Democracy 2.0- Alternatives to the current governmental system

So now we reach our final article in this series. It’s an article for me which will probably be the easiest to write because it allows me to delve into my own passion for political society. But despite that huge appetite for all things political, I am unique in that my friends and peers do not share that appreciation. I have chosen to explore this passion through reading books, watching parliamentary proceedings and other things of this nature. Some of my friends (and they know who they are) have an active disdain for politics, so why the difference?

How does a passion begin? Like all aptitudes it begins at an early age and is shaped by the circumstances and education of the individual involved. Like a child playing a musical instrument, the key is getting them involved as early as possible and reinforcing this involvement with frequent reminders/lessons. Hobbies and occupational pursuits formed when young can shape an individual’s life. How can we apply this to the political process? Education.

I’m not talking about indoctrination of the youth, far from it, I’m talking about specifically defined stages/nudges towards the development of a general understanding of the political system from the get-go. It can start with a simple lesson in nursery/primary school before graduating to more in-depth discussions as children age. Simply put, it’s about installing the political process in our schools, so that tomorrows voters are aware and active in political discourse.

At present, the only political education that school children receive comes from their own pursuits and the limited explanations afforded during history classes. They receive no up-to-date knowledge about today’s politicians, the difference between political systems and how political decisions affect them. We give them the ability to vote at age 18, but no practical reason to do so, and you wonder why they don’t want to.

Knowledge is power

Giving them any sort of knowledge could tip the scales, it could give them the motivation. Practically, how would such a plan play out? A lesson or two every year during primary school, just asking simple questions like, who runs the country? What is a law? Even a trip to a council office, small things like that. Build them up as individuals get older and then when they move into senior school, make it a more regular and detailed occurrence. This subject should not be optional, it should have the same bearing in school as English, Maths and the Sciences. I’m not talking about dropping a subject or adding to our teenagers already large educational burden. We need to give them greater real world studies as many have called for with education on personal finances.

Drawing from my own experiences, towards the end of my schooling we had a regular lesson called general studies, which was widely regarded among my peers as a joke course. Even today, I can’t think of a single thing I learned in it, yet I came out with a C at GCSE level. Make room for politics in the lesson plan and while the rewards may not be immediate, they will come. We will breed generations of children who know what a politician is, what he or she does and how it affects them. This knowledge can change the face of society.

But beyond schooling and education, how can we keep that knowledge and enthusiasm going, in a way that is unobtrusive and does not endanger freedom of expression? The key to this process, as it should be in the whole political process, is transparency. We need to show the practical results of the political decisions taken.  When a politician agrees to do something, which affects the local community, the community should be made aware of the politician’s involvement and his/her reasons for doing so. It should be published in notices across the affected area, in the same way that the council publishes notices of community works.

Community engagement

These notices should also be replicated in the local paper, so that those who are not in the area affected can see how things are being done and discern motivations behind political decisions. Also, do we see politicians in our local areas? Quite often no, even during election season. Politicians should be made to tour their constituencies on an annual basis, all throughout their parliamentary career. This needs to change and with increased voting turnout this will. I can see the logic in the minds of the politicians, a few scripted events rather than a full tour, but with increased voter turnout comes the increased chance they might get ousted, so it’s definitely in their interests to do more.

And more could not only encompass more presence in the local community but more interviews in the local papers, perhaps even a regular opinion-led editorial in a local newspaper. However, great care must be taken to ensure these do not become a de facto party political broadcast. Community fairs, leisure events, market days, these are all events in which a politician can show their face. They might be busy, I hear you say? Well, politicians are very busy people. I acknowledge that but they are public servants who have very little connection with the public they serve and that to me is wrong.

Annualised events and community initiatives, while laudable, can be forgotten. They can become routine, so how do we reinforce positivity and awareness of politicians? Well, everyone loves a public holiday, so why not a public holiday on behalf of politicians? America has presidents day, how about parliamentary day? It wouldn’t need much organisation and could be in one of those void periods during the year when no public holidays occur.

Another way to keep politics in the minds of people is to advertise, not in the partisan way of the party political broadcast, but in an independent way using non-partisan language. Slogans such as: Politicians fighting your corner, if you don’t vote, you go unheard etc. Politics is our product and we can use the latest advertising techniques to ensure that this product is something which is prized and wanted by all.

This can extend to print, online and broadcast media but it must be done in as simple as possible a way to avoid being seen as the extension of some darker totalitarian agenda. Slogans must be uniform and non-partisan, together with being easy to understand. A no frills version of political engagement. In this age of the instant celebrity, the utilisation of celebrities, sporting heroes and others of note in such a campaign is a virtual prerequisite, as people will increasingly do whatever celebrities tell them. Entire trends are built on celebrity input, and the influence of this on the political process can bring a lot of weight to bear.

Shock and awe

In a lot of ways, merely increasing awareness of the political process can make up a lot of ground in winning voters back to the ballot boxes. However, while it may bring them back, if you want to truly change the nature of politics and democracy, it needs to be more than just awareness. We need dramatic and real change. This change cannot be merely initiated by the politicians themselves, the public must also play its part or the engagement will become a fad, something to be brushed off within a matter of months.

Active engagement at all levels is an absolute necessity if these reforms are to be successful. There also has to be an acknowledgment at every level that the current system is failing, that we can do better. To achieve this acknowledgment, we must know all the facts and the only way to do that is to create dialogue and get the views of the electorate. An incentivised survey is perhaps the most obvious way of addressing this issue via targeted questioning. Questions could include: Do you trust politicians? Have you voted previously? Do you vote? Why don’t you vote? All we are talking about are simple questions which get to the heart of the issue. Why is the voting count in this country so low?

