Let Simon Decide

simonBecause it’s probably wrong to write a post everyday about how marvellous Debategraph or Mixed Ink are as concepts, for a change, have a look at ‘Let Simon Decide‘.

‘Simon’ is an avatar for good decision-making processes and the collective wisdom of the site’s users. It’s designed to ensure that users go through all of the processes in addressing difficult decisions (ones that often get put off because it’s easier to postpone something when you don’t know how to do it). It aims to offer a 360-degree view of problems and to remove the emotional biases wherever possible.

Another example of how we can play a constructive role contributing to decision-making processes at any level.

(Via Read Write Web)

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PICamp will be part of Reboot Britain

reboot_logoOver the next few weeks, this site will carry a number of posts outlining some of the themes that will come up in the Political Innovation Camp (PICamp) strand of NESTA’s Reboot Britain event, taking place on the 6th July 2009 in central London.

I’m hoping that the event will cover a wide range of themes, ranging from 

  • how we can take Tim Davies ’50 hurdles’ idea and look at ways that public organisations of all kinds can be encouraged to address them
  • what will policymaking look like in the future?
  • how ‘hyperlocal’ communities work – how local government can interface with them and whether they are always a good thing in the first place
  • defending inactive citizens from the activists
  • reinstating the claim of local government to be the main agent in solving local problems

Nothing is final yet, and all of these (and more) will be fleshed out in the coming weeks over on the PICamp site.

In the meantime, make sure you don’t miss out. Tickets are here.

Optimal identities, tastes and fashions -v- projecting ‘conviction’

Further to the post about the way that we have high expectations about the civic virtues of politicians, here’s Will Davies comparing the way that we portray ourselves on social media platforms like Facebook as cultural beings, and – by contrast – the way that politicians have to present themselves:

“Gordon Brown’s central problem is that he conveys endless moralism, duty and calling, while failing entirely to communicate who he is. The civic deficit, on the other hand, is that people aspire to optimal identities, tastes and fashions, but only rarely gauge themselves in terms of ‘the good life’. The politician measures worth in ethical terms while the citizen does so in aesthetic terms.”

Voting systems compared

ballot boxIf the rumours are correct, Gordon Brown is about to announce his intention to promote a new voting system for Parliamentary elections in the UK. His choice is said to be the Alternative Vote (AV) system. It looks like the Vote For A Change campaign will get their way and there will be a referendum on the matter.

The Electoral Reform society offers a summary or this voting system that offers its’ strengths and shortcomings (indeed, you can see all of the alternatives on their site). 

And while the ERS as an organisation have doubts about AV (their CEO Ken Ritchie has already been quoted saying that it’s a ‘weak’ option), I recall that a report that they published on their site last year (PDF) made two very upbeat points:

  1. AV is better than it initially appears as an option in the UK, and it offers a significant improvement on current First Past the Post (FPTP) system
  2. It’s also the most likely ‘do-able’ reform in the UK, and a good stepping stone to a more deeper proportional system

Otherwise known as ‘instant runoff,‘ AV can make for quite an exciting election night. 

Personally, I’ve never come to firm view on which voting system I prefer. One advantage of AV, I think, is that it reduces the number of ‘safe seats’ – the origin of a good deal of the perceived arrogance of some MPs who have come to regard their seat as a sinecure.

It is also a system that – while not proportional – will be welcomed in the short term by the Liberal Democrats as it’s likely to increase their representation. 

Voting reformer anorak section

The best summary of electoral options in the UK that I’ve found is David Beetham’s offering (MS Word Doc) on Stuart Weir’s Democratic Audit site (that has a good page with some good links including Peter Hain’s arguments in favour of AV.

Here’s the Wikipedia entry on voting systems and here’s the electoral commission’s outline of the different voting systems that are currently in place in the UK. As ever, Keele University’s politics department has had a serious crack at providing a definitive index of voting systems from around the world.

What we need now, though, is a debategraph on the subject….

A few signposts off

Reboot Britain

Reboot Britain

We can learn things from the way they elect Popes – and the way they used to.

Chris Dillow reprises his ‘extremist not a fanatic’ theme – that it is rational not to care too much about politics – and that politics benefits from our indifference.

And finally ‘Reboot Britain’ will be worth keeping an eye on – it will have a significant strand covering democratic renewal.

I’m hoping that it will provide another run-out for the PICamp project that started very successfully in Belfast last month.

