Saturday, September 10, 2011

Unlock Democracy - just don't ask me about its election rules...

I'm on my way home from a meeting of the Council of Unlock Democracy, and I'm a bit frustrated.

It was an interesting meeting, although the discussion on a UK Bill of Rights was a bit impenetrable - it's not really my field of interest. We discussed the ongoing work of the organisation, and I was reminded once again how fortunate we are to have a professional staff of such high competence. And yes, we touched on House of Lords reform (briefly).

But what irritated me was the debate on our internal elections. As you might expect, we're red hot on representation and diversity, and an excellent paper, written by James Graham, explained how we could decide upon the constituencies from which Council members are elected. As a result, we have agreed upon a recommendation to the Annual General Meeting which, I hope, will meet with the approval of those who attend. There was an attempt to separate the size of the electorate from the level of representation, which I found odd in an organisation that supports equal voting, but it fell and we could move on.

However, the next item was the election rules, and what had gone before was merely a taster. I suggested that we needed to allow candidates to campaign rather more than is currently the case, reflecting the new and emerging social media. At the moment, I am allowed a two hundred word statement to promote my candidacy. Yes, that's all. I can't blog about my candidacy, I can't use Twitter, I can't set up a Facebook group, I can't even e-mail my friends to solicit their vote or remind them to vote when ballot papers land on doormats. In short, I can't actively campaign.

In the Liberal Democrats, rules like that are being gradually expunged. They can't easily be policed, they aren't consistent with our philosophy in that they are unduly prescriptive, etc etc. You know what I think - I've said it often enough. I had assumed, however, that an organisation that supports "a new culture of informed political interest and responsibility, paving the way for increased enthusiastic public participation" would be keen to allow candidates to use alternative, cost-free means to potentially reach out to members.

I was wrong.

"Oh no, we don't want people to be able to organise. It would give those members who know a lot of people an unfair advantage.", was one argument. "We want equality for all candidates, without regard for merit.", was another. It is the hypocrisy of a ruling elite that are comfortable with the notion that whilst the rest of society are desperately in need of its guidance as to how their democratic rights should be promoted, whilst they themselves should be protected from the implications of an informed electorate.

I am intrigued by the notion that, in two hundred words, I might tell members what I've done since they elected me last, indicate what qualities I have that might convince them to re-elect me, and state what I will try to do if re-elected. It is the lowest common denominator of elected politics, the tabloidisation of democracy. Unlock Democracy? Making Democracy History, more like!

It is a pity, especially as the beliefs that Unlock Democracy stands for, and espouses publicly, are good and decent and honourable. My fellow colleagues, including the staff team, are all of these things. But on this issue, I must differ with many of them. It is an issue where the ideological fissures that divide a pluralist organisation display themselves, in that those of us who believe in equality of opportunity call for a thousand flowers to bloom, whilst those who crave equality of outcome are happy for there to be as many flowers as possible... as long as they're all grey...

And you know something, equality of outcome really doesn't work in elections...
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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