Our political future?

A little bit of serendipity today sent me to my spam folder and I discovered a detailed response to Love Under Will: Explorations in Participation.

Mark Rodgers has suggested a more participatory system of government for Ireland.  And summarised his position as follows:

“I hear your frustration with the current system so I show below my thoughts on a new form of democracy. I’d welcome your thoughts!

The Future
We are now moving into an era when technology can transform the way people are governed and can offer an avenue for the government of the day to connect directly with the people they govern. It will bring true democracy down to the roots of democracy, the ordinary person. Everyone has a voice and a vote.

Dispense with full time politicians and parliaments except for those who make up the Government of the day. They will act as a caretaker government who will facilitate the creation of the new system.

Introduce a Peoples Assembly that is a forum for the debate of policies before we, the people vote. Those attending will be people with interest in the policies being voted on that week. The assembly is televised and streamed live on the internet. Anyone can attend with a weeks notice. The Assembly can move around the country. I envisage that it will be a continuously changing population that will attend as the topics being voted on will vary wildly week from week.

Place policy decision making in the direct hands of the people who will vote via unique electronic voting cards (similar to bank cards) once a week on matters of policy only. People may vote online, by phone or via email/ post. For better or worse the people will decide if they wish to allow, for example, abortion, property tax without regard to ability to pay, water taxes, stay in the EU, cancelling public service giant pensions etc.

Policy details are worked out by the Civil Servants who meet with interested parties to thrash the finer details.

The Government will be a suite of ministers appointed annually by the people to carry out the policies passed in the People Assembly. It is largely a position of honour and ministers will be modestly remunerated for that year and will return to being ordinary citizens at the end of their term of office. These minister’s employers will have undertaken to keep their jobs open for them to return to at the end of their year in office.
Your thoughts?”

As my ‘thoughts’ were somewhat lengthy, I decided to write a post instead by way of responding.

Hi Mark,

Sorry that I didn’t reply earlier to your request.  Your comment went to my spam folder, and it only by chance that I found it.  It is a detailed response and therefore, highly deserving of reply.

As you’ll see in the follow up post, I am a fan of participatory democracy and have begun the process of presenting a case.  I acknowledge the use of technology to facilitate the process of more direct democracy.  The success of the internet in engaging individuals in political issues is witnessed in the success of Avaaz campaigns and other NGO activity.

However, I do have some concerns about this as the only forum for a new system.  As Carne Ross proposed, signing a petition isn’t going to bring about real change.  Research into attitude and behaviour change has shown that just because you believe water to be a valuable resource, and you sign a petition for better water management, doesn’t mean that you’ll stop washing your car/windows/driveway with high pressure cleaners nor start using your grey water to sprinkle the lawn.  I would have a preference for face to face assemblies on a three tiered basis:

  1. Local Assemblies on local issues with local money.  Participatory budgeting initiatives have shown that engagement can be high, and that in seeing your neighbour is worse off than you, more equitable solutions are created.  The community benefits as a whole rather than the 1% served at the moment by the current system.  Also, face to face discussion becomes practical rather than a rhetorical game.  It is more efficient.  The Transition Town movement is also evidence of the success of local democracy.
  2. Regional assemblies with delegates from each local area.  Delegates, not representatives – there is a difference.  Priorities for the region can then be established.  Delegates report back at local assemblies.
  3. National assemblies with delegates from each region.  National priorities can then be established.

Each tier would have its own ‘Caretakers’, elected by the people – I liked the term you used here.  Those who are responsible for implementation.  You suggested annual elections, but I think this may be too often.  The implementation of priority projects would be subject to feasibility studies, tenders, contracts, and the actual building work.  This is likely to take longer than a year, and a caretaker might unfairly be unelected as the project was completed within the year the electorate have given.  A take over administration would also suffer through being unfamiliar with the demands of the projects that require completion.  I’d suggest a three year cycle.  However, I do agree there would be increased accountability.

Another reason why I have a preference for face to face meetings is that the issues are more pertinent and directly experienced by those who attend.  This could be termed as a form of NIMBYism (not in my backyard), but Nimby campaigners often turn from a local issue to having a lifelong commitment to the issue on a more global scale.  E.g. I’m not having a fracking station in my back yard – learn more about energy issues – and no – there are much better solutions than fracking for the entire world – not in anyone’s back yard.  Additionally, political scientists have commented on the phenomenon of ‘voter fatigue’.  There are so many issues and so many votes, that we either disengage, or vote without taking ownership of that vote.  Lack of ownership was evident in the Brexit saga, when those who voted to exit said they didn’t really mean it afterwards.  In local forums, the need to take ownership for decision-making would be more important as you can witness its effects directly. It’s hard to complain about parking outside your house when your neighbour has no sewage facilities.

Finally, there is nothing more empowering than being able to put up your hand at a meeting, air your concern and be listened to.  Witness the support you and/or others have, then be able to take a stand and make that vote.  To me, that is truly participatory democracy.

In response to my own response, I do have an issue with political boundaries.  In a state of nature, land belongs to everyone.  I’ve yet to reconcile this into a political method.  I think a theory for the future needs to address land tenure.  I would love to see a stateless society, which is incompatible with a three tiered suggestion I have proposed above.  It may develop as we explore this further.  A second thorny issue that needs to addressed, but is avoided in discussion is that of population control.  It is unsustainable and nature has been trying her best to cull us.  I don’t mean a return of the eugenics movement, but it DOES need to be addressed.  I have been playing around with one or two ideas that I will return to – but am interested in your thoughts too.  I believe it is important that we have these conversations.

I’d like to thank Mark for jumping in.  It’s certainly helped to make my rusty cogs whirr more freely.


4 thoughts on “Our political future?

  1. I can see you guys really take this seriously and thought it through well. Whatever a country would try would have to be experimental at first, wouldn’t it? I mean things that look great on paper always have a way of throwing a monkey wrench in the cogs in real life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes, definitely. Porto Alegre had hiccups at the start and they had to work a more structured system – but it didn’t take them long to go beyond the experimental stage. Another factor is local differences. The transition town movement was perfect for Totnes, but I know a town close by that is still struggling to generate interest. Similarly with Incredible Edibles – Todmordon, where it started, major success, but a little town, not far from there, seemed to miss the point! Local democracy has been most successful where there is a culture of activism.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Safar thanks for publishing my comment and giving me your feedback.

    My proposal really dealt with replacing national governments with a more democratic decision making system. I kept it simple. All the people vote and determine the policies (civil servants and interested parties add the detail). Keep it simple. Vote and campaign and you participate and play your role
    Don’t vote and you take the consequences of your disinterest.

    The layered assembly levels you propose seem to address local and regional issues but I seek only to take on national issues and make redundant the expensive national talking shops currently filled with full time national politicians that get elected on X policies and end up voting for Y policies. Politics has become an industry in itself and has become an expensive gravy train we can these days do without. Serving the people should be the only aim of anyone elected and eliminating politics as a life career should be our aim.

    I take your point about people voting on local issues and the NIMBY problem but what my proposal is the dealing with the policy. “Should this country allow fracking anywhere on the island? Yes or No? ”

    If you have an interest and fear that if it’s a Yes vote your back garden will have a drilling team setting up then attend that People Assembly that debates the matter and take your chance to speak before the vote. Your appearance is televised nationwide and you can campaign too.

    If after the vote and you lose, you can meet further with the civil servants and interested parties formulating the detail behind the policy and there make the case for not locating the fracking in your back yard.

    Hope this clarifies my plan a little bit more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely Mark, I like your reasoning and you have a elegant and succinct solution. Your focus on national government, I can understand, due to the need for simplicity to enable it to work efficiently and your proposal is a huge advance on what we currently have.
      While we both agree that we need to foster greater participation and a more accountable role for our representatives, we are different in the importance we place on state government. I’d like to see us move towards a more stateless society, with communities having more autonomy, power and responsibility for decision-making directly relevant to their lives.

      Thank you again for engaging with this, the discussion is helping me to crystallise my own thoughts. I”m sure we’ll be interacting again in future posts!!


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