godricgal: (Default)
[personal profile] godricgal
Is anyone else super excited about the election? We only become a democracy every four-five years, and I've been practising my Xs for the last five years, just waiting to make a difference.

Honestly, I didn't think I'd feel like this because representative democracy is outdated and, in my view, undemocratic in and of itself, as the only representation our representatives make is of their own party policies, or, very rarely, their own personal views, with little or no deference to the majority view of their constituents.

This discussion at the BBC is almost overwhelmingly populated with comments from people who feel disenfranchised from the political process, who not only want the government to listen to them, but want to have a direct influence in what happens in our country. In short, the consensus seems to be that the people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland want a change to a participatory democracy.

I could go into this forever, about why these demands are being made now (widespread access to the Internet and a better and more widespread standard of education since the last major overhaul of democracy in 1928 are the key points, I think) but there are two important things to consider.

Before I go into that, I will preface it with this: there are plenty of people out there who say they will not vote. These are generally made up of two sorts of people: those who profess not to care about politics and those who say there is no difference between the two main parties. The former group are being lazy -- they'd all care if their benefits were cut or could no longer see a doctor without paying for insurance or proving their ability to pay ahead of time; the latter group are surely prime supporters for a system of participatory democracy.

Important thing number one: The Tories, in their manifesto, are alone among the three main parties in making moves towards such a system. They don't go nearly far enough, but such a change cannot come overnight and we're not quite ready for such a system to be made formal (mostly pending Universal Access). Their draft manifesto includes pledges to make any ePetition that gathers more than 100,000 signatures eligible for debate in Parliament, and allowances for any that has more than a million signatures to have a bill tabled by a member of the public.

Important thing number two: The Labour party downright dismiss the idea of any move away from representative democracy: "We operate a representative democracy, and so the Westminster Parliament, must remain at the heart of this country’s governance," says the Labour Party website, on the topic of modernising democracy. (Just to make the point clearer, the use of ICTs only get a passing mention in this document and refer only to eGovernment, which is nothing to do with democracy -- the ability to buy one's tax disc online has no bearing on anything other than convenience, and the large majority of the use of eGovernment systems is to make it easier for the government to administrate, and (this last point is my opinion but I believe it's true) the large majority of that is to make it easier for them to know when we're doing something they believe is wrong -- i.e. it's a revenue generator. Also, why would they explicitly make this point if they did not feel threatened by a large movement for change?)

Representative democracy is a system that was devised for the representation of the people in a time when it was impossible for the general population to be responsive, a time when it could take days for a message to get from one end of the country to the other. It was the best they could do at the time, but it is not the best we can do now, far from it. So it is ridiculous for any party to talk about modernising democracy without capitalising on the Internet and its potential for acting on the will of the majority, which is what democracy really means. The raw fact is that the will of the majority is only exercised every four or five years. Gordon Brown and the Labour Party do not want to share the power of government with the people.

Opponents to such a system argue that the general population is not well enough informed to have direct influence over government policy. Patronising much? Not to mention the fact that it is often the bestowing of responsibility that prompts responsible action, and clearly never, in the history of humanity, has there been a greater tool for access to information than the Internet.

Low turn out to the polls is almost universally attributed to voters feeling that their cross in the box does not mean anything, that it will not change anything. Participatory democracy solves that and the Internet facilitates it. It's obvious, surely...?

It's not that there aren't barriers to such a system, but total reform cannot happen overnight -- it's a paradigm shift, massive social change, but that does not mean we cannot aspire to it, or should dismiss it as too big a change. Ironically, one of the biggest failings of democracy is that change is impeded by the almost constant change in government. And there are interim measures that could be taken without great constitutional change that will give ordinary people direct influence in Westminster. And I will spend the next few years proving that. ;)

In the meanwhile, I'll enjoy the anticipation of doing my bit for democracy, such as it is, on the 6th of May.

N.B. I am obviously a supporter of the Conservative Party, but I have been very careful in considering the policies of the three major parties in this argument. The reason the Lib Dems haven't got a mention is because they do, predictably, focus on PR in their talk of political reform. The truth is that, once a true system of participatory democracy was enacted, party politics would, in the end, become defunct - what I'm interested in is who is most likely to initiate such a system.

Anyway, that's my piece for tonight. I'm not sure that I'm going to be able to keep quiet throughout this election, but I will put everything under a cut so those who'd rather not read can just pass over.
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March 2011

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