Reductio ad absurdum

Simon JenkinsContinuing Brendan O’Neill’s theme about the reduction of politics to the question of how efficiently politicians can tick the ‘democracy’ box, Simon Jenkins picks up on the calls for fewer MPs and councillors:

“The difference is that most democracies have many tiers of ­representation on which voters can vent their rage. The Germans run almost constant election campaigns for someone to something. The French ratio of voters to elected officials is 120:1. In Britain it is more like 2,600:1. The overwhelming majority of Europeans can name their local mayor or another official whom they can hold to account for most of their public services. In Britain the only representative people can begin to name is their MP, and barely half can do that. Britain is democracy-lite.

As a result, MPs carry a hopeless burden of responsibility. They must be national, regional and local representatives, chairmen of planning, social services and education, local health ombudsmen and elected mayors in all but name.”

He continues…

“We might think that the best response to the present crisis is to have more tribunes, unleashed to operate at every tier of government from parliament to parish. Yet both Brown and Cameron want fewer, both fewer MPs and fewer councillors in the form of unitary authorities. They want to take Britain from being the least democratically answerable nation in Europe to being even less so.”


Trust, marketing and centralisation

The Long Tail: See the yellow bit? That's you and me, that is...

The Long Tail: See the yellow bit? That's you and me, that is...

The other day, I posted on how the ‘level playing field’ demanded (partly) by marketeers was a significant contributor to the centralising tendencies of the previous half-century. As a short follow-up, Seth Godin picks up on the widespread and increasing distrust in big marketing. I don’t know if you would reach the same conclusion that he has though?

“…even if you have a really good reason, no, you can’t call me on the phone. Which means that even if it’s really important, no, I’m not going to read the instructions. Which means that god forbid you try to email me something I didn’t ask for… you’re trashed. It’s so fashionable to be skeptical now that no one believes you if you attempt to do something for the right reasons.

Selfish short-sighted marketers ruined it for all of us. The only way out, I think, is for a few marketers to so overwhelm the market with long-term, generous marketing that we have no choice but to start paying attention again.”

Is it really the case that marketeers need to come up with an even longer con based on ever more leveraged offers that are too good to be true?

Surely Godin’s observations should be a cause of some consolation to those of us that would like to promote a more decentralised economy? Reputation management may be a concept that has been mined most effectively by e-bay, but it’s a need that is increasingly met by the long tail – and not just the online long tail, but the offline one of personal networks.

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. Continue reading

Cognitive polyphasia

These couple of sentences leaped out of an article by Polly Toynbee recently:

It was pollster Ben Page who first used the phrase “cognitive polyphasia” to describe what pollsters find all the time: most people hold several entirely contradictory beliefs at once. They want local decision-making but are adamantly opposed to a postcode lottery….

Another example of this can be found in the demands for political consistency. Here, for example, a political party allows it’s need to advocate a consistent policy everywhere to trump it’s demands for localised policymaking. It’s a very good post that raises a number of variations on this question.

I was planning to draft a series of posts on ‘the causes of centralisation’ saying that in a much longer way, but I don’t think I need to now, do I? So…..

The causes of political centralisation:

No 1 – cognitive polyphasia. Where the public or political parties say that they want local decision-making, but then also want local decisions to always have the same outcomes – wherever they are taken.

Can journalism save democracy?

One of the founding questions behind this blog is this:

Is the decline in local journalism damaging local democracy?

Well, the consistently good Polis blog managed by Charlie Beckett is addressing it with some energy here. Charlie worked at ITN, C4 News, LWT and the BBC. The post linked to here is a guest post by George Brock.

It’s a good general answer. For me, the big question is the local one. If democracy’s salvation is only viable at a nation-state level, will this make work on local democratic renewal all-but pointless?