Sunday, 24 May 2009

Maybe now is the time Here's New Start's Clare Goff on the demise of the community empowerment bill (via Julian Dobson): 'Maybe now is the time for fresh ideas to revive the collective voice and rebuild politics from the grassroots up.' Absolutely right. Quick thoughts on the democratic turmoil, starting with three angles on those expenses: Some people (including one who really should know better) have suggested that the issue of MPs' expenses is 'not that important'. These are the ones telling us that we've all fiddled our expenses haven't we? Well no, we haven't. For a start several million of us have never had expenses to fiddle, and I suggest a high proportion of the rest of us haven't done so. Especially where public money is concerned. So if you have a conscience problem, don't dribble it on the rest of us. Then we have those telling us that continued exposure of this systematised greed risks 'making it impossible for people to regain their confidence in the democratic system.' The archbeak's piece in the Times is in my view not as bad a piece of thinking as you might suppose from the broadcast headlines - but still, it's a bit feeble to tell us to stop pointing out where the cracks are in democracy just because we might make them worse. The cracks are the problem, not the publicising of them. There's a third angle which claims that our political system is less corrupt than many others around the world, so stop making such a fuss. Duh. And those holding any of the above viewpoints are, I suggest, part of the problem. Three significant themes seem to be missing or understated in the debate so far. First, clarifying the connection with the unregulated greed of financiers which led to the recession; and understanding the extent to which all this greed was given room to grow in the fertile soil of Thatherite individualism, and has been shamelessly tended and nurtured under new Labour. Secondly, emphasising that many claims made 'within' the crooked legalities of the parliamentary system reflect a decline or absence of acceptable values. Where is the discussion about values in public life, where the code of behaviour which MPs could reasonably be expected to sign up to? And thirdly, returning to Clare Goff's point, we need to be linking this to the crisis of democracy at local level. The current shambolic state of Westminster is an opportunity for a fresh and vigorous exploration of a new kind of democracy. It will have to be a conversational democracy with a strong local dimension, and inclusive social media have an obvious role to play in helping us shape that. I want this debate to be wide open with low expectations of particular practical conclusions - let's have many thousands of flowers blooming so that creativity can take its chance. But we must also take careful account of the alarming proportion of young people who betray a profound sense of detachment and have never inhabited a...

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