X-Factor democracy lacks involvement

CAMBRIDGE – The campaign for the UK 2015 General Election is already well under way, even if we have six months left before May 7. It is the first time the date of the election will be known well in advance, and with the rise of UKIP – a Eurosceptic political party which has already taken one seat in a by-election  and looks set to pick up another soon – politicians are concerned to make every vote count.

History, said Disraeli, is made by those who show up. If you didn’t vote, goes the popular mantra, you don’t have the right to complain about who you get in power. But is there more to democracy than this?

We take democracy for granted, despite being one of a relative handful of countries that enjoys full democracy. Our complacency overlooks a problem with Representative or Indirect Democracy, in which we elect officials to act on our behalf: as the name suggests, it is necessarily indirect.

The issue is not simply that MPs don’t always act in the best interests of their constituents, though the expenses scandal and numerous other episodes have shown the magnitude of the distance that can exist between voter and politician. It is that voters are encouraged to reduce the entirety of their political engagement to putting a cross on a ballot sheet once every five years. Direct democracy, in which the people vote directly on a matter of concern (such as in a referendum), is impractical for day-to-day policy decisions, since even with advances in communications technology it does not scale well. However, what we have at present is more like X-Factor democracy, in which we vote and then sit back until the next episode (scheduled for May 2020).

Democracy literally means ‘rule of the people’. Relational democracy would emphasise not just citizens’ right to vote, but their responsibility to get involved at all levels of the political process and in their local communities – a more participatory model in which change is brought about by direct action, even if voting on major policy initiatives is not direct.

Tonight Jubilee Centre, one of our Member Organizations, is launching their latest book “Votewise 2015” in the Houses of Parliament, London. It is written from a Christian perspective as a guide for voters to make their votes count, but it will be interesting for people from other faiths as well, to compare their own views with this view.