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Sunday, August 02, 2015

Why Democracy

BBC Radio 4 - Today, 20/01/2015, The Public Philosopher: Why Democracy?

On Entitled Young People who don't vote and then complain they are being disenfranchised (a result of statistical inequality being taken as evidence of oppression):

Toni: I am Toni, I'm from London and I work for the National Union of Students...

Only 44% of young people voted in the last General Elections. We have a systematic problem with our political system when less than half of young people vote, when black people are much less likely to vote than white people, when people from... they don't [vote] because they are being disenfranchised from the system.

They are, because they are being disenfranchised by you. I think that young people, they don't get a political education, they don't understand how democracy works. They don't understand how their MPs get elected or what they do all day, or all week, and we have to invest in making sure that people actually understand how the system works and not just say, "you should vote because you can". And I spend my whole life trying to get people to engage in politics... democratic systems

Woman: Birmingham University's in my constituency. You're from their NUS. I throw out a challenge to you. The changes of legislation mean that universities are no longer as a whole registering students. They're not registering and you know why? Because a third of them only comes to being asked for their national insurance numbers, they can't be bothered to find it.

My challenge to you is, my challenge to you is, how many students will register to vote? Can you be bothered to sign on to register to vote? Cause if you can't be don't say you're disenfranchised. You've made a choice

Toni: ... This is why they don't get involved. Because this the way that they're treated when they say that here's a problem. They get shouted at and told that it's their fault...

Woman: That is not fair. If I respond to the charge of that you're disenfranchised, that I then say the challenge is, make sure you register and you vote, so you're not disenfranchised if you don't even register to vote.

Toni: But it has to go back to education and for you to feel included in that political system. And that it's not something that you are excluded from, that your opinion doesn't count. And I think if young people felt that their opinions were listened to more carefully then they probably would register and they would vote.

Tom McNally, member of the House of Lords: A lot of this conversation is the usual beating ourselves up. I first came in this place 50 years ago, I've worked in various capacities and in various parties.

But to suggest that the system has not carried through revolutionary changes by peaceful and democratic ways is to ignore the social changes that have taken place in our country over the last 50 years.

My father was a labourer. He never failed to vote, although he always voted in a heavily Conservative constituency, because he thought it was part of his social contract, that he participated in the democracy that protected all his rights, and to hear young people saying, "Oh, well, we're not educated enough". Or "we're not told enough". You go out and find out. You participate. You're not chicks in a nest waiting to be fed. You're citizens in an active democracy and if you want to change things, get out and change things, but don't just sit there complaining.

Levant from London: I'm no longer what's called very young, I'm in my 50s, but I'm very disappointed in what the young people have to say because I grew up in a poor working class area in London. Still poor, I'm still living in that area of London, but when I was 18 my parents told me that I had to vote. I was told by my parents that it was my right to vote and from that time I voted.

It's your moral responsibility as far as I'm concerned and it's my moral responsibility to vote on the issues of today, to pay attention to what is going on in this country...

On traditional democracy, money and popular legitimacy:

John Redwood: The phenomenon on the continent of Europe, I think, is fascinating and easy to understand. We see there that the traditional centre left and centre right dominant parties are in a state of decline and in many cases collapse.

In Greece at the moment they command about 35% of the vote in the opinion polls in Spain about 50% and even in Germany the centre left and centre right major parties have had to come together to form a government. And I think we see that collapse because they are simply not meeting the aspirations of the captive people in Euroland with very high unemployment, very poor performance and austerity policies that are doing a lot of damage.

United Kingdom has a less extreme version of this collapse of the two main parties. It certainly shows that money doesn't count because these main establishment parties have dominated in fundraising but they have been torn apart in Europe by bad policies...

On revitalising democracy:

Alex from Manchester: When you talked about, y'know our side not voting, young people not voting. You said well, my father. Your father probably lived through a war. Y'know, he really held on to his democracy.

The idea was that there is a lot more to consider and there is that social contract which has declined. We don't care about democracy because it hasn't been threatened. I mean now we're seeing threats and freedom of speech is picking up again.

I think people are going to be more engaged-

I think if the system is going to adapt I think things like Prime Minister's Questions, shouting across at each other, it's childish. And I genuinely believe it's retarded. I think wehn people, I think normal people in Britain, I think we're quite polite. I think there is that notion I think we are quite multicultural. If you look at Britain it's just old white people shouting at each other.

And I don't think; I would never speak like that to my mother, I would never speak like that to my enemy. It's just rude. And I think, I think if you look at the statistics... you'll see that most of the public agree. That y'know you're not debating things that are really y'know entitled to our daily lives. People say what's TI... there's no debate of that. It's just that someone shouts at David Cameron and he says, well you know, don't worry about it, it's not a problem. It's just this, it's just this idea.

And you have these preppy leaders as well. You have these preppy leaders because of the social media, you're very scared to be yourselves. I think you can look at UKIP and you can see. I think a lot of older people write for Nigel Farage... he's got the notion of, y'know I'm not a politician. And the problem with politics, you take these preppy people with nothing wrong with them, so they'll say, they'll toe the party line, so they don't say anything...

Michael Sandel: A second way of conceiving democracy, not only as a process, but in a way as a project.

Democracy as a project is about trying to revive the terms of public discourse so that they will be about things people care about.

Democracy as a project really I suppose is about a way of living together that makes us, if it works, that makes us better than we would be if we simply minded our own business and took no part in public affairs.

Democracy as a project isn't only about voting. It's about reasoning together, arguing together, about big questions, and some people feel that contemporary democratic politics isn't enough like that.

Democracy as a project involves contending with disagreements, cultivating the art of listening, especially listening to people with whom we disagree, hence the frustration with the shouting matches that we've heard referred to.

Democracy is a project when it goes well, is about cultivating the habits of civility, of mutual respect, of political engagement. It's about coming, ultimately, coming to care for the common good.
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