The Disruption of Politics

There are a bunch of sectors going through huge disruptions at the moment, whether it’s newspapers, telephony (via VoIP), books, TV, music, film, mobile handsets and if those rumours are right, the PC might be coming in for a fair bit of disruption tomorrow too. But one sector that is changing and doesn’t get a lot of focus is the slow shift to Direct Democracy over the Representative Democracies that dominates much of “the West’s” (forgive the slightly archaic term) politics.

Representative Democracies work by voters electing someone to supposedly represent their interests in the legislature. The elected official applies their own and probably more often, their political parties’ judgment on how to vote. And the only thing the electorate can do if they don’t like the way their representative votes is to kick them out when it comes to re-election.

But with today’s technology, we don’t have to put up with this any more. It’s possible to direct an elected official on how to vote on a daily or weekly basis. The role of the politician would change to one of explaining in simple terms what the more complicated issues of the day were and the citizens would make their opinion clear. Any politician standing in any election today could already pledge to vote how they were instructed – or at least take it into account, which would be a great and brave first step.

Technology is already changing politics. Examples range from the huge grassroots fund raising initiative we saw in the US last year, to national elections conducted online (in Estonia in 2005 and 2007) to iPhone Apps (thanks, Lisa) that allow you see who your MP is and educate the user. And 226 Parliamentary candidates in the UK are using Twitter to communicate with the electorate. What’s the betting most are using to to broadcast, rather than as a feedback loop though?

The problem with Direct Democracy is that the people who could make it happen, the MPs and political parties have the most to lose from this disruption. The role of the MP would suddenly be stripped of most decision making – actually, would we need these intermediaries at all any more? The parties would also face great change. Sure, they could compose a manifesto, but each piece of legislation would only be implemented at the behest of the people. Gone would be the days when a party could do pretty much what they wanted, with a suitable majority.

The unknown factor, of course, would be how this would influence the policy of a country generally. Would we fight quite so many wars, for example, where the people whose children would die would be in change of the decision? Would counties like the UK re-introduce capital punishment , as surveys seem to suggest? Would the man on the street want a control on immigration, in an anonymous voting structure?

I think we’ll have to keep guessing on these other and other issues, at least for the time being. But I am convinced that Direct Democracy will happen. The question is, when?

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