Sunday, 20 November 2011

Referendums and demonstrations: a coda

I mused recently about why I felt increasingly concerned about referendums in contrast to protest activity such as demonstrations and marches. This set of questions continues to rumble around my mind and in particular the relationship with aspects of post-democracy with which I've been concerned for some time. 

One aspect which was crunched very well in this article by Peter Beaumont is the degree to which the e-petition initiative and the referendum are at root a transactional approach to securing change. Not a programme. Not a hard slog through democratic processes and checks and balances. But a way of allowing niche ideas to gain a level of prominence that they would not otherwise have managed and avoiding some of that fuzzy and difficult balancing of differing interests that is the stuff of deliberative democracy. They are an over-ride mechanism to try to secure a quicker answer. 

The fuel tax petition recently is a 'good' example of the way that a single perspective has in practice held representatives hostage, although clearly they have to some extent allowed themselves to be so held. One anticipates that the conclusion of a debate on an e-petition on wholesale further regulation of emissions in the interests of slowing down climate change might have been rather different.

I was very taken with Beaumont's phrase that 'democracy is a conversational process that moves at a human speed'.

That clearly doesn't work for the financial markets. But there is a greater sense of impatience: that representative democracy should not be allowed to obstruct particularly when it hobbles progress on a single issue obsession. Indeed, that Government and discussion are part of the problem.

Transactional democracy has a completely different set of values to those of deliberative democracy. The former simply wants an answer, preferably entirely on the terms of the proposer. The latter may be more cumbersome and it may be messy but it provides a basis on which wider interests are given a proper airing.

Personally, I prefer a conversation to a monologue.

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