Tag Archives: democracy

The time is now for young people to revolutionize British politics

The Green Party of England and Wales have huge support among young voters. The problem for the Greens is that it is traditionally these young voters who do not make it to the ballot box.

YouGov

22% of 18-24 year old voters recently told YouGov that they plan to vote for the Greens. That is the same figure as those who intend to vote Tory, 50% more than those who intend to vote UKIP and more than four times those who plan to vote Lib Dem.

The obvious problem for the Green Party is that these voters, who they are so popular among, are also traditionally the ones who fail to make it to the ballot box on polling day.

Indeed in the 2010 General Election less than half of young voters eligible to vote took up the opportunity. One poll suggested that 60% of the UK’s 3.3 million first time voters in 2105 will not vote.

In contrast, about 70% of over 65s will vote.

If young people voted in similar proportions to the older generations our political landscape would look very different to the tired two-party-politics we see today.

The fact that young people don’t vote in large numbers is depressing not just for Green Party activists but also for our democracy in general.

From this I take a simple message. If you are looking for a pragmatic, realistic and effective way of revolutionizing how we do politics in the UK, you could find worse ideas than supporting initiatives that encourage youth engagement.

There are various movements and campaigns around but the one that seems to making the difference this time around is ‘Bite the Ballot‘. They have done an online Q and A with each of the party leaders (you can watch them here), placed young people in the heart of our local government, and pushed for wide-spread voter registration.

In short, I think they are doing important work at an important time.

If you want, you can follow ‘Bite the Ballot’ on twitter by clicking here. You can also donate to their work by clicking here.

Supporting initiatives like these should draw cross-party support. Greens and Labour might have the most to gain tactically from better democratic engagement with young people, but ultimately we will all benefit from a healthier democracy.

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Take rosettes out of politics to help resuscitate democracy

rosette_1628747c

This is not a radical cry for the removal of political parties from our decision making mechanism. Far from it. This is merely a cry to those tiny number of people on the insides of national and local parties. Please, for the love of Hynd’s Blog, take off those ridiculous rosettes.

They are a symbol of one of the strongest held perceptions in politics and that is that politicians cannot be trusted. If you want to be listened to – start by taking off your rosettes.

For a long-time now I have encouraged any candidate of any political party to take off their rosette. This normally occurs when they are about to go infringing on people’s personal space and time by ‘door knocking’.

I do this not because their particular flavour of political party might be unpopular than but because politics per se is.

Or, to be more accurate, politicians are.

By wearing a rosette politicians shoot themselves in the foot on the first step they hope to take on their journey of democratic representation.

At the crux of my argument is the assertion that if you want a constituent to talk to you, let alone trust or vote for you, then you need to give yourself a fighting chance in the first few seconds on the doorstep. This is unlikely to happen if you were a badge that basically says, ‘Watch out, I’m a politician.’

As much as you might honestly believe that you are different to all the others, or your party is not like those overs, most people don’t share these subtleties. They see you – a politician – as untrustworthy.

New polling from IPSOS-Mori out today highlights how deeply rooted this mistrust of politicians is. Just 16% of respondents said they would trust a politician to tell the truth. This is an opinion as old as IPSOS-Mori’s polling.

IPSOS Mori
In other words, even if you got a constituent to listen to you, about 84% of constituents wouldn’t trust what you have to say. This is more than bankers…a profession not known at the moment for their commitment to honesty.

This might seem like a trivial point but it is one of the pebbles on the starting line of democracy that is tripping up genuine interaction and engagement.

It’s axiomatic that the removal of the rosette is only the first step to rebuilding trust. The long road ahead in our efforts to resuscitate democracy involves strange concepts like keeping promises and working hard to represent constituents needs.

But that is for tomorrow. Today, still with 4 months left until the election, I beg and implore candidates and sitting MPs, MEPs and Cllrs alike – get rid of those ridiculous rosette.

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The British republican dream has to be more than an anti-monarch moan

Republic:

1. a form of government in which the people or their elected representatives possess the supreme power


In this sense of the word, I am a republican. This definition offers a positive image. An system of government based on democratic principles where people hold genuine power.

Too often however, the Republican movement in the UK confuses this positive image of genuine democracy with simply being ‘anti-monarchy’. I am as guilty as the next blogger for this. I have written highlighting royal corruption and how they too often over-step their constitutional position.

