Democracy is growing up fast – you can find it everywhere. From social media-driven campaigns which change government policy ad hoc to online software communities where what gets done will get done by those who most participate, the opportunities to practise what I might argue are our natural instincts for democratic discourse are becoming far broader, more accessible and more widespread.
Couple this with the fact that now companies such as Apple are worth more on the stock market than the GDP of some states – and you sure get the feeling that traditional national politicking, along with its associated political groupings, is losing the race to cement people’s allegiances.
When you spend eight or more hours of your working day under the regulations, rules and procedures of a company as massive as Apple, surely any democratic instincts you have must be flavoured by the way such organisations operate.
So whilst democracy is growing fast, traditional politics is missing the boat.
Is there any solution or way back for those of us who might miss the single-sack coalitions of recent political history?
Well, I think there is. But first, in order to get there, you have to accept the thesis of my previous post today:
From the strains on the Union and those calls for Scottish independence to the very fact that the Tories were quite unable to win the last general election, the vultures – if we must see them that way – which are gathering round the British body politic should not be traditional political parties looking to carve up the pie that is the British electorate. The success of single-issue campaigning – from organisations like Avaaz.org and 38 Degrees to the recent social media-engendered movements against the Welfare, NHS and Legal Aid bills currently going through Parliament – just goes to show that getting people involved isn’t, in the future, going to be simply the old trick of putting them all in the same leaflet-delivering sack. The old political parties will still be needed – but just like the content industries struggling to understand the Internet, they will have to change their business models, downsize their reach and learn how to work with hundreds of different interests.
In reality, what is needed is for Labour in particular – and traditional political parties in general – to recognise what 21st century educators everywhere have had to recognise: the century of the worldwide web is the century where learners who receive wisdom from a single source have become empowered searchers who collate wisdom from innumerable sources.
In such a century, a voter is no longer a guaranteed quality to bag but a careful – and now instinctive – maximiser of outcomes. If Labour doesn’t learn this lesson fast, it will be condemned to never quite making it into power.
Some people suggest that against the monolith that is right-wing – and in particular Tory – ideology the only real solution is to construct a counter-monolith. This is futile. The right-wing monolith didn’t win at the last election – the Tories are as impacted by these curious forces of pick-and-mix democracy as anyone else.
If Labour is to truly win back its voters, on the discrete occasions when it needs them to want to turn out, it needs to work out how to tap into the ever-wider examples of democratic engagement I mentioned at the top of this post: which means knowing how to facilitate instead of lead; knowing how to create an environment instead of an electoral battering-ram; knowing how to persuade and coax instead of command and control; knowing how to work at exactly the same hierarchical level as a thousand and one other democratic forces of similar instincts.
Similar but not necessarily the same, however.
Many people identify with the need to keep the NHS broadly as is. A substantial portion of those people will not, however, identify with an imperious desire to either join or even support Labour as a political party.
Use your political skills to engage at their chosen level and their chosen place of action – and give them the resources to voice their preoccupations – and you may be able to make yourself heard.
But if you dare to use your political skills to manipulate them back into the door-knocking destiny of all new recruits, long-term you will fail to capitalise upon the very real changes which are inevitably taking place in society.
Democracy is flourishing everywhere, that is clear – but politics is no longer its primary route. And until traditional political groupings understand this, they will not be in a proper position to take advantage of it.