WITH THE POLLS shortly set to close on national, regional and local elections in Scotland, Wales and England (plus the Hartlepool by-election, mayoral choices, and voting for police and crime commissioners in England and Wales), most will have cast their ballot or made up their minds by now.
The decisions we make when we go to the polls are significant. But they are just part of the political and democratic process, not the whole of it. Some, indeed, will find the immediate choices on offer limited, constraining or plainly unacceptable. In Scotland, local and national elections are by one of two forms of broadly proportional representation. That gives smaller parties and independents (shout out for land and environment campaigner Andy Wightman in the Highlands & Islands) a slightly greater chance of influencing and shaping power. In England and partly in Wales, however, the monopolistic and frankly anti-democratic First Past the Post (FPTP) system still rules, albeit with the Cymru Senned using and Additional Member System and the possibility of change in Welsh local elections.
Millions of votes are wasted by the Westminster-led, winner-takes-all FPTP approach. At present, democracy is rigged. This is an insult to the people. It is also a threat to the possibility of discovering a better politics, a better way of flourishing – and of dealing maturely with the threats we face.
Changing voting systems to PR, and much wider and deeper political reform, has certainly been part of Ekklesia’s agenda over the years. We want big money, corporate lobbying and elected politicians claiming a private stake in the sectors they govern out of politics altogether. We want to see a huge extension of deliberative and participatory democracy, alongside fairer representation. We want Civic Assemblies to aid and take part in decision-making, locally and nationally. We want the House of Lords abolished and replaced by a people’s second chamber. We seek a rebalancing of power and accountability towards a greater number of well-funded local councils. We also wish to see media monopolies broken up and public interest journalism supported through trust and community ownership.
We believe in economic democracy, too. Without this, political power forever rests in the hands of big capital. Workers should own and run their companies. Large, transnational corporations should not be allowed to dominate markets, which should be orientated and regulated towards meeting need, not manipulating supply for profit. Banking should be localised as far as possible, and speculative finance reined in or taxed away. The power of the rich to compromise, own, distort and subvert democratic institutions should be ended. The fear of being excluded or impoverished by loss of earnings should be ended by a universal citizens’ income and universal public services. The immense resources of the next technological revolution (data, AI and more) should be democratically shaped and directed towards a genuine common good, so that wage labour can be reduced, and genuine creativity and innovation unleashed.
This, in short, is radical democracy: a continual process of making institutions and governance truly socially accountable, transparent, human-scaled, driven by environmental and social measurements (not money targets), localised, and people-and-planet centred. Indeed, if we are really to tackle the climate emergency, the biosphere should be given a legally enforced ‘say’ and upholdable rights within our political and economic institutions, at all levels. Otherwise we risk voting for extinction by default, out of institutionalised short term interest.
Evidently, the vast majority of the prospectus set out above has not been proposed or voted on in our most recent elections. Nor, along with that priority issue of emergency action to tackle the climate crisis, is it part of ‘mainstream debate’. In part, this is because most of our media in the UK is owned by a handful of billionaires whose interests are not served by real democracy or transformational change. The choices we are allowed and the people we can elect are hugely constrained by the dominance of organised wealth. That said, some politicians and parties are starting to get a wee bit more radical. Universal Basic Income, once a fringe idea, is now gaining real traction, for example. Even so, the kind of politics Ekklesia is interested in – underpinned by the practical ethics of solidarity, peacemaking, subsidiarity and sustainability – inevitably stretches far further than any one election could ever go.
Now is a good time, therefore, to remind readers and supporters of our ten core ‘benchmarks’ for moving towards a better society, and working/voting for a genuinely common good – one in which the commons are publicly owned and shared, not monopolised by a few or financialised out of existence. These principles were first enunciated in 2015. They were consciously designed to be sharable by people of goodwill from different faith traditions, and among those of non-religious convictions, too. They are nothing startling or original, but they point towards a real transformation of our societies, our politics, our economics, and our cultures. They are:
• A commitment to favouring and including the poorest and most marginalised in all decision-making
• Actively redressing and reversing social and economic injustices and inequalities
• Welcoming the stranger and consciously valuing displaced and excluded people
• Seeing people, their dignity and rights, as the solution not the problem
• Moving from punitive ‘welfare’ to a socially secure society where all fare well
• Promoting and prioritising community and neighbourhood empowerment
• Food, education, health, housing, public transport, work, creativity and a sustainable citizens’ income for all
• Care for the planet and wellbeing as the non-negotiable basis for human and economic development
• Investing in nonviolent alternatives to war and force as the basis for security
• Transparency, honesty, representation, participation and accountability in public institutions
Underpinning these practical principles, in the political realm, is – as mentioned above – a commitment to subsidiarity, popular sovereignty, proportional representation, and participatory/deliberative democracy as ethical imperatives.
Ekklesia’s approach has also been rooted in virtue ethics. For us, this involves a focus on exploring what ‘the good’ means in tangible rather than abstract terms; a refusal to separate means and ends; attention to how we need to be re-shaped as people and communities in order to help realise a good society (character formation); and nurturing the particular habits and practices required to direct interpersonal (and even political) life towards love as well as justice: things like nonviolence, forgiveness, sharing, creativity, solidarity, restoring and repairing. It amounts, you could say, to “be the change you want to see in the world”.
We hope those who voting will always try their hardest to support candidates and parties (or parts of parties) who come closest to as many of these principles as possible, and that popular mobilisation around causes where they are central will remain the major political expression we all seek to engage with well after these polls close. Among other things, that requires a renewal of the civic organisations, communities, unions and networks needed to challenge and break down the power of big politics, big finance, big religion, and a big, impersonal social order.