“…a symbol of how we see ourselves”

This is a really good post about a perceived restructuring of the UK cabinet to reflect three key themes. I won’t spoil the wider article for you except to say that one of the issues that (according to the author) is a priority is that of constitutional and democratic reform.
This is very perceptive:
“….the task is partly about representation, equity and justice, and partly about public perception of politics.
For politicians to take the bold steps that are demanded by a fast-evolving society, they must have legitimacy. The public delegate their authority to representatives in a temporary compact which notionally reads like this: act in our interests and we’ll trust you to hold power for a while. But an underlying, perhaps more fundamental, message is: be a symbol of how we see ourselves, and we will ask you to make us better people.
This is the nature of the insult that many people feel they’ve received from MPs recently: they have betrayed us by acting like normal people instead of the idealised figures we wish they – and we – could be. And so the moral authority to help the rest of us be better than ourselves has been diminished. I don’t personally think this attitude is particularly fair to MPs, but perception is more than reality in this area.
So the constitutional council has a mission to restore faith in the character of politicians. And one way it can do this – although perhaps too radical for a first step – is through self-sacrifice. If a Labour government were to create a political system not structured around its own political objectives but those of democracy and of a fair representation of our diverse population, it would win huge credibility from the many people who are disillusioned with politics and with the government, but who are not impressed by the alternatives on offer.”
The public wanted hanging restored. But did they want to be represented by hangers (click image for attribution).

The public wanted hanging restored. But did they want to be represented by hangers? (click image for attribution).

This is a really good post about a perceived restructuring of the UK cabinet to reflect three key themes. I won’t spoil the wider article for you except to say that one of the issues that (according to the author) is a priority is that of constitutional and democratic reform.

This is very perceptive:

“….the task is partly about representation, equity and justice, and partly about public perception of politics.

For politicians to take the bold steps that are demanded by a fast-evolving society, they must have legitimacy. The public delegate their authority to representatives in a temporary compact which notionally reads like this: act in our interests and we’ll trust you to hold power for a while. But an underlying, perhaps more fundamental, message is: be a symbol of how we see ourselves, and we will ask you to make us better people.

This is the nature of the insult that many people feel they’ve received from MPs recently: they have betrayed us by acting like normal people instead of the idealised figures we wish they – and we – could be. And so the moral authority to help the rest of us be better than ourselves has been diminished. I don’t personally think this attitude is particularly fair to MPs, but perception is more than reality in this area.

So the constitutional council has a mission to restore faith in the character of politicians. And one way it can do this – although perhaps too radical for a first step – is through self-sacrifice. If a Labour government were to create a political system not structured around its own political objectives but those of democracy and of a fair representation of our diverse population, it would win huge credibility from the many people who are disillusioned with politics and with the government, but who are not impressed by the alternatives on offer.”

It adds another bit of shorthand to the list of ‘what kind of representation do we want’? We want people to represent us who have the values that we aspire to.

There is one illustration that I’ve never been able to stand up, but I’d still use it. Until very recently, opinion polls showed a clear majority of the population in favour of hanging – yet Parliament has consistantly rejected capital punishment and even sympathetic politicians with a feel for the popular never pressed the case. Mrs Thatcher was a ‘hanger’, after all.

Perhaps she knew that people may be hangers themselves, but don’t want to be represented by other hangers?

(Via Stumbling & Mumbling).

More cognitive polyphasia

Responding to the Guardian’s reader-survey about reshaping our democratic settlement, David Blunkett offers a good illustration of the cognitive polyphasia that colours so much public debate of these issues:

With one breath we say we want less legislation and more active politics based on a participative political activism and decentralisation; and in the next breath we call for more legislation, for parliament to sit throughout the summer, and by dint a further disconnect of those who, in the hothouse of Westminster, become more detached from the communities they represent.
We want electoral reform, but then we want to ensure that MPs are properly connected to a constituency somewhere outside London – which, of course, means a defined, single-member community that they can represent and who can hold them to account.
In other words, we are full of contradictions. We want someone else to be responsible. We want to give power to the members of the Westminster parties. Or do we? Is it not the “people” we want to empower?
We want it every which way. We want someone else to blame, someone else to shoulder the contradictions and, of course, when we get a new leader (and therefore a new prime minister), what do we want? We want them out.

“With one breath we say we want less legislation and more active politics based on a participative political activism and decentralisation; and in the next breath we call for more legislation, for parliament to sit throughout the summer, and by dint a further disconnect of those who, in the hothouse of Westminster, become more detached from the communities they represent.

We want electoral reform, but then we want to ensure that MPs are properly connected to a constituency somewhere outside London – which, of course, means a defined, single-member community that they can represent and who can hold them to account.

In other words, we are full of contradictions. We want someone else to be responsible. We want to give power to the members of the Westminster parties. Or do we? Is it not the “people” we want to empower?

We want it every which way. We want someone else to blame, someone else to shoulder the contradictions and, of course, when we get a new leader (and therefore a new prime minister), what do we want? We want them out.”

If there is one good thing that could come out of the current crisis in confidence surrounding politics, it would be a greater understanding of the causes of political centralisation.

Sadly, I can’t see it being the major theme myself….

(other polyphasia-related posts here)