Government by Binding Contract
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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
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?