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Originally published in The Book of Visions: the Encyclopedia of Social Innovations (London, Institute for Social Inventions, 1992) edited by Nicolas Albery
Consider the possibility that the programme presented by each political party to the electorate could take the form of a draft contract - a legal contract rather than simply a social contract. During the run-up to the election parties would each be free to modify their proposal in the light of feedback from the electorate and from opposing parties. But their proposal would become final (and 'frozen') at some period prior to the election (say one month). The proposal now constitutes a commitment (or formal 'tender'). If this 'bid' is accepted by the electorate, in that the proposing party comes into power as a result of election, the commitment then takes the form of a binding legal contract between the party and the highest power in the land, namely the crown or presidency.
This makes it much more difficult for the government to renege on commitments. The form of the contract could, amongst other things, provide for time clauses in relation to such commitments and the kinds of penalties to be imposed on the contracting party if it is found to be in default. Clearly 'escape' clauses could be explicitly built into the original contract to provide for unforeseen emergencies. Clauses could be included to define the status of commitments made subsequent to the election.
In the event of a coalition of parties forming the government, again the principle of participation in any such coalition could be outlined in the original proposal of each party. The coalition would then be defined by a further contract linking the original contracts on which the electorate had expressed itself. Legal form is then given to 'letters of agreement', with appropriate termination clauses.
To clarify the feasibility of this proposal, a detailed study is required of the appropriate 'rules of tender' and the kinds of contract which could be formulated and the degree of freedom required by contracting parties; also of importance is the relationship of privatised government to a permanent civil service. Similar studies could be made for local government.
Why should elected representatives, whether individually or collectively, be immune from prosecution?
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