged?

That depends on what is done to revive it.  To regain our trust in politics we need far more awareness of what our political system is doing from day to day and year to year, and why it’s doing it in that way.  We need open and accountable politicians, and that’s not something party politics is geared towards giving us.

You can find out more about Denny’s campaign here: http://getavote.org/pages/main/home

 

 

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