How do we resolve the democratic deficit in the right way? Sep 2022

People consuming democracy on Twitter: The Consumer Voice 2020

As a people we probably all know the answers: we’ve come across them in the past.

Look at the wall of the Walworth Clinic (below) 

How then to begin to resolve the democratic deficit in the right way?

We have the most brilliant system potentially but it’s hidden from view, we’re denied access to make the system represent more people, more of the time.

Consecutive governments since 1979 have run the country as if it’s a company so the country’s need for space to debate wider accountability, representation, development, inclusion and shared aspiration have been turned into mechanical, bureaucratic compliance functions merely creating an interesting backdrop to the way a public school and elite university group of people get on with managing global supply chains, their careers, interests and life after politics.

The call and response from urban, rural, town, neighbourhoods to parliament has been distorted, misinterpreted, misused. Noone inside parliament is happy with the way the institution is perceived, noone outside parliament is really aware of how the culture might be changed.

Above: an example of how for example institutional cultures and rules might be visualised in relation to climate change Credit Edgar Melitao

After the Grenfell catastrophe and during the Covid pandemic we saw the way the massive supply chains surrounded and absorbed government money, working against local knowledge, creativities and initiatives mopping up the money and then expecting the most vulnerable to do voluntary work: make masks, give food, go shopping, be kind.

It’s a use of shock and awesomeness that reinforces the sense that people are futile rather than agents with capacity and initiative.

The presence of these supply chains in our local communities was alienating: a real indication that we were being ceremonially and ritualistically mugged. Urban areas paid for their testing staff, rural areas often relied on volunteers. Even though there’s a massive history of knowledge, data, skills, experience in every rural and urban neighbourhood in the UK, there was no time given to considering the local: the value, knowledge and potential of the people who were working in these supply chains because it was only about delivering product for profit. It felt like a tech platform ppe/testing/delivery experiment to maximise profit rather than a response to a pandemic. 

These ways of responding industrialise professional insight, skill, care as well as demanding a permanent underclass, as well as a booming charity sector with overpaid executives seeking honours and relying on their client group to be volunteers. Most people who aren’t employed in this way think this doesn’t affect them but really if it affects just one person in your family it’s affecting your health and wellbeing.
When you think about the way the conservative party holds onto power: removing a leader, re-electing another through a membership vote and the rest of the country observes this, it makes you think that the country is run like a company, the conservative party members are like shareholders and because they’re shareholders of course they support the barons of massive supply chains.

To change this we need to think that there’s a massive democratic deficit here. We need to rely more on what we see, what we hear, what we experience, what we feel about the society we want to bring children into, to grow up in, be educated, trained in, work in: we need democracy as a recognition that we’re not just selfish people, we care about the welfare of everyone and a future for the whole planet.

A government that simply builds supply chains and networks for the already privileged and expects an underclass to always be with us denies us democracy, denies us all proper representation. The language that our political class still use reminds you of a time we need to assess and move on from: chains, whips as well as the unforgettable image of Jacob Rees Mogg lolling on the parliamentary benches. 

Like most people who grew up at a time when everyone voted, I have a real interest in democracy: I want to teach citizenship because I think we need to regain the sense of proportionality, process, reciprocities that are missing just now. In a world of overwhelmingly massive supply chains we need to build in an essential layer of local business, local activity, creativity, new types of jobs between professional and the Amazon warehouse kind of role.

We need a sense of shared agreement, possibility, creativities that are represented in the parliamentary environment and back to the neighbourhoods. If we’re a democracy then we need to invest in democratic education: we’ve never really educated, developed, considered why people want a better way of being, living: the living links between the institutions, the buildings and people across the UK need to be reanimated at the hyper local and tested.

How to make parliament work for everyone must be by establishing memorable and inspiring connections with every UK neighbourhood and it should be a work always in progress. The lives of people who live here should be represented on the walls of the buildings that people involved in politics and visitors work in and walk through every day.

The political values and interiors we need to see reflected are not those of the country house setting of The Importance of Being Earnest but images that let the light in and move us on from piranesian and gothic expression into a modern, bustling, relational environment that we recognise, acknowledge and trust wants to do the same for us all: the return of what’s been repressed for so long which is democratic representation.

Seeing the diversity of the country reflected in the interiors of the political system sets up a dynamic and a promise: when you see things you notice things, you consider things, you find solutions, purpose, connections beyond the literal, the superficial, the sound bite. The values we need to express are about the history, humanity, knowledge and experience of every neighbourhood across our country.

The images we have of parliament and the way parliament TV is presented is out of step and out of date with our cultural, social and economic priorities and insights into what it is to be human, now, in 2022. We need to start to build in a relational expectation and less pomp, ritual and costume. Parliamentarians need to engage with the level of social distance in society and if they can’t they need to do a different job. It’s a vocation about the quality of life, work, education, relationships and future we all need.

What governments forget is that if we forget democracy we forget that we need everyone to thrive. We need to see our complexities reflected back at us: this is modernity: this is democracy and we all want to participate, seventy seven years after the end of the second world war we need to welcome the people who live in every urban, rural and town neighbourhood into the UK as well as we welcome students, inward investors and sports fans. When we pay attention to the detail, now, we create the capacity to animate solutions to the big issues: reinvigorating the interiors of these important buildings means we’re saying we should be making this place work for more people, more of the time. 

A new respect with a reciprocal promise to reach more people more of the time reinstates the purpose of politics within a more spiritual sense of what the priorities of political engagement can heal.