PLEASE HELP. How can we save democracy?

I’ve tried to keep politics off this blog, but I have to raise a question and use this blog to do a tiny amount to help change the world.

(How) do I vote tomorrow?

For non-UK citizens you are probably revelling in the schadenfreude of seeing the corruption scandals in the UK House of Commons. Do not revel, but read on because what is at stake is the democracy of the world and you might be able to help.

Essentially we have discovered that our democratic system and its decision-making is rotten. We are in denial. And we are headless.

We are heading into the glorious future of a digital world where nearly everything is possible and where values of truth, community, altruism are held supreme. That’s what I saw perhaps 20 years ago that electronic communications can and will change the way we work and live.

And our current way of running the world simply doesn’t work. As is so frequently said in the media the politicians just don’t get it. This is not about reforming the expenses rules. This is about searching for a system where ordinary people’s views matter can be communicated in a two-way manner. Where we trust those in power to make decisions on our behalf.

There are two immediate problems, which tragically are conflated. (a) We have to change the system. We have to create a system that works for us. And we are serious. (b) and we have to vote tomorrow in the local and European elections.

This is an almost impossible situation. The European election procedure is deeply flawed we can ONLY vote for parties. I want to vote for people, because in the future only people not parties can manage our governance. I don’t know how (which is why I am writing) but it is not by voting for parties.

The local council is also about people. I was more involved in local matters when I lived in suburban London and there I worked with councillors from various parties whom I treated as people. The issues were local and they responded in a local manner.

And I have a single ENUM to use to express my opinion.

public abstract static virtual enum Vote {

NULL (do not vote. Do not go to the polling station),

DELETE (spoil my ballot),

LABOUR (I approve of the current goverment),

CONSERVATIVE (The conservatives will gain power anyway so I will support them to change the country. They say they will),

LIBERAL (the standard method of registering protest as they haven't run a government for 100 years so it's a safe protest),

GREEN (save the planet),

BNP (kick the blacks out),

UKIP (No to Europe. Britain is the greatest country on earth),

JURY (haven't a clue),

LIBERTAS.EU (Yes to Europe. No to an undemocratic EU), // their words

MONSTER (monster raving Loony party. I don't think they are standing),


public Vote(String message); const=0

I can send one of about 10 messages. My program has 10 states. And it runs at the speed of 1 operation per 3-5 years or 10 nanoHertz. This is an appalling situation where in everyday life we make decisions on the order of milliHertz and our messages speed round the world at megahertz.

We have discovered dry rot (or termites) in our house. And the natural actions are to ignore it or to kick it down. And neither is sane.

I have a ghastly premonition that in the UK we shall do both. There will be mass apathy and also mass revulsion at the current governance process (not the Government, but government itself). I think on Friday we shall wake up to find we have elected a system which is utterly unacceptable. If, by any chance, we have elected the status quo (the current main parties in some proportion) we shall know we have missed our chance to reform. If, OTOH, we elect a ragbag of minority interests who have no political experience and are in no way representative we have to get rid of them.

Either way we shall have to go to the barricades.

The last time this happened was 2003 where 2 million people took to the streets to tell the Government not to bomb Iraq. I was one of them. They didn’t listen. That was when democracy died.

This country has a proud tradition of rising against the system when it fails. People are killed or go to jail. I have the feeling that we aren’t far from that.


The most effective thing I can do is use the Internet, and that’s what I am doing. If there is a nascent solution out there that meets my concerns it is the Internet where I shall find it. That’s why I care about Web democracy. Why mySociety is a glimpse of the webDemocratic future. Not the simple scalar sum of enums, but the multivectorial result of argued discussions.

So I am urging any readers who feel the same to share their feelings and ideas before tomorrow. I shall go to the polling station in my voting suit. I shall carry a (simple) message. I shall take pictures and put them on the blog.


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11 Responses to PLEASE HELP. How can we save democracy?

