Category Archives: democracy

Flatpack Democracy’s DIY independence

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Frome ex-mayor Peter Macfadyen (not the current mayor, as incorrectly stated in the interview) talks in this audio interview of how a group of ordinary people in southwest England took control of their local government by standing as non-party, independent candidates.

His story involves a group of local residents – meeting in a pub, of course – who took control of their town council at their first attempt then swept all the seats on their second.

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Greenwald nails state of US “democracy”

Screenshot from 2016-05-04 13:09:58I’m a big admirer of the work done by Glenn Greenwald, not just in his efforts with the US whistleblower Edward Snowden but also for his ongoing work in exposing and commenting on the realities of US foreign policy. He and Jeremy Scahill have just come out with a new book on the US drone wars called “The Assassination Complex”, previewed here on the indefatigable Democracy Now! Looks like a must-read to me.

Greenwald’s withering assessment of the ongoing US primaries, Democrat and Republican, which he made during the same programme, bears repeating in full.

The “they” he is referring to are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, though both he and Scahill are justifiably critical of Bernie Sanders too.

Well, I mean, I just think it’s—in some sense, Washington, D.C.—not the United States, but Washington, D.C.—is getting exactly the election they deserve. These are the two most unpopular presidential candidates ever to run, I think, in 30 years. They have the highest unfavorable ratings of any nominees in decades. The only thing they’re able to do to one another is try and be as toxic and nasty and destructive as possible, because everybody has already decided, more or less, that they’re so unlikable. And so, it’s going to be the opposite of an inspiring election. It’s just going to be two extremely unpopular people trying to destroy the other on both a personal level, backed by huge amounts of money and serving more or less the same interests. And I think the two parties and the establishment leaders in Washington, and the people who support and run that whole system, have gotten exactly the election that they deserve. Unfortunately, Americans are going to have to suffer along with them.

It really is that bad.

So the most powerful nation on the planet – thereby the most powerful government in history given the weaponry at its disposal – shows no imminent signs of substantive political change at the top.

That makes the work of finding better ways of political decision-making, such as sortition and participatory budgets, all the more critical. If that link seems obscure think of it as the difference between government by the people – “democracy” – versus government by a wealthy few – “oligarchy“.

That’s why I’m planning on ramping up Democracy Talk – an as-yet experimental audio and video reporting series focused on innovations in our political decision-making processes and accompanying commentary on the quality of existing ones.

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Where next for Anywhere but Westminster?

I love what John Harris and John Domokos have been doing with their ad hoc video journalism project “Anywhere but Westminster” for the Guardian. Theirs was an inspired decision four years ago: to travel around the UK to cover national politics rather than stagnate among the self-absorbed and self-obsessed of London’s media and political pools.

Their coverage has been refreshing and realistic – far closer to the dynamics of what’s happening on the ground than what you could learn from watching the national broadcasters – the BBC, ITV or Sky and the first twos’ regional offshoots.

Now they’re asking for ideas for what to do next. My answer would be to focus on the various experiments in political innovation that are popping up around the UK’s four member countries – things like Frome’s Flatpack Democracy – which John Harris himself wrote about last year.

The Sortition Foundation is another interesting initiative. On the 10th and 11th of June it will host Harm van Dijk and Jerphaas Donner, the founders of the G1000 in the Netherlands, to help launch the G1000 in the UK. The G1000’s aim is to assemble a representative, random selection of people from a selected community to deliberate their areas political priorities.

I hope to be there myself to start gathering material for a follow-up series of articles to my book Fraudcast News – How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies.

https://cdn.theguardian.tv/mainwebsite/2016/04/22/160425ABWexplainer_desk.mp4

For six years, John Harris and John Domokos have travelled the UK to get a sense of British politics away from the Westminster bubble. Meanwhile, old-fashioned two-party politics has crumbled amid a rising sense of discontent with the status quo. For their new series, the pair are back on the road, hunting down radical new politics in some unlikely places

Where do you think they should go? Send them your suggestions

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The end of politicians?

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Author Brett Hennig talks about his book “The End Of Politicians“, which describes how ordinary people could become decision makers in their own right by way of citizen policy juries.

“It’s about a different way of doing democracy. Instead of relying on elections to select your leaders you do a random selection of ordinary people and give them the power to make the decisions,” Brett said.

“Politicians are constrained by money, by the media, by factions. They aren’t actually as free to implement the things that they say that they’ll implement.”

Brett told Democracy Talk his 10-year dream would be to have national governments no longer chosen by elections but rather by sortition – the random selection of a representative sample from any population being governed.

The book gathers evidence from an array of citizens’ assemblies showing that they work: ordinary people can and do make good, informed, and balanced decisions.  An electronic version is being crowded funded on unbound.co.uk.

More details on sortition in the UK and more generally can be found at The Sortition Foundation.

 

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Doing democracy differently in Oz

Democracy Talk meets Iain Walker, Executive Director of the Australian charity newDEMOCRACY, which aims to innovate in how we do democracy. Iain goes beyond conventional ideas about why Western representative democracies are suffering a collapse of public trust.

He sees the problem as much deeper than one of money’s outsize influence on elections – it’s the voting itself that’s at fault. Elected officials are in permanent election mode, making thoughtful, long-term decision-making impossible. The solution newDEMOCRACY favours is sortition – randomly selected samples of the public who then ponder a policy question with help from all the evidence they can gather.

This is the first part of a two-part interview.

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Democracy without elections?

What if our democracies didn’t depend on celebrity politics or money-fuelled elections but rather on systems that served the majority of humanity and the planet more widely? That may seem the stuff of dreams for citizens enduring the likes of the US presidential elections yet it isn’t as far fetched as all that. Experiments in governance alternatives are popping up across the planet, their members looking for ways to do democracy better.

Adam Cronkright, co-founder of the Cochabamba, Bolivia group Democracy In Practice, joins me on Democracy Talk to imagine political life beyond the frontiers of elections. DIP has been exploring better ways to do democracy for a couple of years, tackling the frustration many people around the world feel about representative politics.

Adam’s experimentation with random selection in student governments is road testing a technique that first came to light in Ancient Athens and other Greek city states. So what lessons to draw for today’s democracy lovers? Take a listen to find out.

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GDP vs something saner, more human

It so happens that two news reports out today neatly show the difference between dead-hand conventional economic measures and something that would do more to reflect people’s real lives and the performance of conventional politicians in trying to improve those lives.

This may seem like dry abstract stuff but it’s the raw material of most people’s assumptions about politicians and their performance in office or potential to perform – so pretty much critical to all things.

Exhibit A – the conventional stuff courtesy of The Guardian:

GDP measures

Exhibit B – the NEF think tank’s imagined alternatives, thanks to Common Weal

NEF neasures

The NEF’s ideas are a good start though only a precursor to the more radical, fundamental changes required in thinking and acting when it comes to our economies. That would mean debunking the myths of economic growth and replacing them with planet-healthy alternatives.

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