Fabians and democracy

The Fabian Society have been thinking about democracy. Meg Russell, from UCL’s Constitution Unit, has written a well-received pamphlet called Must Politics Always Disappoint? (review to follow). They have also devoted six pages of their Spring Review to a series of ‘postcards from the future’ (ack!) – really a series of 150-word articles by thinkers on democratic topics.

The result is a pretty mixed bag. Starting with the worst, Ed Balls (formerly Gordon Brown’s chief economic adviser) covers two columns with an entirely irrelevant article about how good economic stability is, suggesting that he wasn’t very well-briefed on the topic in hand. Hazel Blears does mention democracy, and makes an interesting suggestion that Parliamentary debates should be held around the country (like the old Scottish Grand Committee), but she reinforces her reputation for radicalism with this magnificent opening passage:

There are two responses to the ‘no’ vote in the north-east [in a referendum on a regional parliament]. One: we can throw up our hands and decide the game’s up. Or two: we can push forward with further devolution, whilst recognising that we have to take people with us.

Even with the most generous reading, it has to be said that pushing ahead with devolution, against the result of a referendum that was lost badly – very badly – is only slightly democratic.

In other contributions, Fraser Kemp says that people are less cynical about politicians when they meet them, which is undoubtedly true. Amy Jenkins proposes making voting compulsory, not a bad idea but a bit process-y. Ross Martin makes a good case for greater consultation and public engagement in public services. John Dunn believes that our democracy is not very like the Athenians’. Mark Leonard thinks that the European Constitution is good for democracy which is – shall we say – contentious. Matthew McGregor, of the Centre for Social Europe, thinks the European constitution is bad for democracy.

The two most interesting contributions come from Helena Kennedy and Paul Hilder. Helena Kennedy writes about a project called the Power Inquiry, which she chairs, and sounds interesting. Report back follows, but the web site is http://www.powerinquiry.org.

Paul Hilder writes about moveon.org, and other related gatherings like the World Social Forum and Jubilee 2000. All the pieces in this feature read like hasty synopses of interesting articles, but Mr Hilder’s article suggests the most potential. I think that much of this talk about emergence is overblown (and even anti-democratic, as Andrew Orlowski has pointed out), but if it is wrong, it is wrong in interesting ways. As is all too common, Mr Hilder talks about self-organisation as if it is the sole purview of the left (or rather ‘global civic society’ – which is a euphemism for the bien-pensant). He points people in the direction of http://gathering.typepad.com – which I look forward to reading soon. More later.