Amongst the many different performances, interventions and interactions at our recent In Our Times event were four ‘soap box speeches’. Three presented by Collective Encounters’ participants (on Poverty, Inequality and The Cuts) and one on Participatory Democracy. Over the next few months, they’ll all be available as podcasts on our In Our Times ning, along with the films we showed and images from the event but I would like to share with you the one on Participatory Democracy first. This was the one I gave. In the spirit of participatory democracy please use the comments section to respond with your thoughts on the subject!
We believe that our present system of democracy is not only flawed but broken beyond repair. We need radical, root and branch reform of the systems that govern us.
Our existing representative democracy is based a party-political system, where you vote for someone you think will represent you and your interests.
But how many of us feel genuinely represented by the current parties? Neo-liberalism has taken hold across the board leaving us barely able to distinguish one party from another; party membership is at an all time low.
This decline in party membership along with a host of other social and economic factors has led to politics becoming professionalised and left to a ruling elite. 2/3 of cabinet ministers are millionaires, and a third of MPs, across the board, were educated at private school. That in no way represents the make up of this country.
Add to that the influence of other rich people and corporations, where for £250,000 they can buy a Downing Street supper with the Prime Minister and influence the policies that affect all our lives.
We may have one person one vote, but in our unequal society we do not have an equal democracy.
This inevitably leads to disengagement: Hansard have found our faith in parliament has never been so low, and only 38% of people voted in the last local elections.
And it’s not surprising so few people vote. They don’t see the point. It’s not apathy, they can’t see a difference between the parties; they can’t see any connection between their vote and their life; and they can’t see any hope of real change. And they’re right there is no hope of change within this current system. But there is a hope for change if we change the system.
We need a participatory democracy. Starting locally people from all walks of life engaged in open and equal debate with politicians and administrators. Not a tokenistic nod to consultation where the parameters are pre-set and the outcome virtually decided. But real democracy where ordinary people become informed, and take the decisions that shape our lives.
Starting locally it filters nationally. Participatory democracy can remove the need for political parties, and create a new model of democratic governance the interests of all the diverse people within our country are genuinely represented.
Yes, we need to take some responsibility and give some time, but it doesn’t have to be a heavy load, and it doesn’t have to be ‘one size fits all’ – it might be one evening a month away from the TV. And the rewards are huge.
It’s time to say enough is enough and get rid of this system we call democracy but that in fact privileges such a small elite, and start to build a participatory democracy where all our citizens can have a stake in their future.