Transforming Politics in the 21st Century 11 Jun 2015

I’ve just returned from a debate at the RSA on transforming politics in the UK. The resounding – and familiar – conclusion is that the adversarial party political system is so over. Fit for purpose 200 years ago it now woefully ignores advances in technology, citizen empowerment and expected standards of public service.

Click here to join the discussion on Thursday Jun 11th (4pm UK time, 5pm CET, 12pm EST)

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Is it good enough?

While the expenses scandal of UK politicians may have been the last straw for UK voters, it is not the main underlying reason for a global trend of increasing disenchantment with democracy. Imagine if retail worked the same way. Every five years you got to pick one store that you would use for everything. It would be the only one you could use and you would have to buy everything it sold. Even if the day after you chose it there was a policy change and they now only sold GMO and processed food when you had voted for them because of their fresh vegetable selection. Or doubled the prices.  You wouldn’t stand for it would you? Nor would most of the other customers. There would be rioting on the streets. There would be outrage. People would take action.

How fascinating then that we have been successfully trained to put up with this sort of deal when it comes to something way more important. This is no longer just shopping at stake, this is our health, our education, our civic state. This is the way we treat criminals, the elderly, immigrants and each other. This is everything and yet our say is so minimal and so infrequent.

So what’s the alternative?

Having competing governments operating parallel systems like different brands of retail store could be tricky. But not entirely impossible. A worthwhile thought experiment at least just to work through some of the issues.

Another option would be a super coalition. A proportional representation so that Parliament roughly represents the preferences of the population and a Big Cheese is elected separately.

Or how about no politicians? Have people on charge of say, transport, who know about… Oh let’s say, transport. And then a serious process of derivative debate and research to agree strategies that maximise benefit for the population overall. That any of us could seek to be part of. Protected, of course, by some checks and balances to avoid vested interest ruling the roost.

Current status

Apparently there are more members of pressure group 38 than there are of any political party in the UK. That’s a good clue. When I explain the voting system to my teenage children I have so far failed to come up with any argument compelling enough to get them to vote (one because they say they know too little so can’t make an informed choice, the other because they live in a parallel world where authority has no value and little clout).

I am impressed that the Dutch government show a more open minded tendency. Ministers in various fields have held online citizen dialogues where the wisdom of the crowd is allowed to influence the outcome of the policy. A lot more subtle than another referendum and more representative than a town hall meeting with its attendant risk of being taken over by the loudest vested interest. See the road tax example here.

Next steps

They say we get the government we deserve. If the current system is good enough for you then fine. If not, then rather than moan about low citizen participation, let’s see what we can do about it. What’s your first step going to be?

I run an independent online dialogue forum called The Thinking Tank. Our next conversation will be about citizen engagement and how we shift from leaving  it all to top down politics towards more bottom up collaborative decision making where we all become part of the solution. Got a point of view? Let’s hear it. See you there on Jun 11th (add your name to our mailing list using the form on the right to make sure you get the right info about it)

Click here to join the discussion on Thursday Jun 11th (4pm UK time, 5pm CET, 12pm EST)


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