We have woken up
The EU Referendum has woken us up. During the referendum campaign, people discussed the issues in homes and workplaces. People thought about the pros and cons and grappled with the meaning of democracy, sovereignty, borders and nationality. As a people we started to feel what a thriving democracy could be like. The vote result was a blow for democracy itself. Everyone had an equal say – whether you worked on the check-out in Morrisons or you were an Oxford Don. The referendum saw the biggest turnout of voters because they knew that it would have an impact – it made a difference. The majority of people voted to “take control”.
So, how do we make this democratic sentiment a lived reality? How do we re-energise political discussion and bring the big issues back into the public realm? How do we ensure that political decisions are taken after ideas have been publicly contested and the majority of people won over to an agreed course of action? How do we give government genuine legitimacy?
Civil servants are still sleep walking
As politics has been hollowed out over the years, politician, advisors and civil servants have created their own priorities and sense of purpose. They have become distanced from public legitimacy. Their policies have not been tested by the need to gain support in the public domain.
One example is the UK’s pursuit of the largest project in peace-time – the de-carbonisation of Britain’s power supply. This is a £300 billion project which directs resources to policies which bring no benefit to human health, wealth or happiness. It takes resources away from areas which are valued by the public and increases energy and living costs year-on-year. The recent rise in cost of domestic energy prices are a small, but visible, example. The cost of UK industrial energy is one of the highest in the world and is a disincentive to energy-intensive industries from data centres to ceramics.
The Climate Change Act was passed in 2008, with only 5 MPs voting against and yet, the costs were never discussed. It has no mandate and no legitimacy. The project’s success is measured against the sole criteria of reducing carbon dioxide emissions (which it has failed to do), not against the overall costs and impacts.
The need for a public mandate
To gain legitimacy, the government needs a mandate. It can be done in the following way:
- Fully review the evidence – in this case the climate change forecasts against the predictions; the accuracy of the data itself and role of politicians in directing research
- Outline the real costs and benefits – CO2 emissions against the cost renewables, replacing home gas boilers and cookers and funding 50% electric cars (that is the current plan, by the way)
- Agree on the principles – I would argue, for example, that energy policy should be aimed at improving our lives by making it 1. cheap 2. plentiful 3. reliable
- Public debate
- Gain a mandate for a policy
This approach can be applied to a number of policy areas – health, education, transport etc.
To make democracy a lived reality, we must demand that the government only acts with a mandate from us.
Some background reading on the de-carbonisation project
© Andy Shaw, 7th February 2017