Sunday, 6 October 2019

How Do We Gain True Democracy?

Dear Reader,

Democracy is the worst system, except for all the other systems - Winston Churchill

With my apologies for digressing before I have barely started this artice, have you ever experienced really big coincidences, or synchronicity? You must have, or perhaps you've not stopped to notice them.

Particularly since I started writing regularly about 10 years ago, I've noticed great coincidences appearing on an increasingly regular basis. One of these coincidences concerned research and subsequent article I did 2 or 3 years back about a pioneering pre-WW1 aviator from Birmingham - an aviator that no-one else had heard of - or so I thought. I published my article in Carl Chinn's Brummagem magazine, only to find - only 2 months later - another, parallel, article about the very same person in another magazine published down south. The other writer (not even a Brummie!) knew a bit more than I in a certain area about that aviator, and, likewise, I knew a bit more than the other writer, so we were able to fuse our knowledge to produce a bigger picture of the subject. To my knowledge, no other person has ever written on the same topic, yet here were two articles published on this subject within two months of one another!

And now, this week, it's happened again. In today's situation where we seem to have a lot of political confusion and discord, I felt an urge to write something on the reform of democracy; it seemed to me that it's a matter that needs a big review. Then, lo and behold, I found that a Scottish writer had, only in this past month, written an article on the same subject, and effectively voicing a basis of reform that related to my own view. I will, in fact, quote some of his words while putting them into my own context. His full article can be read here.

Firstly, the writer (Ian) very correctly explains:
The word ‘democracy’ comes from ancient Greece and means: Demos = ‘people’ and Kratia = ‘power’. However, if you believe as many do, that ‘the people’ have never been more disenfranchised than they are today, then we must look for some system-change.
The basis of discussion here is that (as I see it) we have a divide that exists between those that are supposed to represent us and we, the people, because both 'sides' cannot trust one another. Those that we elect are too often found wanting - though there are some excellent representatives - and we, the people, frankly cannot see the bigger picture nor grasp the detail to coherently and fully argue any major topic, or clearly see its relevance to us. Plus the whole issue of how party politics is played; particularly two-party politics and the influence of vested interests and pressure groups.

So, as Ian states, in reflecting on the matter of Brexit:
...we ask millions of lay men and women to make complex decisions, based on often-shoddy information – remember the ‘£350m for the NHS’ bus in 2016?
And not only that, but the complete picture of Brexit was withheld. It seemed to me that the EU referendum question and campaign was being addressed at the mass of voters from the north to the south of England, as though the Irish, Scots, Welsh and Gibraltarians were incidentals in the whole issue. Unfortunately, Westminster (particularly the Conservatives) sees "the UK" as simply being an area of England, and the closer to London the better as far as it is concerned. Farming was another largely ignored area of interest.

For example, did anyone - during the referendum campaign - mention anything about the potential issue on the border between Ireland and North of Ireland and which would create a stumbling block in Britain withdrawing from the EU? Someone at a high level must have realised but chose not to voice the point. No meaningful facts were put before the voters during that campaign. We just had slogans thrown at us.

People, in hindsight, still say they were totally informed and completely understood the issues at hand in the referendum, but the only issues most were really interested in was what directly affected them, and nothing else. The big picture was ignored by a good many of those that voted, but they were never encouraged to take in the facts of the big picture to start with. I suspect that Westminster fears that if they were to attempt to tell the people the real truth, they would be voted out, so they instead paint a picture to suit their self-image and agenda.

Politics has for too long worked from the basis of representing the short-term needs of the voters whereas a big picture needs first to be looked at to understand where such policies might take us. Climate Change (resulting from misguided industrial, farming and social practises) is a good example of how short-term expediencies can lead us completely down the wrong alley. And that's only one example of many, such as HS2 etc etc.

