It’s that time of year – back to school – and the Friday Room has been prompted to regroup. This isn’t an official announcement as such, but will serve the purpose. It is a viewpoint article – let me explain. We have several types of posting on the Friday Room website. On the main these are meeting announcements. We also have Viewpoint articles, News articles, and a ‘forum’. Look at the tabs above this article on the website (or click here if you’re reading this in an email).
Everyone is welcome to write a view point article about anything related to the aims of the Friday Room. Write it up and put it in a message here on the contact page. This’ll get the ball rolling and it will be followed it up. Similarly if you have some news of an event, such as a revolution we should all take part in, or a local live music gig worth supporting, paste it there. The forum is worth a mention. This is a really quick way to share anything with everyone. Simply go to the forum page, scroll to the comments at the bottom and post what you want to say. This may be an article we should read, or any other news. You can also find the Friday Room on facebook too.
Back to my viewpoint. There are really lots of ways to chip in and get involved and you really should. This is because lots of viewpoints over which we can deliberate make for better decisions. I think Parliament made a better decision this week over Syria, because more people were involved, rather than just some lofty executive with an all powerful leader. It is Blair who after all these years has no credibility with the people. I don’t think Cameron lost credibility following the recall of parliament. Maybe he did in his eyes, or in the view of mainstream politicians and the media, but not in my view. Jenny Jones, the Green’s new peer summed it up in a tweet: “Can’t see that Cameron loses credibility when he accepts will of parliament. Isn’t that what we want from a leader? Respect for democracy.” Good leaders make leaders of us all – this is what democracy is all about. The strong leader narrative undermines a strong democracy.
It’s better when more people are involved because we each do not have a monopoly on the ‘truth’. We each have our own weltanschauung – our way of “viewing the world” which, hopefully, is one which works the best for us and which informs our view of what a good society looks like. It is also unlikely that anyone of us knows the best pathway to the good society. There is a lot of agreement about what is going wrong. In Friday Room debates one of the most commonly identified barrier to the good society is the onward march the neoliberalism – the free market fundamentalism advocated by the right in all three mainstream political parties and UKIP. In contrast we do not all agree on where we are trying to get to, let alone on how to get there.
This is of course the reason why progressives identify pluralism as crucial to a new and better politics. However we haven’t yet clearly identified or articulated how to “do pluralism”. This has got to be more than just listening to opposing views (and then doing what you wanted anyway). The way forward, I think, is to adopt deliberative democratic practice. This is how it is explained on Wikipedia:
Deliberative democracy holds that, for a democratic decision to be legitimate, it must be preceded by authentic deliberation, not merely the aggregation of preferences that occurs in voting. Authentic deliberation is deliberation among decision-makers that is free from distortions of unequal political power, such as power a decision-maker obtained through economic wealth or the support of interest groups. If the decision-makers cannot reach consensus after authentically deliberating on a proposal, then they vote on the proposal using a form of majority rule.
Deliberative democracy needs to involve all stakeholders and develop ways of involving minority voices. It’s an inclusive democracy. This requires us to develop ‘other ways of working’ (OWOW). Such endeavours were a key part of internal Green Party democracy over the past 30 years and there was an official OWOW working group. One innovation was table-talk plenary conference sessions where plenary debate, formerly dominated by microphone ‘hoggers’, was suspended for a period of small-group discussion around tables. This allowed people to take part who would not normally have the confidence to use a microphone to address the whole conference. Experience shows such measures becomes difficult as a party gets larger but there is still an insistence in resisting the total cult of leadership. This is why Caroline Lucas stood down as the leader because there is a two year term. The good sign is Left Unity are having similar debates online as the Greens were 20 years ago and Compass is actively exploring new ways of organising and running meetings.
All of this is hard work – it takes a lot of effort. But using the tools of a deliberative democracy we can begin to work out what the good society looks like and the pathway to get there. Parts of the left will label this reformist nonsense and will continue to advocate a revolutionary approach. However progressives do not have to always sit back and wait for society’s institutions to change ‘of their own accord’. We still have to be acutely aware of where power resides. Democracy fails us when there is no authentic deliberation. Conservatives seem to do everything to prevent increased participation in this process. Hence their unequivocal opposition to the Alternative Vote referendum because they know a more deliberative Parliament means more progressive objectives achieved at the expense of their neoliberal agenda. And of course we now have a bazaar response to political lobbying, labelled the gagging law by 38 degrees, to curtail non-party campaigning by trades union, NGOs and charity organisations.
When democracy fails fervent opposition, including non-violent direct action are entirely appropriate. This was Caroline Lucas’ argument for breaking the law at the recent fracking protest at Balcombe – hard to disagree with when you consider the number of secondees at DECC from the big 6 energy companies compared to the renewables industry, described by Lucas as an asymmetric relationship.
Deliberative democracy is a key skill we need to acquire and help promulgate into every sphere of activity where decision making is required. We need deliberation in workplaces, trades union, community groups. Deliberative democracy needs to be part of our culture before we stand a chance of unlocking democracy in local authorities and Parliament. In the Friday Room we also need to work on OWOW to help make this happen. This includes how we organise and run meetings and provide opportunities for other ways of participating such as online and social media. Right now we need some deliberation for the next programme of meetings. Why not take part and add your ideas below in the comments box.