Does democracy have to be political?

This is by way of a polemic – I expect people to disagree but I also hope it strikes a chord.

I can’t be the only one who has been struck by the way in which the people getting involved with the community clear-ups after the riots have been so keen to state that their motive is not political.

Thousands of people are embracing community and rejecting politics at the same time.  Who knows how long this community energy will last but with events like the Lambeth community speed dating event show there is a real desire to see this last.  This is clearly a good thing – the issues are complex and the solutions will be as well – but at least people are trying to take some of the positive outcomes of the riots forward and build on them.

But what does it mean if large groups of people are embracing community at the same time as rejecting the idea that politicians have a solution to the problem?  Is it a sign that in  the face of this kind of systemic complexity people take a pragmatic line and try and just get something done?

Or have we lost hope of anyone coming up with a solution?

No-one is suggesting that the politicians have the solutions.  No-one.  Quite apart from the fact that politicians should be ashamed of the fact that communities haven’t turned to them in a time of crisis this only compounds an crisis of democratic deficit that has for years seen reduced electoral turn out and participation in decision making.

But does democracy need politics?

Well yes – decisions are of course taken by our elected representatives not directly by us – but this only works if they can see past the next election to the fact that the problems that have been illuminated by the riots are not going to be fixed by the next time we all go to the ballot box.

So, we have a choice.  We can either spend some time reassuring politicians that we know that these issues will take time to solve or we can think about how we are going to get more people involved in the democratic process and rebuilding trust in democracy so that when problems happen we will turn to the political leadership to make decision.

We have an elected representative democracy and that will not be changed quickly – democratic reform is needed to reflect a more networked society but that is realistically going to be take a while.  Politicians will have to survive this crisis because that’s how the current system works – but I think the system of political parties is the thing that will break.

There is a real opportunity here for local leaders to step up and create a focus for communities that at this moment want to come together.  And I say local leaders because we have lost faith in our national politicians.  Do you really think that these local leaders will be politically aligned or will they be independents who just want to make their communities better?

Our political system can and should change as a result of what we have seen happen across the country – but we need to be mindful that along with the polemics and the reactions that we make the changes to the underlying mechanics of decision making that will ensure that we make better decisions in the future.

I just wanted to finish with a quote from @getgood because I think it really sums up my feelings about what has happened over the last week or so – and also the poignancy of what we will see in the aftermath.

It is sad and we need to do better to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

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3 replies on “Does democracy have to be political?”

  1. While your point about individuals focusing more on their local communities is a valid one, I don’t think the premise that such an act is apolitical is correct. After all, every single community itself will be made up of individuals with divergent views of what exactly will be best for that community, and those views will have to be debated and decisions about actions made – that is politics. In fact, if anything, asking people to become more deeply interested in the goings on of their own communities is asking individuals to become MORE politically involved than they currently are.

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