Ian further states: 
As the British media’s score in the Press Freedom Index continues to slide – from 20 in 2010 to 40 in 2018 – so does our trust in the information it provides. Add into the mix shadowy influencers like Cambridge Analytica, along with Facebook’s failure to moderate its content or protect your data, and the only valid conclusion is [that democracy is] a broken system.
So, some substantial reparation is needed, it would seem, for democracy to really work. On the matter of how best to organise a decision on any key issue, Ian suggests a practical route which, though it is written from a Scottish stance, seems to me to be universally applicable as a way to invoke true democracy and regain the interest of the voter:
... [in] facing a climate catastrophe [or any other serious challenge], we must seek alternatives – the most credible of which being proposed is Citizens’ Assemblies.
As someone who was personally involved in taking Extinction Rebellion direct action at parliament on 25 January this year over climate change, along with other activists, the point was made that a Citizens’ Assembly would be able to deliberate climate change policy, free from the corruption of Scottish oil and gas lobbyists.
When commercial interests have no closed-door access to Citizens’ Assembly members, then we can be confident they will not take preference, above planet or people. Members are not reliant upon business donors for elections funds, nor are they disproportionally the people who mix in the same social circles as the wealthy.
Whilst a member may come into the process with less understanding of environmental issues as a politician might, a blank canvas can be a benefit. It has been shown with only one responsibility to focus upon their knowledge soon surpasses the generalist politician, who has responsibilities on many differing committees.
In Ireland when a difficult question rears its head, they do not simply hold a referendum and risk [a breakdown in] social cohesion. To tackle major, divisive constitutional issues – like with gay marriage or abortion – they used Citizens’ Assemblies to deliberate first. The process of deliberation is where the seeds of national consensus are sowed, with constitutional ratification coming later and without ripping each other to shreds.
Constitutional issues still dominate the national discussion today and sadly prevent us from focussing on other issues that would improve people’s lives. Very little has been resolved in the past five years. So it is time for a new approach to politics and this – not my position on [Scottish] independence or Brexit – is what I will invest my energy in campaigning for. Power to people and everyone equal.
It is not that long ago that the senior representatives in local councils had the prefix 'alderman', a word stemming from Anglo-Saxon times that indicated how there was once a practise that relied on the wisdom of 'elder-men' to guide the community. It is a principle that was followed in many ancient societies.

Though I am not suggesting that we should return to precisely the same ancient system, in its time it must have worked pretty well, and I feel that Citizens’ Assemblies are in some way a modern-day equivalent of that idea. The strongest argument for it is that such a method is virtually free from the risk of undue influences and party politics. People often ask why the NHS cannot be run by a panel with representatives from all political parties, but I would suggest that the Citizens’ Assembly approach would be a better method.

Direct action in important affairs seems to me to be a critical need.

This Electoral Reform article is worth reading in my opinion.

But now for the big caveat. Better systems are all very well, but in a time when our system of education is questionable and when aggression seems to be creeping into all aspects of interaction (gratuitously fed by the media), merely providing a better system to make democracy work better is by no means going to change the world for the better by itself.

The better priority - in my view - is that we should firstly review our system of human values so that we can be better informed to see the bigger picture.  I do feel that we need to get in touch with our real selves to enable us to behave as a true homo sapiens, so we should also put an educational review in tow to achieve an awareness of how we should live our lives as true human beings sans reliance on media rather than being educated with the focus being on how to make a living. The latter is necessary, but only within a sound system of human values that we can all sign up to.

The reason why the world is in the kind of predicament it is, is that we have been looking at the definition of success according to how materially rich we become individually, corporately and as a nation. Foolishly, financial clout long ago became the major measuring stick of what is 'good'. What folly. Even today Climate Change is simply seen by many as an opportunity to create new businesses to combat the issue, with the same old principles of living that we've already seen to be folly.

Sadly, I fear that we still have to experience a disaster or two more before the penny drops and we really start to take the necessary steps to correct the situation. 

Thank you for reading this.

Footnote: I am not a greatly-qualified academic, but in my early years I did study government, economics and constitutional law up to university diploma level, and also worked in local government legal offices until I changed tack and went into the computer industry aged 22, way back in 1966. Since when I ran my own small IT consultancy business for 20 years and for a time have been a community worker and have been involved in politics. I was brought up to take politics seriously, but it is a minefield and I feel it has lost its soul - if it ever had one. I also have a deep interest in, and am conscious about, British and European history (and other world histories) as well as - and especially - ecology and philosophy. I do not believe that you can properly study one of these subjects without also embracing at least two of the others.

So, while I by no means claim to know everything, I have devoted a fair amount of energy over 75 years on matters that have today become of central importance to the world, the main issue being how to apply compassion. I welcome open discussion on these issues.