When I got home last night there was a letter waiting for me from my Council. Would I like to vote in local referendum on Heathrow Expansion? Why not. Offer the politico a polling booth and he will vote. Would I like to vote online? Yes please. I can vote at my leisure (after dinner) and at my pleasure (sat at my computer, listening to Spotify and mid-tweeting).
Well done to Hillingdon for their progressive approach. This good example of using technology to engage with the populace made me wonder why the marriage between technology and politics hasn’t led to more positive developments.
Engaging the population
People don’t want to be bothered with politics all the time. They don’t want to have a vote on every issue or to respond to every consultation. But, Government’s – both national and local – could use technology to make it easier to involve people more. For this to work people need to believe that their interaction will be appreciated. We all know that Downing Street petitions do not change anything, which is why most people do not bother signing them. When the Conservatives first came to power they tried to crowd source ideas for the budget and cuts. Such innovations should have been continued, and improved as lessons were learnt.
Good at negative, bad at positive
Digital has been good at uniting those with a grievance. Social media helped Egyptians to get rid of Hosni Mubarak but it didn’t play a part in forming the new regime. Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement allowed almost 30% of voters to register a protest against the political elite, but the Movement doesn’t seem to have any overall positive message about what to do next. 38 Degrees can get thousands of people to complain to their MP about the privatisation of forests, but such petition are not as successful with positive actions. While it is important that people can express what they are against digital and politics needs to cross the Rubicon and start producing positive masses.
Bottom-up rather than top down
Douglas Carswell MP pointed out at a recent Demos event that Twitter is a great “bullshit detector”. It is easier for political parties to get their message out there, but if you get 10 MPs tweeting the same line then everyone can see the insincerity. Social Media enables individuals and small communities to become a part of something bigger. Rather than embracing this political parties are trying to figure out how digital can help their top-down control. Flat interaction structures do not exist in politics. Encouraging growth from the ground does not exist. Political parties want to give information and take data, nothing else. People who buy from Amazon, consume TV through Netflix and shop at E-Bay know that restricting online activity to this type of relationship is not satisfactory. Political party membership is decreasing because the offer is out of date. The technology exists. The big step for politics is a mental one.