Equally, if you currently visit the campaign organisation Republic’s website, you are met with a banner advertising the ‘Abolish the Duchy‘ campaign. Is this what republicanism is about? Maybe in part, but it has to be so much more.

If we want real participative democracy, we have to move beyond just an anti-monarch rhetoric. We have to show the benefits that republicanism has to offer as well as what needs replacing and up-dating in our system.

To Republic’s credit, they do outline in some detail a Presidential system that they wish to see replace the current system. This however rarely makes it into the press releases let alone the public consciousness. The case for democracy is no where near as press friendly as good old fashioned royal bashing.

When making a positive case for democracy, we cannot completely shy away from  the fact that in a future republic, almost by definition, a monarch will not hold a position of power or even a symbolic position as ‘head of state’.

Just as a monarch can play no role in a future republic, nor can an unelected chamber within our parliament. The current House of Lords is as offensive to the concept of democracy as the monarchy is. Why do republicans spend so much time attacking the monarchy and so little the House of Lords?

Having an entire chamber of non-elected lords is not democratic. Having reserved seats within this chamber for bishops, or indeed any faith leader is equally as undesirable. Your historical institutional power should bear no resemblance to the weight of influence you have in the modern decision making process. Is this too radical a sentiment?

It is not just me making these ‘radical’ arguments. Recent polls show that 69% of people support the principle of an elected second chamber.

It is with absolute despair then that I have watched as the reform of the lords has been kicked into the political long grass once more. Labour failed in this respect for 13 years. The Liberal Democrats have, despite their best efforts, been unable to follow through in their pledge on electoral reform.

This failure to deliver Lords reform with such public support is a symptom of our broken system – our democracy is not working.

Unlike Lords reform, the anti-monarch sentiments of republicanism hold much less support within the British population. 69% of the population stated in a recent poll that they thought we would be worse off without the monarchy. Would the public vote in a referendum to keep the monarch as unelected head of state? Possibly, although of course the irony is that we don’t know because we have never been asked!

At the heart of my republican beliefs is a very simple, positive idea – that those who make the rules that govern us and those who represent us abroad should be democratically elected (as proportionally as possible). This is our future we are talking about. I think we should have an equal say in how we shape it.

Without shying away from the inherent incompatibility of the monarchy and republicanism we need to ensure that our positive vision of a truly participative democracy is what people associate with our campaign.

Living in a republic is not about denying our history and the role the monarchy (and the Lords) played in shaping this country. It is however about enabling all to equally have a say in shaping our future.

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Afghanistan – they have all the time in the world

The US army, still present in Afghanistan. Photograph thanks to US Army.

Reading an article recently from E-Sharp magazine (http://www.esharp.eu/), I was reminded of a well known Taliban saying, “The Americans may have the wristwatches, but we have the time”. 

It is now coming up to 9 years since the invasion of Afghanistan.  Obama (and supportive European leaders), face a basic problem.  They justify their presence with their mantra of “things would fall apart if we were not there; we are protecting the locals from the Taliban etc”.  This is fine, and indeed holds a strong sense of truth to it.  The problem however, is what event is going to happen to change this situation.  What is going to happen that will make our troops withdrawal smooth and painless? Is the Afghan National Army suddenly going to become a lean mean fighting machine?

It reminds me of James Burkes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jason_Burke) basic point about fighting an idea rather than a physical enemy. Can you defeat an idea, by attacking those who advocate an idea? I suspect not (which is where our “hearts and minds” campaign comes in). 

This is not an up-beat message, that in all likelihood, whenever we pull out in the foreseeable future bloodshed will follow.  The only thing worse than this that I can imagine, is another 5 years of US sponsored bloodshed, that is then followed by a bloody withdrawal.  If we have not managed to create these conditions for withdrawal in 9 years, when will we have? If we set a withdrawal date, we look like we are abandoning the people.  If we stay we are guaranteeing more of the same.

It’s about time we looked for a plan B.  Are we sure a Western style democracy is the only way to bring about progression? Are we sure that more troops (for that final push?) are really needed? I do not claim to hold the answers, but it is clear that what we are trying at the moment is not working.

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