Should we be more “democratic”?

At the recent Friday Room discussion it was suggested that we should be more organised and that a lack of “democracy” means that the Friday Room is somehow unacceptable.

I have the impression that most attendees would not agree with this view and accept the informality of the way meetings are organised.

My perception of the Friday Room is that it is a discussion group only.

It does not aim to take any unified action or indeed to come to any agreement about the topic being discussed.
The only outcome is individual wisdom and individual actions.
There is no defined membership and no expectation of regular attendance.
It might be better thought of as a place rather than an organisation, A bit like Hyde Park Corner.

I also think there is a wider issue of the meaning of democracy. Governance can be entirely top down with a dictator, benevolent or otherwise, or to some degree bottom up with the governed having a some control. The problem is that the governed are many, divided and ignorant, so the practical problems in giving effective control to the governed.
There is a range of “tools” available, the ballot is the most obvious, but there are also petitions, demonstrations, polling, focus groups and consultations, which admittedly have sever limitations. The idea that having a ballot is the definition of democracy and, if you have a one, everything is ok, is dangerously wrong. The ballot, the tool with highest regard, also has limitations and sometimes just does not work.

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3 Responses to Should we be more “democratic”?

  1. John Catt says:

    I’m not really qualified to comment as I don’t usually get to meetings. However, one of the things that alarms me is when people talk as if “democracy” should be all powerful.

    As Churchill said “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…”

    A plebicite in Germany kept Hitler and his anti-semitism in power –,_1934 which is why it important IMHO that we always refer to living in a Liberal Democracy. The “Liberal” bits means that the individual has liberties (enshrined in Human Rights) that the majority cannot over-rule.

    As to the Friday Room this is run by volunteers. If you have a membership and everyone contributes equally then I can see that allowing everyone an equal say makes some kind of sense. But I can’t see how the organisation can run if it attempts to dictate to volunteers what should happen. I’d suggest some give and take together with goodwill from all is the best way forward.

    • john greenwood says:

      Yes, we need to be forever critical of all the components of democracy. Particularly we need to be mindful of the limitations of the ballot, and, as you point out, the referendum.

      New “tools” are evolving with the development of social media. Most notable is the 38deg style petition but there is also twitter and facebook. Their legitimacy is controversial, but they have been used to influence those in power.

      I believe that people have grown used to instant communication with each other and have a growing expectation that this should somehow extend to those in power.

      As for the Friday Room, there is plenty of goodwill, no would-be dictators and no critical decisions to be made. There are channels for anyone sufficiently interested to say what they want, specifically, this blog, the Friday Room facebook group and the occasional informal meeting in the pub. Can you get more democratic than that?

  2. Daphne beale says:

    I agree with most of what both of you have said. Idolising democracy is dangerous and trying to impose our particular kind of democracy on others doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    As for the Friday Room, as I said at the meeting, I go for well researched information, a good discussion and to meet with friends. It is great to be able to argue, be respected and stay friends. It is one of the few places that I can get a well informed political debate.

    As for the last meeting it was obvious that people went there with different expectations. The discussion about homelessness was informative but not conclusive. It is intersting that the topic is coming to the fore again with 38 degrees and now the Borough Council forming a Homelessness Scrutiny Panel. (See today’s Echo.) Do we do more on this or simply refer people to campaigning bodies?
    Please could our committed friends let us know dates and topics for future meetings and which Fridays are which. I am sure we can have a good debate even choosing a topic! Please keep this forum open and active.

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