When Tony Benn was a Member of Parliament, he would go around with homemade plaques celebrating heroes of democracy, such as suffragette* Emily Wilding Davison, and illegally screw them to the walls. He copped to this during a sitting of Parliament in 2001, saying, "I have put up several plaques—quite illegally, without permission; I screwed them up myself. One was in the broom cupboard to commemorate Emily Wilding Davison, and another celebrated the people who fought for democracy and those who run the House. If one walks around this place, one sees statues of people, not one of whom believed in democracy, votes for women or anything else. We have to be sure that we are a workshop and not a museum."
A new poll conducted by the Guardian and ICM concluded that the dramatic drop-off in British voting is the result of anger, not apathy. Brits still talk about politics, think about politics, and view the decisions that politicians make as important to their daily lives. They're just incredibly angry with politicians, whom they view as lying and undifferentiated in their views and actions. Basically, Russell Brand was right.
And the poll reflects my own view pretty well, too. My MP, Meg Hillier, has a safe Labour seat. She personally spearheaded the push for an all-recording, all-surveilling National Identity Card; voted for the Digital Economy Act; and was part of the New Labour government that went to war in Iraq; added fuel to the property speculation bubble; gutted unions' right to strike; and let the finance industry confiscate the world's wealth in a crooked, unregulated casino game.
Last election, I voted for the LibDems, who've since broken practically all of their campaign promises, and voted in favour of a system of secret courts where you and your lawyer aren't allowed to review the evidence against you. So much for "the party of liberty."
So who do you vote for? Pirates? Greens? As the 2015 election draws nearer, I'm certainly going to be looking more closely at both of those parties. I can't imagine voting for Labour or the LibDems at this point.
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This morning, as I listened to the BBC World Service on Mandela, I found myself pondering what it meant that he was South Africa's "first democratically elected leader."
This is undoubtedly true. The apartheid regime held elections regularly, but only white people were given the vote. The systematic, arbitrary denial of the franchise to a large fraction of the population makes those elections "undemocratic" and their leaders illegitimate. I think that this is indisputable.
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Adam Green writes, "What once was a dream of Lawrence Lessig, Aaron Swartz, Jimmy Wales, Craig Newmark, and a coalition of cutting-edge progressive and conservative activists in the Open Debate Coalition is now becoming a reality. The first Open Debate is being announced today by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. In the upcoming Massachusetts special election for Congress, all 5 Democratic candidates have agreed to a primary debate this coming Saturday in which they will answer questions submitted and voted on by the public. Anyone can participate at http://OpenDebateQuestions.com"
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(Video link) A local election in Cincinnato, Ohio came down to one vote from one person who thought it just wouldn't matter. But as it turns out, that person was the wife of Robert McDonald, who was running for a city council position -- and the race ended up tied. Katie McDonald just couldn't make it to the polls on Tuesday, and now the election will be decided with a coin toss.
Except for the coin toss, this was basically the premise for a 1956 episode of Popeye the Sailor, "Popeye For President," in which Miss Olive Oyl was too busy doing household chores to go cast her own tie-breaking vote for either Popeye (I-Spinach Party) or Bluto (I-Blutocratic Party). What's great about this vintage cartoon is not just the message about the importance of voting, but all the jokes that can be made about two "politicians" offering potential voters "stuff" and doing actual physical labor for the single woman vote.
(via My Vintage Generation)
Clay Shirky's TED talk, "How the Internet will (one day) transform government," is a smart, fast, funny look at how the Internet lowers the cost of doing things together. Given that the core task of government and industry is the coordination of collective effort, this lowering cost means big changes.
The open-source world has learned to deal with a flood of new, oftentimes divergent, ideas using hosting services like GitHub -- so why can’t governments? In this rousing talk Clay Shirky shows how democracies can take a lesson from the Internet, to be not just transparent but also to draw on the knowledge of all their citizens.
Clay Shirky argues that the history of the modern world could be rendered as the history of ways of arguing, where changes in media change what sort of arguments are possible -- with deep social and political implications.
UK government ministers have been secretly offering Prince Charles a veto over proposed legislation since 2005, under a little-known law that gives the prince the right to silently kill or amend legislation if it might negatively affect his interests. The legislation the prince was consulted upon includes bills on the Olympics, road safety and gambling. No one knows the full extent of these consultations, nor what changes the prince made to the legislation before it went to Parliament. Among the prince's assets are the Duchy of Cornwall, worth £700m, and he received £18m/year in income.
When I took my "Life in the UK" test before becoming a permanent resident, I was struck by the incoherence of the section on the UK's "unwritten constitution," which, to my Canadian eyes, seemed to suggest that the UK didn't really have a constitution, just a mismash of badly articulated principles that have to be tediously litigated and contested every time they collide. Now that I'm a British citizen, it becomes clearer and clearer that this is, indeed, the case.
MPs and peers called for the immediate publication of details about the application of the prince's powers which have fuelled concern over his alleged meddling in British politics. "If princes and paupers are to live as equals in a modern Britain, anyone who enjoys exceptional influence or veto should exercise it with complete transparency," said Andrew George, Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives in Cornwall. "The duchy asserts that it is merely a private estate. Most people will be astonished to learn that it appears to have effective powers of veto over the government."
"We should know why he is being asked and the government should publish the answers," said Lord Berkeley, who was last month told to seek Charles' consent on a marine navigation bill. "If he is given these powers purely because he owns land in Cornwall it is pretty stupid. What about the other landowners who must also be affected by changes to legislation?"
Revelations about Charles' power of consent come amid continued concern that the heir to the throne may be overstepping his constitutional role by lobbying ministers directly and through his charities on pet concerns such as traditional architecture and the environment.