POWER to the people

The POWER inquiry was launched last week and got a heck of a lot of coverage. I went along to the drinks bash having read the executive summary and I’ve now had a chance to read the whole report. It took a while but was worth it. I like their direct style of writing and I certainly like their diagnosis of the problem.

The generally warm response the report has received is very different to a couple of years ago when Tom and I wrote about the decline of political parties in our FT Magazine piece called ‘Party Poopers’, and before that when Tom wrote It’s Democracy Stupid and people didn’t really get what he was talking about.

Our FT piece prompted John Prescott to call us Mekons on the Today programme, saying we were out of touch with what was really going on. He argued that Labour party membership figures were climbing again and that our assertion of the problem of falling trust in political parties was overblown.

John’s been a bit quiet in the follow up to the POWER inquiry.

The most interesting criticisms of the inquiry I’ve seen come from the ever-excellent David Wilcox. He’s decided it was all a bit top-down and I think I agree but I still think they’ve performed a valuable role by raising awareness of the problem.

My overall feeling is that the POWER inquiry’s analysis fits with my experience of the current state of democracy in the UK and although I think their prescription is a bit limited, I’m glad they’ve got a proper conversation going.

The question that I’m now turning to is what comes next. I think we need to accept that political parties are never going to be as dynamic and vibrant as they were in the 1950s and 60s and that voting is only a part of democratic life. As Paul Ginsborg points out, “we will perhaps vote (an activity of some three minutes) 12 times at a national level and the same number at a local one — some 72 minutes in all, perhaps one-third of the television viewing we do daily.”

What I’m interested in is people who are taking democracy into their own hands. People who are delivering democratic outcomes outside of formal politics by either taking decisions or delivering services themselves. Hopefully it’s going to turn into a long-term project for me — watch this space.

Some POWER inquiry links:

  • The legends at MySociety have already produced a version of the executive summary of the report that you can comment on.
  • The good folk at Make My Vote Count have set up a linkdump of all the UK coverage the report has recieved last week.

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