This article first appeared on Bruce Nixon’s blog
In the 21st Century we face the greatest challenges in human history. We are confronted with the possibility of self-extinction. To meet these challenges we need collaborative, not adversarial, government. Like other species we need to evolve in order to survive. Just as Britain inspired the world with Magna Carta, Britain now needs to work, alongside other nations, in developing a model democracy that will give power to people and inspire the world.
The greatest problem of our age is disempowerment – part of a political project to shift ordinary people out of power and out of politics, to leave them content to judge their identity by the brand of smart phone they rent.
Nick Dearden, Director, Global Justice Now
We face the greatest challenges in our history
They’re all interrelated:
• The Environmental Crisis: Climate Chaos, Destruction of the Ecosystem and Pollution
• Growing Economic Injustice, fuelled by debt and the way money is created
• Resolving Conflict without Violence (More than 470,000 Syrians dead, 6.5m displaced, 12m in urgent need and 3m refugees. Europe has a huge migration crisis that is likely to grow, not only as a result of violence but also drought caused by climate chaos.)
• Out-dated Democracy in urgent need of comprehensive reform
• Leadership – the lack of it and, that key part, the need for “ordinary people” to inform and empower themselves.
The world is currently on a trajectory that leads to 3.6 to 4.5°C warming. If this continues it could prove fatal for the human race. The Paris Agreement at COP 21 Paris is just the start. 195 nations agreed a long-term goal, from 2050, to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5ºC. $100bn of annual climate finance will be provided to help poorer countries adapt to climate change and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. There is a legally binding process to review and report on efforts to achieve national targets. The hard work of securing radically lower greenhouse gas emissions lies ahead. It remains to be seen what the short-sighted and environmentally illiterate UK government will do.
At the root of the environmental and economic crises is the belief in continuous growth, measured by GDP instead of wellbeing, as the measure of progress.
Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist. Kenneth Boulding
We need to live lightly on our planet. We’ve reached ‘peak stuff’ as Will Hutton says. There is enough for everybody. The problem is the way it’s distributed. Another major factor is that 97% of our money is created by the banks for profit. That incentivises banks to create debt that enables us to consume more. This system is a major cause of escalating property prices. Personal debt and irresponsible lending pose the risks of another financial collapse. Aid in the form of loans impoverishes poorer countries. Debt extracts wealth from Africa and has impoverished Greece.
Austerity and cuts to public services result in further indebtedness, needlessly damaging our society and causing huge suffering. People are dying as a result. Austerity has failed to eliminate the deficit. Moreover, this is a flawed policy goal. It is economic illiteracy. The goal should be wellbeing for all. All over Europe, in UK, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Iceland, and in the Americas, the policies of the past thirty five years are being challenged, especially by younger people. Many people dislike the abusive and adversarial behaviour of political leaders. People want a better way. They want vision and hope. Ultimately violence is created when there is no hope. When people think it worthwhile, they come out in droves and vote as they did in the Scottish referendum.
Powerlessness is the biggest obstacle to progress. People frequently tell me they are angry about what is happening but there is nothing I can do. In the UK, they see an out of touch government without a mandate imposing extreme ideological policies on the nation whilst failing to grasp the opportunities to build a prosperous green economy that would benefit everyone. This is an outrage; we need to feel our anger and act. There are 7.3bn of us, 1% of them.
We are 21st century citizens, doing our best to interact with 19th century-designed institutions …. based on information technology of the 15th century… which has no dialogue capacity. Pia Mancini, DemocracyOS at TED Global 2014
Governing without a mandate Less than a quarter of the electorate backed the current government. The Conservatives gained 51% of seats in the House of Commons with the support of only 24% of those eligible to vote. 34% of those eligible to vote did not do so. Most votes were wasted. Of the almost 31 million people who voted, 19 million voted for losing candidates. 63% backed a candidate that didn’t win. Many of the MPs who won failed to get the support of most voters. Of 650 winning candidates, 322 (49%) got less than 50% of the vote in their constituency. Women and BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) are still under-represented. First past the post leaves a vast number of people feeling unrepresented. It breeds powerlessness and disengagement. That is arguably a fundamental issue.
Unrepresentative government obstructs the resolution of the big issues. The UK cannot be described as an effective democracy with an unrepresentative government heavily influenced by corporations who infiltrate government through the “revolving door” and party funding bribery. Democracy can only work when the electorate are well informed. Yet a predominantly right- wing press, owned by very wealthy individuals, misleads the public and leaves them ill-informed.
Proportional Representation Under Proportional Representation (such as the D’Hondt system) the results in the 2015 election would have been (actual in brackets): Conservatives 244 (331) seats, Labour 201 (232), UKIP 83 (1), Lib Dem 52 (8), SNP 31(56), Green 25(1), minor parties 14. The Conservatives would still be the largest party, but 37% of votes should never equal 51% of seats in a real democracy. It’s a condemnation of the political class that they have resisted reform for so long.
Is majority rule appropriate in the 21st Century given the challenges facing the world?
A fair democracy representing the nation’s full diversity is vital for resolving the great issues of our time. I believe it is axiomatic that we must get the whole system “into the room” in order to find effective solutions. We need to embrace diversity and difference. We need consensus building rather than adversarial politics. This, a sense of fairness, is also essential for people’s wellbeing. We need as many people as possible to be committed and engaged. Enabling, transformative leadership is required to bring out the best in people. The same principles apply at the international level. That must be the lesson of recent world history. We need consensus rule.
A 21st Century Magna Carta – A collaborative democracy
• Parliament to be the principal decision-making body of Government
• First Minister as head of Government elected by Parliament as a whole
• A written Constitution and Bill of Rights
• A Citizen-led Convention to determine the Constitution.
• Proportional representation for national, regional and local government
• 50:50 representation for women and proper representation for Black, Asian and ethnic minorities.
• Devolution of power from Westminster to regions and local government
• An elected reviewing chamber
• A cap on individual funding and complete disclosure
• End the so-called “revolving door”
• Votes from age 16
Conclusion In the 21st Century we face the greatest challenges in human history. We are confronted with the possibility of self-extinction. To meet these challenges we need collaborative, not adversarial, government. Like other species we need to evolve in order to survive. Just as Britain inspired the world with Magna Carta, Britain now needs to work, alongside other nations, in developing a model democracy that will give power to people and inspire the world.
At a practical level, ordinary people need to exercise their power and build an alliance of progressive parties committed to introducing a new constitution in the next Parliament.
• Lobby all parties demanding their commitment to comprehensive constitutional reform in the next Parliament.
• Support the Electoral Reform Society/Unlock Democracy, Counting Women In and Voice4 Change.
• Support Polly Higgins’s campaign for the UN Ecocide law – the fifth crime against peace.
• Join New Economics Foundation, Compass, Positive Money, Global Justice Now and Jubilee Debt Campaign.
• Use 38 Degrees and Avaaz to petition and lobby.
Bruce Nixon is an author, writer and speaker. This article is based on Chapter 9 in his new book The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness.