Direct Democracy…?

Recently I wrote about the need to vote because of it’s exclusive significance to political responsiveness. There are presently no better means by which to ensure your interests are paid due deference by the political class, because the vote is the only mechanism that has a binding impact on the futures of our politicians. Simply put, their careers depend on the vote. I didn’t say, however, that this was right.

I think I might have even said that this is quite wrong and a strong root cause of disenfranchisement, but unfortunately it’s one of those harsh realities that has to be directly engaged with if there’s ever to be a hope of change. Vote, vote and vote some more, be politically relevant, then make your demands. Though as it happens that word, change, has been dogging my thoughts for the past week or so. Not for any particularly grand reason, but simply because of the excellent tool, change.org.

You may well have signed a petition on the site, pertaining to any matter ranging from the important to the trivial. Currently running petitions include a bid to prevent the evictions of hard-hit families from their homes in the New Era Estate, a noble cause courting nearly 350,000 signatures. There is of course also the latest infamous Jeremy Clarkson debacle, attracting nearly a million signatures in favour of the man’s salvation. Popular causes apparently outweigh serious ones, but the point is that it’s a tool people use in meaningful numbers to express themselves.

Unfortunate as it is to link this back to the futility of relying on such forms of expression in the strong expectation of political action, that’s what has to be done here. Change and similar sites, like Avaaz and 38 Degrees, do not actually guarantee anything, as even the most highly subscribed petitions only offer the tangible outcome of public pressure. While this can be very hard to ignore, particularly for corporations, even governments, and have in notable cases achieved their aims, they remain in any official capacity limited in function.

However in at least the UK, there is of course the nigh-on identical tool of UK Gov e-petitioning, which possesses the significant advantage of actually putting any agenda that attains over 100,000 signatures directly onto the plates of our esteemed politicians. By law, they have to “consider” the issue for debate in the House of Commons. It’s an important distinction, however meek a proposition it is that MPs might debate something, especially when you consider that even if it goes that far they could happily debate an issue straight into the ground.

Regardless, UK Gov e-petitioning does represent an important step in the right direction, insofar as it possesses even a minimal degree of genuine direct democratic representation. Assuming you can build sufficient consensus, it is more effective than going through your local MP to raise an issue. In that scenario you would first have to successfully engage your MP, hope they take the issue to parliament and then hope yet again that your lone MP’s voice might be heard amidst that baying, pantomimic scenery, which occasionally enforces the notion that faith in elected representation is madness.

I don’t quite believe that, and however puerile the Commons can be sometimes there is an obvious logic in allocating the nation’s decision making to a group of, hopefully, informed and responsible individuals who can conduct the affairs of state while we get on with our own livelihoods and concerns. That’s not to say we couldn’t perhaps better harness the increasingly available and effective tools of direct democracy to much better effect. Referendums in their traditional format are messy and fairly expensive things to organise, but looking forward, perhaps even now, they clearly needn’t be.

It would hardly take a technological leap of the ages to implement a function similar to e-petitioning, but with the added democratic clout of being, say… e-voting. While some issues will always be beyond the remit of the broader populace to be entrusted with, requiring varying forms of heightened expertise, that’s not to say there are many issues, some extremely important, that aren’t. One critical issue on the horizon is the question of Britain’s involvement in the EU, and while what I think about that doesn’t matter a jot, it’s a question that among others speaks to the heart of the character of the nation and has been denied to the people for generations.

Nowadays, nigh on every person and their dog as some form of device and internet connection, or access to these things. With a little imagination and desire towards getting the systems up and running, we could fairly say there are few excuses in terms of the logistics of regularly putting important issues to the people in a binding capacity. Although I’ve been banging the drum for voting in general elections up to this point, I would entirely support this kind of change. Whatever enfranchises the people and helps them engage, can only be a good thing.

The only slight irony being that in order to achieve these changes… we’d have to vote in politicians that would enable them via the general elections. Reality bites again.

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