Just been listening to a very interesting report on the BBC about The Power Commission’s report into British democracy which has been published today. The parallels with Alan Jamieson’s work on Churchless Faith were astounding and, as I mentioned in my book, the church really does have an amazing opportunity to model a mode of change and being to the rest of society, rather than copying it in twenty years time.
The Power Commission – funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Foundation (JR was a fabulous Quaker-Philanthropist-Chocolatier) – initially asked MPs why they thought voter numbers were down. ‘Apathy’ they said.
Rather like the ministers Alan asked, they reasons they gave for people not participating were totally wrong, and laid the blame at the wrong door. The Commission found very little political apathy. On the contrary, people are up and involved in politics all the time. It’s just that Westminster don’t call that ‘politics’, because it’s not the ‘Politics’ of Downing Street in the corridors of power.
Their first recommendation then is that Westminster needs to realize that the solution is not to ‘get people more interested in politics’ – ie drag people to Westminster to see all the great stuff they do (cf. get more bums on seats in church) – rather, Westminster needs to get back out there and get involved in the issues people are involved in locally.
You simply cannot – whether in church or political parties – expect people to sustain membership of organizations they feel totally alienated from. Unless there is genuine opportunity for meaningful participation, why should people hang around? I have often argued with MPs – especially over the Iraq War – that they are in dereliction of their duties if they vote against the will of their constituents. Our democratic system is currently topsy-turvy. We vote for parties who set out an agenda for action. What the system originally intended was for people to elect a representative to send to Westminster to speak for them. In other words, the motivation for action came from the people. We have lost this original intention, and are poorer for it.
The solutions the Power Commission recommends? Unsurprisingly if you’ve read The Complex Christ, a move from the top-down to the bottom-up, greater low-level interaction, and feedback loops. . More power to the local, and mechanisms whereby dirt can be dished and people listened to and action taken. Interestingly enough, they suggest that more MPs should blog, but beyond that, they think that there ought to be a system whereby the public can force Parliament to debate an issue if a certain number of people get together and sign for it. Furthermore, they recommend changes that would allow people to stand for election more easily without being swamped by the big parties.
One commentator was an academic who commented that 40 years ago we were debated the role television might have in politics (see previous post). It clearly had a profound one, and he argues that e-Democracy will have similarly profound effect not only on our politics, but on the way we see ourselves as citizens too.
Clearly, the Emerging Church movement has made big steps forward in this area already. e-Spirituality and the emergent, underground blossoming interest in the spiritual has had a profound effect not only on our theology, but on the way we see ourselves connected as Christians too. Spirituality and theology are no longer the holed up in Ivory towers to which only the sacred few have access; what we must do is help politics move the same way. It is, of course, a movement that is irresistible because it’s the way of co-operation, the way of inter-relation, the way of the divine. And it is, of course, a movement that will be always resisted by the powerful.