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Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Living democracy

I wonder how many of us really think much about the quality of the democracy we live in? 

When compared with what we have witnessed across the Middle East, our political arrangements look incredibly benign. Complacency or frank disinterest would be the response of many in this country to debates about the quality of our democracy.

For instance, how many of us have rushed out to read and respond to the Boundary Commission review of constituency boundaries? What are the implications of having fewer MPs representing more of us? 

Are these proposals a good move to strengthen democracy or about saving money by having fewer MPs, or a conspiracy to skew the constituencies in order to increase the chance that a particular party remains in power. 

To my shame, I cannot give an informed response to this issue - and I would say that I am interested and informed about UK politics and democracy! 

On the other hand, the recession is prompting debates about how we organise local and global finances (the Occupy movement); the Health Bill's seeming threat to the NHS has galvanised tens of thousands to debate, march and sign petitions; public service cutbacks are forcing us as a country to weigh up whether public services are the villains some politicians would have us believe. 

All these jumbling thoughts were prompted by an email from a friend at the week-end confirming that he had handed in his resignation from a job that he loves.

He is a senior public servant of long years standing and lives in a country that is openly proud of its democratic credentials and history.

Over the last couple of years, he has become deeply concerned about the 'systematic and methodical' action being taken by corporations and political extremists that have started to do real damage in communities and wider society. From his particular position in the public sector, he has had to deal with the fallout. He has become so alarmed that he feels he can no longer remain in a public position where he is unable effectively to challenge and resist - hence his resignation

Even in an allegedly mature democracy, standing up to challenge powerful interests is still not for the faint-hearted. My friend has not been put off by the thought that he is one man. His soundings and early actions have uncovered others who share the concerns. With his deep understanding of communities and a track record of building citizen participation, he will certainly create a force to be reckoned with.

I am reminded of Margaret Mead's now famous words:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” 

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