An invitation from the British Library to give the first in a new public lecture series called ‘Enduring Ideas’ was never a request I was going to decline. But what ‘enduring idea’ might I focus on and what exactly would I want to say that had not already been said about an important idea that warranted such reflection? The selected concept was ‘democracy’ and the argument sought to set out and unravel a set of problems that could – either collectively or individually – be taken to explain the apparent rise in democratic disaffection.
Politics is a worldly art. It is a profession that is founded on the ability to instil hope, convince doubters and unite the disunited – to find simple and pain free solutions to what are in fact complex and painful social challenges.
As a long-time student of politics I have often found myself assessing various kinds of attempts to create new democratic processes or arenas. From citizens’ juries through to mini-publics and from area panels to lottery-based procedures the scope of these experiments with ‘new’ ways of doing politics has taken me from the local ward level right up to the international level.
For many commentators the 2015 General Election was the first genuinely ‘anti-political’ election but at the same time it was one in which the existence of a major debate about the nature of British democracy served to politicize huge sections of society.
The end of another academic year and my mind is tired. But tired minds are often dangerous minds. Just as alcohol can loosen the tongue (in vino veritas) for the non-drinkers of this world fatigue can have a similar effect (lassitudine veritas liberabit). Professional pretensions are far harder to sustain when one is work weary but I can’t help wondering if the study of politics has lost its way.
Wimbledon has started, the barbeques have been dusted off, the sun is shining, and all our newly elected MPs will soon be leaving Westminster for the summer recess. Domestic politics, to some extent, winds down for July and August but the nation never seems to collapse. Indeed, the summer months offer a quite different focus on, for example, a frenzy of festivals and picnics in the park. But could this more relaxed approach to life teach us something about how we ‘do’ politics? Is politics really taking place at festivals and in the parks? Can politics really be fun?
Political science and journalistic commentaries are full of woe about the abject state of modern politics and the extent of the gap that has supposedly emerged between the governors and the governed. In this context, the 7 May 2015 might have been expected to deliver a General Rejection of mainstream democratic politics but did this really happen? Is British democracy in crisis?
The Tampa Bay Times is a very fine newspaper. One of its most insightful features — indeed, a feature that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 — is its PolitiFact website. This is an independent on-line platform through which a legion of reporters and editors fact-check every statement, promise and half-hearted mumble ever made by a politician, political candidate, political party, or campaign group.
The news this week that Jeremy Clarkson’s contract with the BBC will not be renewed might be bad news for Top Gear fans but could it be good news for politics? Probably not… I wonder what Jeremy Clarkson is up to as you read this blog.
With a General Election rapidly approaching in the UK, it’s easy to get locked into a set of perennial debates concerning electoral registration, voter turnout and candidate selection. In the contemporary climate these are clearly important issues given the shift to individual voter registration, evidence of high levels of electoral disengagement and the general decline in party memberships (a trend bucked by UKIP, the Greens, and the Scottish National Party in recent months).
In the wake of the Scottish referendum on independence the UK is undergoing a rapid period of constitutional reflection and reform. The Smith Commission has set out a raft of new powers for the Scottish Parliament, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has signed a new devolution agreement with Greater Manchester Combined Authority, the Deputy Prime Minister has signed an agreement with Sheffield City Council, and the Cabinet Committee on Devolved Powers has reported on options for change in Westminster.
‘London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down; London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady’. ‘Oh no it’s not!’ I hear you all scream with oodles of post-Christmas pantomime cheer but Parliament is apparently falling down. A number of restoration and renewal studies of the Palace of Westminster have provided the evidence with increasingly urgency. The cost of rebuilding the House? A mere two billion pounds! If it was any other building in the world its owners would be advised to demolish and rebuild.
In British constitutional history, 2014 will undoubtedly be remembered for one thing and one thing only — the Scottish independence referendum. ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ was the deceptively simple question that veiled a far more complex reality. This complexity was revealed in the pre-election build-up as the three main parties offered concession upon […]
British politics is currently located in the eye of a constitutional storm. The Scottish independence referendum shook the political system and William Hague has been tasked with somehow re-connecting the pieces of a constitutional jigsaw that – if we are honest – have not fitted together for some time. I have written an open letter, encouraging the Leader of the House to think the unthinkable and to put ‘the demos’ back into democracy when thinking about how to breath new life into politics.
Is the UK really in danger of dis-uniting? The answer is ‘no’. But the more interesting answer is that the independence referendum is, to some extent, a red herring. The nationalists may well ‘lose’ the referendum but they have already ‘won’ the bigger political battle over power and money. All the main political parties in the UK have agreed give Scotland more powers and more financial competencies – or what is called ‘devo-max’ irrespective of what happens on 18 September.
By Matthew Flinders
We all know that the sea is a dangerous place and should be treated with respect but it seems that Australian politicians have taken things a step (possibly even a leap) further. From sharks to asylum seekers the political response appears way out of line with the scale of the risk. Put simply, Australian politics is all at sea.