Political parties and decentralisation

Irish elections: generally more posters than in the UK

Irish elections: generally more posters than in the UK

So much is changing so quickly. Newspapers and broadcasters are changing. Governments now communicate using radically different means to the ones that were practiced a decade ago. Here’s Exhibit A.

We now have free interactive tools that enable us to hold huge multilateral conversations based upon collaborative filtering and reputation management. We can find useful strangers easily – and I don’t just mean with dating websites.

Of course, these changes throw up hazards. New doors have opened for budding demagogues, busy-bodies, lobbyists, snoopers and quacks. But it also throws up huge opportunities.

For me, the glittering prize – from a democratic point of view – is the potential to promote decentralisation of power. Putting the levers of power in a place that is geographically closer. Breaking down the rigidities that made participation impossible.

In the same way that the DIY ethic of blogging and social media has helped millions to somehow dilute the alienation of modern living, it has allowed many of us the chance to test our voice, contribute and to take some responsibility for public discourse – often for the first time.

But if we are to realise the potential for decentralisation, we need to do more than just build and use the new tools. We need to understand what the tools need to be used against – and what they need to be used for.

Take political parties, for example? This blog has bored you in recent weeks with a relentless defence of these entities. And as I’ve not used it yet, I’ll point you at this old post that offers a fantastic quote that explains why parties are important:

“….a remedy to poor governance in large inherently decentralized countries is building strong national political parties whenever possible. Strong parties help to provide elected local officials with efficient political incentives, because their chances of  election depend both on national party support and the satisfaction of the local constituency. This allows the striking of a balance between national objectives and local accountability.”

So, if if the multilateral conversational spaces that are emerging will dispense with political parties, we need to realise that this has consequences – and we need to address those problems.

Over the next few days, I’d like to flesh out a few of the causes of political centralisation and suggest possible goals for the users of interactive media – things that we can do, and temptations we could resist. But my first one is this: If you wish political parties away …. well…

… be careful what you wish for.

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