A new politics – it’s about content as well as process
I am quoted in this morning’s Guardian in a link to a longer piece. Here it is.
“The moment should be seized for radical democratic reform. This should include:
• Electoral reform so we get fairer outcomes and people can vote for their Party without voting for a person they dislike, and vice versa
• Devolving more power to more city mayors
• Greater use of high profile citizen forums with real power to recommend changes direct to Parliament
• Greater transparency during policy formulation
• A new second chamber including a third of the seats filled by ordinary citizens drawn by lots
But the problem is not just the processes of democracy it is the framing of political discourse. The era of consumer politics has run its course. For fifty years the deal has been ‘elect us and we will satisfy your demands as private and public sector consumers’. The problem is that the economic cycle means Government regularly fails to deliver and, more fundamentally, it turns out that our demands as consumers are insatiable; the more we get the more we want and the more angry we become if we feel let down.
Politicians in their turn are self pitying, trapped by the impossible demands of sixty million difficult customers. The MPs’ expenses saga exposes the story politicians have been telling themselves for years: ‘politics is impossible, it’s not fair, so I should be able to do what I can to make things more bearable’. And the competitive nature of politics makes is incredibly hard to reform. Every politician knows the system is bust, every politician wants to engage the public more honestly, but every political party would rather win on a 20% turnout than lose on an 80% turnout.
We need political leaders who ground their appeal on a citizenship democracy rather than a consumer democracy. This means moving from an ‘us and them’ politics in which we the people – egged on by a media which is little more than a disorganised conspiracy to maintain the population in a perpetual state of self righteous rage – make impossible demands. Opinion polls show we demand cheap flights and action on climate change; affordable houses but not built where we live; Swedish welfare on American tax rates. Instead we need an ‘us and us’ politics. This starts from citizens deciding what they want, citizens engaging with the trade offs between different interests and objectives, and citizens understanding the role they themselves must play in creating a better future. Occasionally, political leaders have this capacity to turn a problem outwards and make it one we all own – for example Obama’s speech on race last year. Cameron occasionally sounds like he has this in him but in the end he seems happy to win the old way.
How politics is conducted from the cabinet to the local constituency is profoundly dysfunctional, thirty years and more behind the way successful modern organisations run themselves. A new politics needs new institutions and new processes but it also needs a radically different culture, and a style of political leadership that is open, collaborative and emotionally literate. “