Frome. Rhymes with broom. Nice small town in Somerset. Home to the Guardian’s John Harris, who brought attention to the fact that in May 2015 the local electorate booted out political parties from the town council altogether, in favour of a loosely aligned group of independents known as Independents for Frome.
The ringleader behind it all – though leader is probably an unwelcome word – is Peter Macfadyen. He’s written a call to arms / guidebook on why and how to repeat their success.
Policy Network and the Barrow Cadbury Trust are running a great little series of events under the umbrella title of ‘Understanding the Populist Signal’. Last night’s was ‘Contact democracy for the hyper-connected age‘ – probably the area most closely related to my own interests.
Prof. David Farrell of University College Dublin gave the main presentation – an excellent review of both the pessimistic view of democracy (turnout down by an alarming rate in all large Western democracies – but watch those Scandi’s bucking the trend, of course) and the optimistic view (today we engage in different ways – by signing petitions, by tweeting a minister – and we hate the phrase politics, but that doesn’t mean we don’t practise it). Even on constitutional reform – which can seem to be going nowhere – Farrell argued that the UK has been a lot more successful over the last 20 years than his home country of Ireland (e.g. progress on Freedom of Information and the Human Rights Act). Continue reading Quick notes from ‘Contact democracy for the hyper-connected age’ event
Last weekend I posted some leaflets through the letterboxes of all the flats in my 1930s building near Waterloo. I was supposed to be knocking on doors and asking people whether they’d registered to vote. But I’d run out of time – and, feeling it was too late to disturb people, posted the voter registration pack – a letter and form from Join The Vote (a non-partisan, charity-supported, 38 Degrees-led coalition) through the letterboxes instead.
I went back several days later – this time earlier in the evening – and knocked on the relatively few doors into flats which showed signs of life. No answers. Well, one answer – but he was the local activist type, who is often whipping up support for some petition or other. Not surprisingly, of course he’d registered to vote.
And really, it would be a surprise if many of the building residents had failed to vote – this locale is easy-pickings for local party activists, particularly Labour and Lib Dems who are battling it out to define who is more useless, ‘barmy’ or wasteful in regard to running Lambeth Council. We’ve all had a lot of leaflets. A lot. Flats are great for the letterbox/minute ratio. And canvassing too – at least twice in the last few months – and that’s only counting the times I’ve been in.
So was it likely that many people weren’t registered to vote? Did it matter that I failed miserably to allow enough time to do several rounds of door-knocking?
Brilliant, hilarious talk from fast-talking Douglas Rushkoff, on what digital media does to us, our perception of time, our institutions, the way we work, and what it does to our democracy.
Interrupted by the NSA/PRISM breaking news story just before going on stage, Rushkoff talks of the ‘perpetual state of interruptive emergency’ that digital media encourages us to live in: ‘present shock’. What appears to be a pessimistic talk – he even complains about Game of Thrones – is turned around as Rushkoff dreams of a culture of activism.
I’m not convinced his position is really consistent – I’m not sure you can complain about the Obama campaign just using digital for fundraising, about nobody having goals anymore, before claiming a bright future of local a peer-to-peer economy and always-on activism: I don’t see how the latter creates longer-term goals either. But it’s still a great watch.
Salim ‘Singularity University’ Ismael’s talk from the same forum is also excellent – some ‘wow’ statistics in here: