As part of the launch of The Electoral Commission and Hansard Society’s Audit of Political Engagement 3 there was an event at Portcullis House last night.
A full house got to hear the offerings from:
Sam Younger (Chair) – Chairman of the Electoral Commission
Dr. Philip Parvin – Hansard Society
Matthew Parris – "Tabloid" Journalist
Pam Giddy – Power Inquiry
John Healey MP
Andrew Stunell MP
Douglas Carswell MP
I shan’t give you a précis of the event, just some potted highlights for me. Italics are my thoughts. I would hope the Hansard Society will provide the official record for those of us who don’t work in London or do but couldn’t make it.
The points of view where I could ascertain them where as follows:
Dr Parvin – The public doesn’t participate in politics therefore giving them more say in decision making through participative democracy would be a bad thing. This was a bit of a “give up” attitude. My reading of the research is that people don’t believe they can make a difference so they don’t bother.
Matthew Parris – The room is full of people who have a professional interest in there being a problem with politics and engagement but there isn’t. We live in a democracy and if we don’t like the ways things are we can replace those who govern us every four years or so. We’ll know there is a real problem when people are rioting in the streets not when a survey tells us so. Matthew Parris was missing the point that most people don’t think there is much of a choice. Most people feel you can kick out one bunch and sure enough a few month’s/years down the line they turn out to be the same as the last bunch. Mind you his point about the self-interest of the group was far too close to the mark for comfort.
Pam Giddy’s points are better summarised in the Power Inquiry Executive Summary, but she re-iterated that there are three courses in their menu of political reform. Rebalancing power from the executive to parliament; real parties and true elections, & downloading power. We don’t need to take everything on the menu but we do need to take all three courses. Finally she told us that it wasn’t a case of having either Representative Democracy or Participative Democracy. We can and should have both. Nicely put.
Next we heard from the MP’s.
John Healey MP spoke first and I really can’t pull out his defining points.
Douglas Carswell MP, author of Direct Democracy, gave a clear and engaging view of how politics could be made more representative through using direct democracy techniques. He believes people are disengaging from traditional politics because they don’t believe their representatives can make a difference. He believes that too much real decision-making has been transferred to QUANGOs and SupraNational organisations. His solution is about people taking back power from the centre through devices such as open primary selection for candidates for election thereby reducing the power of the whips. He suggested some very appealing democratic changes that would make our representatives more representative without getting rid of the representative system. The problem was that he didn’t give any indication of how about these changes might get implemented. I found it quite interesting that in the final round up John Healey felt it necessary to imply that Douglas Carswell was advocating the end of representative democracy to make his point.
Andrew Stunell’s main point seemed to be that people vote against parties not for them. But not much else came across.
This was a point backed up by Jeff Garrat from the audience who expressed a view that it was the political activists who were becoming disenfranchised from their parties as they lurched towards the centre blurring the boundaries between them.
In summary, Pam Giddy and Douglas Carswell are in favour of using direct democracy techniques to make our representative democracy more representative and the other are happy to wait for the revolution if and when it may come. It doesn’t bode particularly well for a strong uptake on Power Inquiry recommendations.