Power to the people
-May 21, 2002
The election of a monkey mascot in Hartlepool and ëRobocop' Ray Mallon in Middlesborough have distracted from the fact that our political system is in big trouble.
I am referring of course to this month's local elections when only 34% of the electorate came out to vote. Whilst the government pushes ahead with plans for more regional assemblies and directly elected mayors, many councils are being elected with the support of just one in 10 voters.
Over the next few months we will see continued debate about how to re-engage people in the political processes. New methods of polling in supermarkets, by post, text message and through the internet will be championed as ways to get people to vote in greater numbers.
But such innovations are like prescribing Asprin whilst a terminal disease eats away at the body politic. They treat the symptoms, but provide no cure.
It is to the first few chapters of Genesis that we need to turn to get the real diagnosis. In the beginning, power and authority we are told, were given to human beings to steward the creation. It was the most amazing devolution of power that would put the most radical reformer to shame. The creator did not keep a tight grip on authority but gave a mandate to the creation to order and look after itself. Made in God's image, we all have a responsibility to engage with and order the world around us.
The problem is that politics has become the domain of an elite. Power has been taken away from ordinary people, and centralised in the hands of political parties and institutions. Local councils have been stripped of their authority. Parties have developed their own language and culture that keeps many of us far away from the processes we should be involved in.
But there is hope. A quick look at the figures suggests that whilst most of population suffer from such political exclusion, they would express their political feelings if they only had the chance. Whilst for example there are only 800,000 members of political parties in the UK, there are 2.7 million supporters of the four biggest overseas aid campaign groups -- Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the Children and Action Aid.
The real question is not how we can get people to vote in greater numbers, but how we can make our politics inclusive once again.
It is time to bring politics back to the people.