Just over a year since the National Conversation’s “experiment in democracy” got up and running, the disconnect between parliament and people continues to grow.
Yesterday the Hansard Society – a non-partisan political research and education charity – launched its tenth annual Audit of Political Engagement.
In today’s Daily Telegraph, Peter Oborne lists key findings from the Society’s polling research:
We learnt that barely 20 per cent of the public can name their local MP, half the number of just two years ago. Just one in 10 of 18- to 24-year-olds say they are certain to vote, down from three in 10 two years ago. Only 41 per cent of adults say they are guaranteed to vote in the next general election, compared to 48 per cent last year. And 20 per cent of voters are certain not to vote, twice as many as two years ago.
The scale of public ignorance is impressive: one third of voters are under the impression that they elect members of the House of Lords.
Oborne concludes that the growing gulf between Westminster and the public is down to a widely-held perception that “far too many MPs are greedy, fraudulent, sleazy and corrupt”.
While we certainly encountered this perception during the National Conversation pilot in 2012, we found that people were more likely to be disillusioned with Westminster because they believe that politicians – in general – did not share their concerns.
What the Hansard Society’s Audit tells us is that Britain needs more National Conversations to bring people together with politicians. We need this kind of open and active engagement to grow understanding and begin to heal the disconnect.
Today Prime Minister David Cameron outlined the Coalition’s proposals to introduce controls on welfare benefits paid to migrants from the EU. (See the BBC report)
The debate about welfare entitlements for immigrants seems a proxy for the kind of conversation we should be having about our benefits system as a whole.
During the National Conversation on Britain’s welfare state we kept returning to the issue of contribution. We found people were concerned about others getting ‘something for nothing’. Not because they resented paying for it, more because they worried it fed a dependency culture.
The political classes are now talking about how migrants need to contribute to the UK welfare system before they can access public services and support. But we haven’t yet begun the big conversation we need on building a fair and affordable welfare system.
A great quote from Hugo Rifkind in The Times (29th January: £) which neatly sums up where politics, politics and our institutions are today:
“In the past couple of years, as everyone knows, almost every aspect of [the] Establishment has taken a bettering and our traditional deference, if it ever had any rationale, doesn’t any more. But without deference, representative democracy becones a harder sell, particularly when the public suddenly have the online tools to shout at you all the time, rather than just once every four or five years as in the past.
At the moment it’s an almost impossible sell. Like newspapers, like the BBC, like the churches and the schools, and everything else, our system of government is in the midst of an existential crisis of confidence. It doesn’t know what it is, or what it’s for, or what people want from it. So it has to ask. This is how I think we ought to understand our referendums, whatever they are about. As the latest manifestation of a panicked system grappling with itself. Struggling to get a grip, as with soap in the bath.”
The National Conversation is about tackling the growing gulf between people and politicians, and countering cynicism about mainstream politics.
We are casting the net as wide as we can to find fresh ideas, and we’ll share them on the blog. Here are the some of the things that got us thinking this week.
- “Can we all get along?” Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind begins with an appeal from Rodney King, the man nearly beaten to death by four LA police officers in 1991, a notorious event that would trigger the riots of the following year. Haidt draws on insights from moral psychology to help conservatives and progressives find common ground. David Goodheart’s review in Prospect Magazine gives a compelling overview.
- Was 2011 a new dawn for people-driven politics – or business as usual? Paul Mason, economics editor for BBC Newsnight, gives a passionate account of how networked technology is empowering people and challenging everything we thought we knew about politics in Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere. See Andy Beckett’s review in The Guardian.
Let us know if anything catches your eye, via the comments or The National Conversation web site.