Democracy, DRIP and digital dunces

Yesterday I replied to a tweet by the excellent campaigning organisation 38 Degrees asking for experiences of “so-called digital democracy”. In the past few days I’ve been emailing my MP to ask that he not support the outrageous, and outrageously rushed-through, DRIP bill (for a useful summary of what this is and “how it will help MPs ruin our lives”, see today’s superb article by Charlie Brooker). I’ve still received no reply from my MP (and have only ever had standard letter replies to similar approaches in the past) and said as much to 38 Degrees. Ironically MPs must have been paying attention to that because today I got a reply to that tweet from the Twitter account for the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy, “engaging” with me, or at least asking me to take their survey on what I really feel about the subject. Later I attempted to watch today’s live stream of the commission hearing, although despite their website saying the link to this would be posted on their website the day before the hearing, it wasn’t even posted on there today. An inauspicious start, you might say. Anyway, copied below are my answers to their survey questions.

Question: Members of Parliament are elected to represent local people’s interests in the House of Commons. How can the internet and social media help with this?
TC: I think this is a red herring. Politicians like to think they can use the latest technology to connect with the people, but all they want to do is use it for propaganda and to curtail our privacy. There are very few politicians who use either the internet or social media to any effect. Caroline Lucas and the Green Party do it very well. The lunatic fringe of UKIP and the Tories just use it to spread hate and fear. Labour constantly use it to make announcements but don’t care what even their own voters have to say by way of comment. Politicians don’t have to use these channels to be effective, for instance Glenda Jackson is a true conviction politician I admire but I never hear about her Twitter account, whereas I do see her Commons performances circulated on social media by others. It’s the content that’s important, not the medium.

Does social media enhance the local link for MPs, or undermine it by involving them in more national and international discussions?
It probably gives them more to do, and a greater opportunity to connect with the people they represent, which could be exploited to better effect. “National and international discussions” is irrelevant, unless the MP in question is a cabinet minister or foreign secretary etc. My local MP does tweet about things he’s doing in the area although it often comes across more as a self-justification/party political broadcast exercise.

Use of interactive technology is increasing. Is this likely to increase pressure for more direct democracy, such as crowd-sourcing, referendums and citizens’ initiatives?
“Direct democracy” is a joke. It’s gesture politics. Barely any politicians are interested in democracy and certainly don’t want to use the internet or social media to give people *more* power.

What will democracy look like in 15 – 20 years?
I hold out very little hope for the future of “democracy”. Politicians are only interested in serving themselves and their peers. They will continue to curtail people’s freedoms as long as people let this happen.

Most people still get most of their news from television, although this seems to be changing in favour of online information. Traditional news organisations are also changing. What impact will this have on elections and democracy in general?
Traditional news organisations are changing for the worse. The BBC is no longer independent and doesn’t represent what people need to see or hear. The BBC censors news that isn’t in the interests of the government and gives disproportionate amounts of airtime to unelected extremists. None of this bodes well for “democracy”.

How can online provision of information about elections be improved, including details of where to vote, how to vote and the results?
Central website independently managed (not political) with details of all polling stations (with maps and transport links), details of all candidates and their policies, and results. [Note: I nearly offered my services in building such a site, but thought better of it.]

Can we expect continuous election campaigning through digital channels – what would citizens feel about that and would it undermine or strengthen representative democracy?
This happens already through the existing channels and I pay little attention to it. The extremists just use it for inflammatory speech, which gets all the attention anyway. Campaigning is mostly depressing, meaningless nonsense and has little to do with really connecting with the public. You don’t engage with me by standing on a soap box in an M&S jumper, or “digital equivalent”, you do it by not making the police kettle me when I exercise my democratic right to protest against your policies.

Do you have any other comments?
I’d like to think there is a point in this exercise but I really have no confidence in most MPs or in the “democratic process”. I doubt that anyone reading this [at the Commission] will care about that. It seems to be the sole aim of the political system to make voters feel impotent to change anything or find a political party that actually represents their interests. The internet, social media and digital privacy/civil liberties are being largely abused by politicians, as they do with everything else. These comments come not from some radical 15-year-old but from a white, middle-class, middle-aged, reasonably well-educated, self-employed ethnically British voter. I hope you’re all feeling suitably ashamed of what you’ve done to the democratic process.