Sunday, 9 May 2010

5. Real Representation

This idea is a summary of some of the ideas set out by Gerry Stoker in his book Why Politics Matters given from a local government perspective. 

In this book Stoker argues for a viable and realistic 'politics for amateurs' that can give people genuine opportunities to get engaged whilst taking account of the realities of the modern world.

For Stoker representation needs to be more than the minimum - that people should just vote to select their representatives and then do nothing more.  Instead 'it requires a sustained connection between the representative and those who are represented'. People expect their representatives to reflect their own wants and interests and, whilst they don't want direct democracy, they want to be communicated with and dealt in a better way than happens now.  As Stoker argues:

If representation is made effective then people can focus on passively and sporadically monitoring rather than engaging with intensity at all times; in short it is the ideal mechanism for delivering what the amateur political citizen wants
Stoker suggests some mainstream areas for reform to strengthen representation:

  • Social Representativeness - People will feel better represented if local councils reflect the social diversity in any area.  Encouragement could be offered to women and to ethnic groups and institutions could be made more friendly to those underrepresented
  • Maintaining Ethical Standards - Strong leadership and transparency can be combined with independent oversight to create the right environment for high standards and this will build public trust and confidence
  • Competitive Elections - Some form  of electoral reform, such as proportional representation, might help ensure that everyone feels that their vote has counted and therefore strengthen the relationship with those who represent them

Stoker also suggests three 'unconventional' reforms:

  • Conversational Democracy Through ICT - This may well be more of a challenge for the councillor than for much of the public - however it provides an ideal mechanism for citizens to dip in and out of politics when they need to.  (Stoker's book was published in pre twitter 2006 - this might now be more of a 'mainstream idea')
  • Re-engineering Representative Politics - This is about councillors examining how they spend their time and thinking about whether their time could be used more effectively to connect with citizens.
  • A Representativeness Challenge to Campaign and Civic Groups - To demonstrate that they really do reach out to those that they seek to represent

Many local councils are already using councillor role descriptions and some also expect their councillors to produce annual reports.  You could argue that these are steps that are being taken towards real representation at the local level.  At least it show that the problem is being given some attention.

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