Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Dysfunctional Politics – Time for a Reboot?

The failings of democracy have become more obvious and need more than just a tweak

Some things get better over time but politics seems to be getting worse.  Like a clunky computer that takes ages to get anything done, our political system has outdated hardware and buggy software which means that programs often don’t proceed as planned.  In computing terms, our governments’ failure to deal with the aftermath of the global financial crash is the equivalent of a number of flashing warnings and error messages.  With the faults more obvious than ever, perhaps it is time to look into rebooting the system.

Viruses in the system

Politics needs a remake as it has moved away from the ideals of democracy.  Our leaders have gradually become more and more separated from the world of the voters.  Direct contact has been replaced with communication through the media.  Policies espoused by the different parties take the form of grandstanding statements that fit into a newspaper headline.  The message contained in anything more complicated is often lost on voters with short attention spans. 

The result of this is that politics has become just another form of marketing vying for our attention.  We, in return, now also struggle to relate to political parties.  The number of those among us who are affiliated with a political party has been falling for decades.  Politicians instead work with pollsters and media firms to guess at what voters might want and how to package their policies. 

At the same time, politicians can only offer voters less bang for their buck.  In an increasingly globalized world, many choices that had previously been available to governments have been taken out of their hands.  No country can make decisions in isolation and this limits what politicians can offer voters.  Not that they will ever admit as much.  Yet this unspoken reality further separates voters from politicians who offer too much and can seldom deliver on their policies. 

Some rewiring needed

A good place to start in terms of rebooting politics would be to re-establish links with voters.  As with all forms of communication, this needs to be two-way street.  Politicians need to not only listen to the concerns of voters before forming policy, but more importantly to explain their actions.  Too often politicians sound as if they are talking in code with formulaic messages devoid of content or meaning.  More direct contact with normal people might help politicians to rediscover the benefits of speaking frankly and honestly.

The best politics these days seem to be happening at the city level.  Mayors are closer to the people they govern, even in the larger cities of London and New York, and they are better at solving problems with regard to things that matter in peoples’ lives such as transport, schools, and crime.  From personal experience, the mayor of my city is having a positive effect on the world around me even though I did not vote for him.  I cannot say the same for my representative in parliament (who only turns up once every four years at election time) - let alone our Prime Minister in the UK. 

Politicians serve many roles in their jobs.  At a time when politicians are offering less in terms of leadership, the least they could do instead would be to spend more time among those who elected them.  Something needs to be done to fix the systems that will only become more of a problem (see here for one idea).  A malfunctioning computer is a hassle but a broken-down political system is far more dangerous.  

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