Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Why politicians are so quiet these days

I've no idea why Alan Johnson's type of Democracy Foundation doesn't exist already. There already is the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and Alan could talk to his colleague Mike Gapes about this though I suspect it is a bit more consensual than Alan would like it to be.

Summarising Alan's questions, he is asking 'why the blogosphere is raising the questions that politicians aren't?'

I'd suggest that these are all the symptoms of a decline in representative democracy. (This is a hobby horse of mine).

Politicians lack confidence these days. The press and pressure groups are better resourced than ever before. They are more prone to being targeted for their views on specific subjects than ever before. This website has been built specifically to target MPs for their views on everything.

Our democracy is becoming more 'direct'.

Even when they win elections, politicians have to inherit our amateur civil service with their silly rules and 'Permanent Secretaries'. Politicians now have invincible rivals. In this country, only the PM can count upon a large number of colleagues and institutions to leap to his defence whenever he goes all 'bold' on us.

No wonder so few of them make grand speeches any more.

When Alan says that bloggers and activists are 'doing all the heavy lifting', I'd like to see us doing some of it in support of those MPs that we agree with (like Alan). When politicians say almost anything these days, their opponents can hear about it more easily, deride them more loudly and target them more effectively.

Newspapers can misrepresent them more flagrantly with more impunity and the broadcast media can advance their ambition to supplant politicians as the tribunes of the people - and be applauded for it by the public.

Politicians didn't get where they are today by being effective on-line communicators. Labour MPs got where they are by establishing reputations in workplaces, gladhanding Unions, chivvying activists and being all things to all people. They need help.

I'd like to see a concerted effort by bloggers and activists to support and embolden MPs. When they say something worthwhile, we should amplify it. When they are attacked, we should defend them. We need to highlight the opportunism of pressure groups more.

We need to subject the no-marks who pass for commentators to the kind of scrutiny and criticism that they dish out. Politicians are hounded for any assistance they receive in their work - usually by pressure groups and media outlets that have a first-rate PR department.

Perhaps the more effective bloggers (i.e. people who are better at it than me) should be 'adopting' MPs?

Otherwise, we will become yet another rival. We probably are rivals already without meaning to be.

One other point: Countries have to display democratic credentials to be allowed to join the EU. I would argue that progressive improvement should be a condition of continued membership. The failure of the EU (and the UN) is it's inability to identify virtues and promote them with confidence. How Italy can remain a member of the EU continues to baffle me.

Pushing this issue would be another useful role for Alan's Democracy Foundation.

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