I’m unconvinced it’s an especially British trend to reject change. If you look around the so called ‘democracies’ of the world, the vast majority of them operate in the same way as each other, and in the same way as they have done for many years. As a town councillor I’ve been shocked over the last 3 years by the difference between how we make decisions in the council and in our families and communities. Politics at too many levels starts with confrontation and looks for a winner, while in the rest of life we constantly seek agreement and compromise.
As many of us move to adopt social media and more instant means of communication, the gap between this and the grind of council activity steeped in ancient rules seems ever greater. Even the Members of Parliament themselves must surely feel queasy when they see broadcasts of Question Time with two packs of (mostly) men howling at each other, face to face and two sword widths apart?
Yet radical suggestions for a new form of democracy are proving frustratingly slow to be adopted. There are some really exciting uses of social media and computer technology emerging that could change things forever by allowing members of the public to let their views be known instantly. People can become decision makers all day every day – not just once every four years. The work of councillors and MPs is to facilitate the changes we need to see, rather than struggle aimlessly with legacy of history?
Increasingly I see the need to close the gap between how councils behave and everyday life as the key issue. The cynicism of voters is perfectly justified as the system increasingly unravels and the chasm between themselves and the decision making process grows. We’ve only just begun to look at this in Frome – I know there is some great experiences out there we need to quickly discover and learn from. We need to close the gap between what people are asking for and what the council provides – I’d love to hear from you about case studies of where you know this is happening.