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A Magazine for Sheffield

Generation A: Reset democracy

Which political party do you support? How about Labour, as your father and father's father has done? Or Conservatives and Kippers with their big headlines in the Daily Mail? Or do you prefer your iGuardian plugin with glowing columns about the Lib Dems or Greens? Visit and you might find you agree with all them a little, but none a lot. A few decades ago political researchers noticed people across the developed world no longer felt attached to political parties. A more educated, independently minded generation campaigned for single issues instead of signing up for a whole ideology. Unfortunately the parties don’t seem too keen on that. The Conservatives want charities to stick to knitting rather than talk about changes to policy. Labour are distancing themselves from the unions. Even popular will doesn’t swing it. A majority is for re-nationalising the railways. Millions marched against the second (count ‘em) invasion of Iraq. When people see popular appeals falling on muffled ears they question what exactly is driving our elected representatives. A recent survey found that seven in ten people described politicians as ‘self-seeking’ and promoting the interests of the rich and powerful. Certainly, multinationals and millionaires seem to find the door to number 10 is easy to open. They sponsor events at major party conferences, have cosy chats with the leaders or leaders-to-be, and bung a bit of cash this way or that. It’s not exactly a conspiracy, just the cosy, effortless push of power. But people want things to be more democratic. In response, political parties are having ‘big conversations’ and asking for your views on Facebook. A commission on e-democracy is seeking to make Parliament more open and accessible. There is talk of citizens having the right to recall MPs, of constitutions and devolution. But what happens when people really get involved? I was up in Glasgow recently and heard tales of 7 year olds discussing devolution over breakfast, teenagers organising votes in tower blocks, and drunk youth having a Saturday night fight over the referendum. Like Prime Ministers Questions without the suits. But a different politics doesn't come easily. In the devolution campaign Labour got hundreds of seasoned activists from England on the streets and on the phones to argue for a No vote. As one Yes campaigner told me, “We got the votes we needed for a 75% turnout, but there was an 85% turnout... They threw everything at it.” It happens at a local level too. In reaction to the failings of political parties, Independents For Frome took control of their town council. This bunch of ordinary people organised open meetings and used techniques like ‘Appreciative Inquiry’ to decide policy. Instead of angrily hammering at what’s broken, they asked people ‘what works?’ and ‘what would you like this place to be?’ But their little revolution in openness and democracy was soon under fire. The Lib Dems bussed in an MP and councillors from elsewhere for a by-election to the Town Council. This is like turning up for a Sheffield Sunday League match and finding the opposition got the Ukraine national side on a free transfer. But with each generation the push by the main parties to keep the status quo seems more and more desperate. The movement away from party politics really got moving with Generation X, born in the 80s, who wanted more honesty in the whole process. Just one in five of the socially networked Generation Y, born in the 90s, expects to vote at the next general election. Compare that with nearly four in five when their great grandparents were young. This trend is expected to continue with the Generation Z millenials, currently discussing how many times they’ve seen Frozen. But as much as we distrust politicians, most people aren’t sure about becoming representatives themselves, so we continue to look for alternatives that don’t mean fitting 60 million people into parliament. Democracy started in Greece. Not a massive electoral democracy of nations, but a local democracy of cities – the ‘polis’. Some call for cities to be the new focus, with directly elected mayors leading local and global change. Then again, Greek democracy didn’t do leaders. They had things like the council of the 500, selected at random from the population. A jury system that gives power to ordinary people instead of the power hungry. Less random is the Liquid Democracy of the Pirate Party, where you can delegate to someone you trust. Your delegate would go along to an assembly to discuss policy. The Greeks liked assemblies too – thousands of people arguing, negotiating and poking fun at power. Not ‘service users’ and ‘swing voters’, but equal citizens with a right to have their say. With checks against manipulation and corruption these ideas are appealing in our days of spin and lobbying. After Generation Z we could go back to the beginning and reset democracy. Democracy for the generation being born right now: Generation A. Find out which party has the policies you support - You don’t have to wear a silly hat you know - DIY Democracy – How Frome did it and how you can too - )

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