"We live in a strange world where no one dares to look beyond our current political systems even though it´s clear that the answers we seek will not be found within the politics of today." Greta Thunberg
A recent YouGov poll (source) showed that only 10% of voters now believe that mainstream politicians act in the public interest; a figure that has been in continual decline since the 1940s. A staggering 78% claim that politicians´ principle concern is either themselves, the interests of their financial backers or their particular ideology/party winning/retaining power, rather than the concerns of the electorate who voted for them. "Democratic systems of governance are under severe threat, not only from foreign interference and the rise of autocratic regimes, but also from the huge crisis of confidence amongst the electorate", according to Nina Schick, director of data and polling at Rasmussen Global (source).
Thomas Jefferson said that: "The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government." While we may all have varied ideas about how to achieve this, the principle itself is surely not in question. Neither is a broad consensus that the democratic political establishment has somehow lost it. Mind you, we´ve been warned about this before. Aristotle, writing in 3rd century BC Greece, the birthplace of democracy, argued that only matters of the common good are right; matters for the rulers´ good are wrong (source). The ancient Greeks knew a thing or two about democracy. Plato described a 5-fold degeneration of democracy from the ideal of Rule by the Wise, through Rule by the Powerful, and ending in Tyranny (source). For the multitudes who despair at the inaction & indifference of government, both local and national, to their real concerns, maybe that point of tyrannical inaction & indecisiveness has now been reached?
While many believe that these problems could be solved if only we could elect into power the right people, perhaps it is the system itself that is now the problem. For a start, in order to be elected in the first place, the candidate has to appeal to the electorate community; to give a reason why they, and certainly not the other candidates, is best equipped to address voters´ concerns. This is an immediate invitation to both slander the others... "candidate B is a rotten scumbag"... and also be dishonest... "vote for me and every day will be the first day of spring". Not a good start. Once in power, then no matter how well-intentioned the candidate may be, and many if not most are, their aspirations to create a better society immediately come face-to-face with the realities of the system; procedural limitations, huge workloads, the vast machinery of bureaucracy that resists any attempt to rock the boat and the realisation that the real power to effect change always seems to lie just that bit higher in the hierarchy. Our would-be instrument of meaningful change, by degrees, inevitably becomes more and more distanced from ordinary people and enters a world of intrigue, dirty tricks, lying, naked ambition and corruption; in which idealism and good intentions have little chance of survival.
But what is the alternative? Let´s go back to where we started. The political process starts with the community itself. For most people, the issues that they want politicians to address are those that affect them personally and directly. The Local Government Association now recognises that communities benefit directly from greater involvement in the way local services are delivered, citing 19 specific advantages on issues that the current system is increasingly struggling with, including enhancing well-being, reducing costs and improving services (source). But isn´t this what we want politicians to do... and recognise that they are failing to do? The implication is clear: everyone benefits when political power is restored to communities. By a system of electing politicians to act on our behalf, the reverse happens and the ability to influence public services is actually removed from communities; producing disillusionment, discontent and disinterest.
Currently, public services, at both the local and the national level, are managed through a network of taxpayer-funded officials, who in turn control and dictate policy to the people actually doing the jobs. They are accountable to, and take directions from, not the communities most impacted by those services, rather again the same elected politicians. The result of this is multiple levels of dysfunctionality. For a start, a significant proportion of the bureaucratic institution regards ordinary people, those who pay their wages, as a nuisance and as "the enemy". As the article The Politics of Community Development shows, often attempts by citizens to influence public service delivery are met with a blanket refusal to engage. Secondly, the professionals who do the actual work of providing services frequently find that politically determined policies contradict & conflict with the professional principles that they know work best. Finally, when confronted with the scientifically proven facts of climate change and the wholesale destruction of nature, in full knowledge of the catastrophic conditions being created for us all, and in the face of not just common sense but also sanity, politicians are unable to halt our onward march to disaster. We have somehow arrived at a situation where the system of elected representation is no longer fit for purpose.
First appearing as a term in 5th century BC Athens, democracy was defined as the "rule of the people". Our modern system of governance is no longer this. But it could be again if the governance of the future were to see self-contained inter-dependent community, special interest and neighbourhood assemblies of ordinary people come together to deliberate and determine policy, in direct democratic collaborative partnership with service delivery bodies. Our communities and neighbourhoods couldn´t function without goodwill; the glue that holds us all together. The forces of a new and very different world order are alive & growing within the hearts and minds of every person of goodwill who desires the emergence of a new era of right relationship; with oneself, with each other and with nature. Once the realisation becomes more widely accepted that the current system of representative governance is simply not able to address the multiple crises of environmental destruction, species extinction, social injustice, economic collapse and loss of human well-being, this group can emerge into its historical destiny as a new world government system in waiting.
Communalism, or Municipalism, is a model for systemic change based on the seat of power being the local assembly of citizens. Short animated film.
New Mills 2030
Inspiring initiative from a small Derbyshire town to re-imagine their community; a partnership between local residents, businesses and the council.