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.
We started the National Conversation because we believed mainstream politics in Britain was becoming a minority interest. A club with fewer and fewer members – and which no one, apart from political obsessives, wanted to join any more.
Yes, people in general care deeply about political issues. But they don’t want to play the game of party politics.
This week’s Eastleigh by-election (turn out 52.7%) was as uninspiring as anyone could have expected. But one glimmer of light came this morning, with Michael Gove giving his reaction to the Conservatives achieving third place in the poll.
Speaking on BBC R4’s Today, Gove said: “it is the case that there is a greater sense of disengagement from conventional politics now than there’s been, certainly in my adult lifetime” and that, in a broader sense, “people believe elites have failed”.
We could not have put it better ourselves.
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.”
Today the party conference season came to an end as David Cameron delivered his address to the Tory faithful in Birmingham.
Yet again, Beveridge was on the agenda with the Prime Minister promising welfare reforms “just as profound as those of Beveridge 60 years ago.” (actually, 70 years)
David Cameron went on to update Beveridge’s ‘Giant Evils’ for 2012. Instead of Squalor, Ignorance, Want, Idleness and Disease, Cameron offered Unfairness, Injustice and Bureaucracy as the key challenges for our society.
We’re delighted to see all the parties picking up on the National Conversation agenda. Next week, we’ll find out what people beyond the Westminster Bubble have to say about the future of welfare.
From today’s Times leader: “in order to attend a party conference it is necessary to pass through intense security into an area where only those with official passes are allowed. But it is not only physically that these meetings are insulated from the world. Politically, too, they can often be little bubbles in which all conversation turns inwards.”
The National Conversation is about – gently – bursting those bubbles and starting conversations that are open to everyone.
For the next three weeks the Big Three parties will head off for their annual jamborees. Only the Lib Dems will be beside the seaside (Brighton). The Labour Party will be in Manchester and the Conservatives in Birmingham.
We will try and pick up anything interesting from the conferences on this blog. But we believe the really interesting conversations happen outside the conference venues (and beyond the Westminster Bubble).
In a series of articles in this week’s Independent, Andreas Whittam Smith makes a compelling case for how British democracy is broken.
In The Guardian, Michael White reveals that this is the most revolting parliament in history.
Backbenchers are more rebellious than anyone can remember. Even if they can be whipped into shape when the division bell rings, dissenters still give vent to their discontents on platforms like Twitter.
This is fun for MPs (if a headache for the whips). But does it really help give people more of a voice in parliament?
In today’s Sunday Telegraph, Janet Daley takes the Conservative leadership to task for a failure to engage with its own party or the wider public.
Daley doesn’t pull any punches, warning against “policy-by-focus-group” and advising David Cameron and George Osborne to leave “the bunker” and start to test and temper their ideas in the crucible of public debate.
Key quote: “the greatest danger in refusing to engage with argument … is that you never get to test your position and perfect your case. This weakness – the inability to anticipate objections and pitfalls because you have not bothered to construct a rigorous defence – has cost the Tory leadership a great deal…”
Getting out and engaging with people always carries a risk. But by not starting a real and meaningful conversation with the public, politicians risk being left behind.
Labour needs to find new ways to connect with voters at the grassroots, according to the party’s general secretary Iain McNichol in an interview with The Guardian.
Key quote from McNichol: “We need to get people engaged and break down the cynicism that you are all the same. It is one of the most dispiriting things I have come across on the doorstep. People just repeatedly say: what is the point of voting?”
Countering cynicism – and getting people engaged with politics is what the National Conversation is all about. We believe a frank and open conversation – around topics that touch everyone in the UK – can help all the parties re-build voter trust.