Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Our democracy is nothing to Bragg about

Billy Bragg, punk poet and general good bloke about town, has an article in today's Guardian on electoral reform. In the piece he promotes the work of Power2010 a campaigning organisation that is seeking to "give everyone the chance to have a say in how our democracy works for us. What is different about POWER2010 is that you're in the driving seat. We're not asking you to back our goals. We're asking you to help create them."

Whether it's the democratisation of the House of Lords, returning power to local councils or challenging the disproportional methods of election there is a lot of work to be done to make our system of representative democracy fairer.

I think it's a useful exercise and I'd encourage people to submit their ideas but let's not stop at just looking at those institutions that are ring-fenced as 'politics' and examine some other organisations, like the banks.

Can we have a democracy when the economy, financial institutions and land is something that few of us have any real stake in? Is it right that democracy means you can vote for your local councillor, but not judges, managers or generals? What is the democratic content of electing someone whose only accountability is whether you elect them again next time?

Whether it is housing, the workplace, your community or our public transport unless you live or work in a co-op there's precious little democratic control over these parts of our lives. If we continue to tolerate a society which calls itself democratic but in fact only allows a little bit of voting now and then we are accepting some very thin gruel indeed.

For my money I think we need a real overhaul of how we do government in this country, with a focus on proportionality and accountability. However, whenever we discuss political reform it does tend to be within the very narrow established paradigm of what is allowed to be democratic and what is not.

It's worth challenging that mindset and rethinking how we run society because big problems like climate change are never going to be solved if we allow relatively weak institutions, like the government, to be the only ones guided by democratic, public control particularly when that is in its weakest, representative, form.

1 comment:

Matt Sellwood said...

Absolutely correct. This is somewhat similar in theme to what I've banging on about over the Green New Deal - the importance not only of a Keynesian approach, but of also taking the opportunity to introduce much more democracy into both public and private economic spheres.

Increase econmic democracy is also, interestingly, the main policy advice of The Equality Trust, founded by the authors of "The Spirit Level". People's life chances, happiness and productivity all increase when they feel as if they have a say in their work, rather than being "a living cog in a deadining machine" (apologies to Marx).

We're making decent strides in the GPEW towards grappling with this issue, but we need to keep cranking out some good, detailed policy on cooperatives, and economic democracy more generally, I reckon.