After a predefined period, the results must be published in as wide and open a way as possible, and there must be an active commitment from the government and political parties to work to address identified issues. Importantly, to avoid a cloud of negativity, this must be presented in a positive way, as a period of national introspection and renewal. I say a positive way because you only need to look at Brexit to see how an issue has become so divisive and so damaging to this country. Brexit is a triumph for the British electorate, and while there will be consequences of our decision to leave, the reality is we chose it, despite these issues.

A political renewal and change process must also be a granular choice. We must choose to acknowledge our system is not working and then work on a new one. That is when Democracy 2.0 can truly begin.

Democracy 2.0: Understanding the failure of democracy

Democracy, or rule by the consent of the governed, is quite honestly the perfect system of the modern nation state, in that it represents the interests of the people in a way where if those interests diverge from that of the rulers, they can be replaced. Totalitarianism, whereas is perhaps the worst expression of how the nation state can be subverted into an environment of repression, where freedom of expression does not exist.

So you may be wondering, why this article is entitled understanding the failure of democracy. For any  system to truly fail there must be a natural point where that system was perfect for the decline to take place. Since there has been no natural point in history where democracy has been perceptibly perfect the contention that it has totally failed is somewhat erroneous. And yet we can say that democracy is failing the electorate.

Why? The evidence is obviously really, in most elections throughout the world, the voter turnout is quite often less than 100%, and in some recent elections and referenda, its been less than 50%. Now we can call it changing views and a changing societal outlook but put it simply: If the governed do not feel interested enough in selecting those who govern then why govern in the first place.

Governing becomes an action of necessity rather than a civic duty, we govern because we have always done so and so it continues. But eventually, the motivations for governance will fade and at that point the point of democracy will be lost. You only need look at the disenfranchisement taking place to see the start of this process. We as a society have a responsibility to arrest this and we can with a few changes.

The Generation Game

Generations are becoming disenfranchised with the political process, with viewing figures for reality TV shows far higher than those of your average parliamentary questions session. Voting figures in elections continue to slide, the names of ministers become less important than whichever vacuous Instagram influencer or Kardashian clan member has a new fashion line.

But to some extent, why would they? What does joe public have in common with your average politician? They are seldom seen, and are often seen as aloof, privately educated individuals who have no connection to the common man. They are not believed and seldom trusted by citizenry, sometimes with good reason and other times unnecessarily so. We never see a politician outside of a scripted carefully choreographed environment, surrounded by toadies and when approached by members of the public, they never deviate from the party line, despite the individualised nature of the questioning.

However, I want to qualify this statement by saying this perception of politicians could be endemic to those within the higher echelons of the respective parties. There may be many hundreds of politicians who work hard, connect with the communities they serve and are good and responsible public servants. But we never hear about them!

Kings of spin

In most forms of publicly scrutiny, politicians they are often seen to misdirect truth and employ rhetoric to avoid answering questions, aiding this distrust among citizenry. Citizens do not understand the work that politicians do, both in their respective communities and externally.

Worse than this, entire sections of society are collectively switching off from politics. Working class individuals are often apathetic about politicians, often using the adage “doesn’t matter who gets in it’ll never change” to justify staying absent from the political process. In the case of BAME individuals, they often feel their views are not represented because of the absence of BAME politicians, which is something of a misnomer due to the presence of pioneers like Bernie Grant, Diane Abbott, Oona King and so on.

The conduct of politicians over recent years has done nothing to aid this disconnect. In parliament, politicians bicker, behaving like children, shouting each other down and increasingly slinging mud when they should be acting in the interests of the public. Worse than this, it is seen by the electorate in newscasts, interviews and latterly on social media, adding to the negative perception of parliament.

The problem is not endemic to the UK, in the US, tweets by Donald Trump are regarded as the mating call of the lesser spotted idiot, in which he says whatever he feels regardless of who he offends and the political consequences. This is not the denigration of politicians as a result of freedom of speech, which every person has a right to do (we are in a democracy after all), this is the politicians effectively sabotaging themselves through their increasingly crazy actions.

In addition, the second part of this disconnect exists at a local level, where politicians, due to a flawed system fail to engage with the electorate that they serve. This leads to many people thinking quite rightly, why vote for you, what have you ever done for me? Without a demonstrable track record anything the politician says would most likely be considered as hot air.

Democracy is on the verge of eating itself, not because of some rival political system, but because of its own failure to address issues and move with the times. The disconnect between voters and elected officials is becoming a gulf and to be quite honest the only people who want to become politicians are often the people who are most ill-suited to do so. The world has become a breeding ground for corruption, where politicians work behind closed doors to maintain regimes at the expense of the people that keep them in power.

Tackling the problem

So how do we address this issue in a way which preserves the system which has flourished for centuries and could still do so? The fundamentals of democracy are worth preserving, the consent of the people, appointing representatives to serve communities, one person from these individuals leading the nation state to a collective future. These are the things that work and should be preserved.

But at the same time, we can lose these things due to inaction in addressing the things identified above which are failing. Drawing parallels from an individuals life, if you want to become a better person you must first acknowledge that you have problems and work to address them. This is something we as a society must do with democracy, we must acknowledge the failures and then work to overcome them.

Developing a totally new system requires time, patience and testing, something which our civilisation cannot really afford to do because it is so entrenched in our DNA. We must therefore work under the current system and introduce staggered targeted improvements into the process while there is still time to save democracy. But what are these improvements and how should they occur? This is a question I’ll attempt to answer over the next series of articles. This is Democracy 2.0.