  1. Glyn Moody says:

    I’m a big fan of openness, as you know, and I think it helps here. Specifically, we need total *transparency* in politics. The expenses scandal would never have happened if MPs had known they would be scrutinised. And I think the same is true of many other areas in politics: people do stupid and even corrupt things because they believe they won’t be found out. Make politics transparent – using the Internet, of course, among other things – and we’re halfway there.

  2. Will says:

    It’s not true to say the Liberal Democrats (as opposed to the separate Liberal Party) haven’t run a government for 100 years. We (I’m a member) were in government in Scotland for 8 years after devolution and in Wales for 4 years. We run councils up and down the country – a Lib Dem council vote may well make a difference locally.
    In Europe, we stand for international cooperation on international issues. And a Lib Dem vote stands for reform of the political system in the UK.

    • pm286 says:

      @will I bow my head in shame and thank you for correcting me. I lived in Scotland for 15 years (Stirling). I agree that Lib Dems have stood consistently for reform and your post has reinforced that view.

  3. Terence Eden says:

    I think you’ve stumbled on the conclusion – democracy doesn’t need saving; politics does.
    People are more engaged than ever in democracy (direct, digital or otherwise) but the political parties have consistently ignored us.
    I’ve never thought that the Brits had the stomach for a “proper” revolution. I think we prefer gradual & manageable change. I think the Greens, UKIP & (sadly) BNP will do well simply because they’ve become part of the recognised establishment. Independents – unless given heavy & sustained media coverage – won’t prosper. They’re too radical.
    I’ve never been a member of a political party*, but I believe that the solution to the dilemma is that the Digerati should become party members and work to reform the existing system – not to set up an entirely separate one.
    To that end, I’m throwing what little weight I have behind the Liberal Democrats. I reject the validity of your statement that they haven’t governed for over 100 year – the Labour party had been out of power for nearly 20 years until 1997 & I don’t think a single cabinet member was part of the previous Labour government. We need radical ideas which, as far as possible, are untainted with the old ways of doing things. People forget the fairly hefty changes that Blair managed in his first few years – I have no doubt that the LDs would do the same, if not better.
    Without wishing to sound like a schill, the LDs have ticked the most boxes for me (against the war, pro democratic reform, green credentials, etc) and they have the most impressive system of websites, blogs, social networking presence of any UK based party.
    I’m not sure whether I have the time or energy to join them – but that’s what I think your message should be. Change comes from within. If you want to influence this country, influence the parties who run it. Join up to make your voice heard.
    *Ok, I joined the Socialist Workers’ Party for a term at university. In my defence, the woman running the stall at the Freshers’ Fair was *really* cute.

    • pm286 says:

      @Terence many thanks for helping me to analyse the problem – Yes, democracy is alive and as well as it ever is. politics is very sick. I am, however, unclear as to how much we need parties. That’s a genuine unclearness.

  4. Terence Eden says:

    Do you think that the Obama administration would have released things like if there hadn’t been geeks in the party clamouring to make it happen?
    I genuinely don’t think anyone will vote for a new & shiny solution if it is untested. Making a change to the existing infrastructure is easier than setting up something new.
    Finally, don’t underestimate the fact that, short of revolution, parties will remain in power. A “simple” change like moving from FPTP to a form of PR requires at the very least the will of the ruling party. It will probably need public support either in terms of a referendum or re-election.
    People in parties aren’t stupid – they just don’t have the benefit of our wisdom 🙂

  5. bill says:

    Can’t help with your awkward choices there (though it seems other commenters have), but I have a suggestion for you: run for office.
    To me, that’s a horrible idea and would represent a huge sacrifice that I would never *ask* of someone, but as Terence Eden points out, we need web-savvy (hell, just plain savvy) decent people in positions of power. So, just something to consider.

    • pm286 says:

      @bill I think that’s an excellent idea. There is no doubt that UK is looking for new types of politician. It’s probably not me, when you see my voting suit.

  6. bill says:

    Sorry, I was unclear: I meant the idea of running for office (or worse, actually being elected) fills me, personally, with abject horror.
    But some poor bastards are surely going to have to give up science and do it, or we’re all sunk.

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