Democratising democracy

datePosted on 19:09, September 28th, 2009 by Lew

Speaking of headlines, that’s a good one from And an interesting article, too, by British Labour MP James Purnell, which touches on a few things I’ve been thinking about recently.

Purnell identifies three initial steps toward fulfilling Lincoln’s “of the people, by the people, for the people” ideal of democracy in British politics, and to a large extent these also apply in NZ.

First, embracing a more open politics. We need a much wider range of people becoming MPs.

Measures to ensure that the political process is not the sole domain of political elites.

Second, deepening our representative democracy.

Constitutional and electoral reform to abolish the vestiges of aristocratic privilege and making elections more proportional and representative.

Third, broadening our democratic society to make people powerful and enable people to achieve more together than we do alone.

Decentralising the political process and civic institutions and decoupling politics from financial elites.

There’s much more than that, and a lot of concrete suggestions around how these lofty goals might be achieved, why they ought to be. Although I don’t agree with all of it (it equates ‘democracy’ with ‘anti-elitism’ which is problematic) and think some is a bit glib (it’s an MP flattering the electorate, after all), it’s certainly worth a read.


3 Responses to “Democratising democracy”

  1. Neil on September 28th, 2009 at 20:44

    you might want to check out Purnell’s wiki entry under Expenses scandal.

    “second home”

    it seems all very petty to me but not unlike what’s going in here in NZ.

  2. Luc Hansen on September 29th, 2009 at 21:10

    Before you get too carried away with democracy, go to today’s issue of DemocracyNow! (website or itunes) and get Arundhati Roy’s theory of the “hollowing out” of democracy.

    May make you rethink your lofty ideals.

  3. Lew on September 30th, 2009 at 11:40


    It wouldn’t be the first time I’d rethought them, but I don’t see any cause to do so on those bases.

    Fundamentally the faults exhibited in Honduras and those which Roy bemoans are matters of implementation, not of principle. Both make the argument that democracy, in some specific cases, doesn’t work — a position with which I am in complete agreement — but neither make any credible sort of argument at all that democracy can’t work.

    What I’m arguing for — and asking about — is reforms which will allow democracy to work. Those polities where it doesn’t work provide useful data as to what those reforms might not look like.


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