Is the decline of conversational local democracy really a big problem?

Here’s former New Statesman & Society editor Stuart Weir (now with Democratic Audit) on the dangers that arise as a result of the BNP being allowed a toehold in local politics.

“Wilks-Heeg analyses electoral data research findings from Burnley to argue convincingly that the BNP’s breakthrough constitutes a stark warning about the “advanced state of decay of local representative government in England”.  Conventional analysis still insists that there is no need to be alarmed by the BNP, arguing that it hasn’t a large enough membership to stand candidates across the country and that the support it gains is little more than a sporadic “protest vote”.”

The conclusion is no less alarming:

“The BNP may not be “one crisis away from power”, as Nick Griffin likes to boast. But with profound economic instability upon us, they may well be nearer to the hearts and minds of many more people in local areas across the country.”

The need to revitalise local democracy is hugely important for every aspect of our lives. It’s always enjoyable to read commentators complaining about the latest infringement of our ancient freedoms, but any of these liberties would become but distant memories if the likes of the BNP were major political players in the UK.

Many of us who are working in this sphere are aware that there are a great many bureaucratic obstacles that are placed in the path of democratic renewal. It’s time for them to be removed.

Is the decline in local journalism damaging local democracy?

Here’s quite an old link I stumbled across while googling something else. It doesn’t do to only link to very new posts, does it?

“I don’t believe the intention is to destabilise democracy but that is the effect in many communities where the coverage of local politics has been downgraded by a loss of experienced staff with a real knowledge of the places where they live and work.

It is too easy to say the decline in local and regional coverage is an inevitable result of the move away from print to the web, social change, TV and radio. They are all true but the “bean counters,” as Dear described the press owners, have to take a lot of the blame. They are not investing in the quality of journalism we need either in print or online.

They are not the only ones to blame. I have said before that local government has been emasculated by centralising government, making local coverage of councils less relevant to the readers.”

Do voters choose their representatives wisely?

Here’s a really good post that superimposes the work of Alexis de Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill onto the John Sergeant / Strictly Come Dancing débâcle.

Chris asks:

  • Do we necessarily pick the best people as elected representatives?
  • Is this a bad thing?

Chris concludes that it shouldn’t be a bad thing, but that our current managerialist democratic institutions really don’t help.

It all reminds me of the similar question, do we generally elect the brightest people as leaders? It also casts some light upon the questions that political parties ask themselves when they are choosing candidates. In a high profile election, do they choose someone who may not necessarily have the best virtues as a representative, instead, preferring somebody who can use their personal charm to misdirect public attention away from policy issues?

I acknowledge that this is an overstated comparison, but no-one could argue that Boris Johnson’s personal popularity (not least for his bumbling demeanour and his ‘I’ve been a naughty boy’ evasions on private matters) didn’t have some bearing on his victory in the London mayoral elections? Was Boris’ popularity – at least in part – similar to that of John Sargeant?

MPs websites – politics on the rates?

As there are a couple of good posts in the mainstream political blogosphere touching upon the qualities that are needed to promote an effective representative democracy, today is a good day to start a blog on the subject. This post will focus on the most topical:

Both Puffbox and Spartakan are chewing over the fact that Labour MP Paul Flynn has had his parliamentary allowance docked for misuse of the weblog that he has established under that same allowance.

This scheme was set up in March 2007 with the express purpose of promoting a public understanding of Parliament. To my mind, it raises a number of questions that I will seek to answer here over the coming weeks and months. They are as follows:

  1. Do we over-fetishise political neutrality? Are the rules that preclude politicians from doing politics on the rates entirely sensible in this day-and-age? And do rules that are designed to stop this from happening actually pander to a highly anti-democratic and centralising agenda?
  2. Is this the old ‘Eunuch in a harem’ problem? Is there not something slightly distorted about going to people who are morbidly, obsessively and fanatically political people and saying “here is a budget that you can use to communicate with millions of people with an efficiency that you wouldn’t previously have dreamed of – as long as you don’t use it for political purposes?
  3. If you give an elected representative tools to communicate politically, are you necessarily giving them a political advantage? The public are increasingly turned off by political huckstering, yet politicians seem oddly keen to do it. Giving them the space to do it really effectively a bit like giving them a shorter rope and a longer drop?

I will return to these questions shortly – particularly the first one.