AV, New Politics and The Agora

Throughout the campaigning for AV, and for some time before, there has been a lot of talk of “new politics”. I think it’s fair to say that a lot of what the term means has been assumed by both those who use the term and those who hear it: accountable politicians, an end to scandals, and politicians responding to the concerns of their constituents and the public.

There is an enormous debate to be had as to the effects of AV and whether it will result in any of these things, but what about the campaigning itself?

A lot of attention has been given to the role of the BNP. Opponents of AV claim that it will give greater prominence to the party. Supporters of AV use a slightly more direct approach: they have argued that the fact that the Conservatives, Communists and BNP are the only ones openly opposing AV “tells you volumes” about the campaign.

I don’t believe that anything being related to the BNP “tells you volumes”. I don’t like the BNP, but just because they advocate something doesn’t mean they must be wrong because they’re the BNP. To my mind, any “new politics” should take into account arguments, not party politics. No argument should be dismissed by mere association – it should be reasoned and discussed.

Before the expenses scandal, politicians weren’t the most loved people in the country regardless of the number of incidents given the suffix “-gate”. Turnout in elections was already dropping – the scandal just cemented the public perception of Westminster. There’s more to fixing politics than expenses.

It is fairly widely acknowledged that the AV campaigning has failed to increase public interest in the issue – it has, to be fair, had competition for headlines with the Royal Wedding. I suspect though, that if the polls are to be believed, it is just because people don’t believe the hype. The public don’t believe that a change in the voting system will change the nature of Westminster or that it will make politicians “work harder”, in the same way that they don’t dislike politicians just because of expenses or recent events.

Personal attacks from either side don’t help this perception. Instead, they damage interest in politics. (Side note: if the No2AV campaign want to seal a win, they merely have to point to the bickering and say that coalitions clearly don’t work)

The party affiliation and partisanship is why I’ve built the Agora. I’m not suggesting that it will somehow revolutionise politics, or increase turnout, or even increase interest in politics. What it should be is somewhere to discuss issues without the sideshow, bickering or labels, and to come up with ideas which are evaluated on their merit, rather than the affiliation of the person suggesting them.

That’s the plan anyway.

Introducing The Agora: a new sort of discussion site launching on 11th May

A few days ago, I put up a new page at http://www.jointheagora.com to announce the launch of the Agora on May 11th – a new discussion site. In keeping with my previous post, here’s the summary:

It’s a site where anyone can discuss current affairs and the subjects that should be covered by politics, but without the partisanship.

We regularly hear how “politics is broken” and that “politicians can’t be trusted”, but politics (or rather, government and parliament) covers some incredibly important fundamental aspects of how the country is run. At the same time, we are in the middle of campaigning over whether or not to change the voting system, but democracy should be about more than just voting.

The Agora is built to provide a place to discuss how we run our country without resorting to political labels or party affiliations.

When the Spending Review was announced, Alan Johnson accused the Coalition of making “ideological” cuts. He didn’t expand on this, but I do wonder why he didn’t. For the government’s part, the line has been that they don’t want to make the cuts, but must, so there hasn’t been a chance to debate the issue.¬†Whatever your stance on the matter, there hasn’t been a debate as to whether certain cuts can ever be a good thing. If you did believe this (and arguably, any supporter of “efficiency savings” does), then making ideological cuts wouldn’t be something the opposition attacked. There’s nothing wrong with an ideology you can effectively defend, even if someone disagrees with it.

What if we could have an effective debate in the public domain? What if we entirely forgot about “left” and “right” and instead talked about the core of the issues? Jon Stewart rightly points out that “most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives”, and we shouldn’t assume a similar thing here. There’s nothing to stop someone supporting more rehabilitation and less imprisonment, whilst advocating smaller government, but the two stances are branded as “left” and “right” respectively.

What if we talked about this sort of thing as an accessible public debate?

That’s what the Agora aims to do. You can sign up to the mailing list for a reminder when it launches on May 11th at jointheagora.com