The idea of open Government today feels as far away to many of us as it must have been in 1265 when Simon De Montfort was King. He had seized power from Henry the 3rd at the Battle of Lewes the previous year and realised he needed to gather together a Parliament that represented all of the towns in England as well as the Barons. On 20th January he first assembled the combined group of Barons and Town Leaders and on Tuesday, 750 years later there will be a series of programmes on Radio 4 to reflect the impact of that Parliament on our modern democracy. This was the first time such a representative group had been assembled as a Parliament and whilst it was very much the Kings Parliament, there were no Political Parties to tell these ‘representatives’ how to vote or what policies to adopt. On Wednesday the White House is holding its second annual Big Block of Cheese day. This is an idea which had its origins in the West Wing TV series, the writers drew their inspiration from a very large cheese which President Andrew Jackson was given. According to Wikipedia it was a mere 635kg block of cheese and it was consumed in 2hrs by all who cared to show up. The modern Big Block of Cheese day is not open to all who show up, unlike in Jacksons day, but all who have access to the internet or social media can participate so it is a great deal more open than the Government usually makes itself. The hashtag is #AskTheWH
As we approach the General Election, we know that even with the recent surge of members for the Green Party, that a mere 600,000 people are members of any Political Party, yet it is the Parties decide what goes into manifestos and then once in Government put pressure on the Government of the day to do as they wish. This is very different from the egalitarian big block of cheese access to the White House or the idea of a Parliament that hears all voices equally. We clearly need a different way of deciding on big issues and even some of the small issues that our Governments currently decide upon. Despite widespread public support for including the Green Party in a TV debate, our senior politicians are arguing amongst themselves about whether to allow the Party to participate or not, as though it was their decision. It seems as if they are the Barons and the members of their parties are their armies. Some of these local activists do act as though they are fighting battles with pikestaffs and bows and arrows, especially through their tweets and other forms of communication. What these local people are supposed to be doing is understanding the minds and views of you and I so that we can be better represented within their party structures, what they actually do is to try to capture us over to their side of the battle and to support their colour rosette. What we need is a radical change to the way in which decisions are taken in our nation that has the same sort of impact as that of Simon De Montfort when he first had the inspiration to gather the representatives from all of the towns in England to have their voices heard, that Andrew Jackson had in mind when he opened up the Whitehouse for a cheese buffet.