Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Change the Party

Some would argue that today's politics works because anyone can join a party and change it from within, by the power of their arguments. Therefore, they may say, Interactive Democracy is not necessary.

The problem with this is that it doesn't seem to recognise a number of retarding factors inherent in all political parties:
  1. Group think

  2. Entrenched attitudes and philosophies; dogma

  3. Established power bases within the party and its funding mechanisms

  4. Pecking order

  5. The difficulties of gaining credibility

  6. The limits of trying to persuade one party when you may be able to persuade parts of other groups - the constraints of loyalty

Happiness Survey

The government is seeking to understand the nation's happiness, or well being, by instigating a survey. Some have criticised the cost of such an initiative. The Interactive Democracy web site could ask people to complete questionnaires on this issue or any other and would be an efficient method given its low cost, potentially large sample size and demographic accuracy. More here, from the Guardian.

It's also interesting to note that, according to one academic survey, direct democracy enhances the happiness of the Swiss, presumably by giving them the feeling of greater control over their lives.

Monday, 29 November 2010


With coalition governments, does it becomes harder to hold politicians to account for their promises; does proportional representation make coalitions more likely and further reduce the relevance of the manifesto? I think it probably does. Yet, even with a majority government election promises aren't always kept. The solution could be Interactive Democracy.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Direct Action or Direct Democracy

There have been two cases in recent years when juries have acquitted vandals who, in one case, damaged the nose cone of a Hawk jet being sold to Indonesia and, in another, attempted to prevent B52s flying on a bombing mission to Iraq. The court seemed to think that their direct action prevented a greater crime. Is this a symptom of the ineffectiveness of our democracy and would direct democracy help?

I suspect it would. Sure, there will likely be a small proportion of the population bent on destruction, but these people may lack the support of a wider group that otherwise gives them the backbone to proceed. Also, a jury may be more likely to convict vandals who could have otherwise pursued their objectives by easily accessible democratic means, by persuasion and debate.

Monday, 22 November 2010


"Government services to be online-only" states The Observer (21.11.10).

"Officials say getting rid of all paper applications could save billions of pounds. They insist that vulnerable groups will be able to fill in forms digitally at their local post offices."

"Around 27% of households still have no Internet connection at home and six million people aged over 65 have never used the web."

Libraries also provide public access to the web and librarians will help people get on-line. Both libraries and post offices may, in the future, offer access to Interactive Democracy. We will also see increasing numbers of households getting connected.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Prejudicial Web

There has been simmering concern in our law courts that jurors are being prejudiced by information they have surreptitiously discovered on the Internet. If we take trial by jury as analogous to Interactive Democracy, judges as Parliament and jurors as voters, then doesn't the Internet pose equally serious problems for direct democracy?

If the ID site is designed to present the opinions of MPs and their approved sources of data, then this balances the free for all nature of the rest of the Internet. The millions of voters involved in ID also mean that false information discovered on some obscure filament of the web is unlikely to sway the final decision.

Government Spend on Opinion Polls

The government has released figures for their expenditure between May and September 2010 and the Guardian has created a tool for mining the data. Searching for "opinion polls" shows payments of about £5m to Market and Opinion Research international Ltd, otherwise known as MORI. That's £5m that could better go toward funding Interactive Democracy.

The annual £60m or so that goes to operate the House of Lords would easily cover the development and operation of ID.

Friday, 12 November 2010


Conservative councillor Gareth Compton has been released on bail after his arrest for writing on Twitter "Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I won't tell Amnesty if you don't. It would be a blessing, really." A joke, off the cuff remark or criminal incitement to violence?

On the one hand intimidation has no place in a functioning democracy, on the other, many was the time my mother, exasperated at my behaviour, would say "I'll murder you!". Of course she didn't. And I never took her literally.

You may imagine the scope for abuse on a political debating site such as I am advocating for Interactive Democracy, it could get really out of hand. In order to promote rational debate I think that such a site should be very rigorous about punishing calls for aggression, against persons or property, and should come down hard on personal abuse and swearing. The system could be policed by users complaining about the behaviour of others. Sanctions could include banning individuals from the site for a period of time and/or removing their right to vote (if Europe would allow it). It needn't involve the police or judiciary, but should be overseen by Parliament.

Student Protest

Violence against property and the police certainly grabbed the media's attention. At least one policeman was hurt. It's yet to be seen if it will have any effect on government policy.

I advocate Interactive Democracy (or any direct democracy) as a way of avoiding such protests. It would give protesters a more effective voice, encourage debate, avoid destructive behaviours and reduce the cost of policing.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Election Courts

Phil Woolas has lost his appeal against the Election Courts' ruling that he lied and stirred up racial tensions in order to win the close run election for Oldham East and Saddleworth. He has been stripped of his seat and banned from standing for election for 3 years.
To my mind it is essential for democracy that candidates face the wrath of the law if they lie and deceive. Otherwise votes are cast on false information. This is the first conviction for 99 years, perhaps we should encourage more.
In a similar vein, I would also like to see the media held to account for lying. In this previous post I outline how it could work.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Barriers to Brainwashing

In her book "Brainwashing: The science of thought control", Kathleen Taylor describes 5 (FACET) factors that can help to prevent totalist and dogmatic thinking:

  1. Freedom (of speech etc.)

  2. Agency (freedom of action)

  3. Complexity (the varied mix of human opinion, values and decisions; avoiding cliched thinking)

  4. Ends-not-means (individuals, not cogs within a larger machine)

  5. Thinking

It seems to me that Interactive Democracy reinforces and encourages these factors. Maybe that's a small thing given that Parliamentary Democracy also requires these elements (to a lesser degree) but history shows us that dogmatic beliefs, whether religious or political, have a tendency to emerge and re-emerge, often with detrimental effect, so any extra antidote could be good.

(For more on fundamentalism please see Robert Lifton's Eight Criteria for Thought Reform. It may provide some insight into the social psychology of terrorism.)

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Prisoners' Votes

David Cameron conceded that there was nothing he could do to halt the European Court ruling that demands that British prisoners be given the right to vote. (More here from The Telegraph) Obviously prisoners forfeit some rights - for example their freedom - when they are convicted of a crime, but the courts ruled that the right to vote should remain.

It is interesting to note that our elected leader is powerless to effect the decision made by the higher democratic power in Europe, even though the MEP collective is only partly elected by British citizens and remote from them. And it is interesting to consider how prisoners may want to vote en bloc to achieve benefits for themselves. This may be even more problematic in Interactive Democracy if the general public, busy and preoccupied as they may be, don't consider votes instigated by "prisoner unions", who have all the time in the world to become involved. This may be good or bad, but, regardless, with ID the majority can change the system and over ride European diktats. That's democracy!