The end of local democracy as we know it?

It’s been an interesting month for social networking and politics/business/media. Elsewhere @RuthHarrison has drawn attention to the debates surrounding Trafigura and Jan Moir, but something that caught my eye (on Newsnight) was the resignation of the Somerton Councillor’s because of vindictive blogging by Muck&Brass. I’m not going to comment upon the authors style (which is far too personal in places and which should be deprecated), content or methods of drawing attention to what he (and others it would appear) feel about their Council; nor am I going to comment upon the Councillors resignation other to suggest it’s a rather feable response to criticism; what I want to write about is how does the Local Councillor respond to the “crowd”.

Once upon time, everything was so controlled. You knew the editor of the local paper and if something was “not quite right”, or “you needed to get your point of view” across, or “you just wanted to correct a mis-understanding” that had leaked out into the press; you would ring them up and more often than not something would appear in the press, and all would be well with the world.

How does a democratically elected council deal with the “crowd” where they have no way of influencing what is written about them. They could actively participate in the blog, but they’d be at a disadvantage there as politicians are all about “pushing information” rather than shared communication. Collaborative social networking tools are not a happy place for them to be. If it’s their blog … that’s fine! If it’s someone elses … that’s a challenge!

We’ve been well-served by local democracy for centuries. With the rise of the empowered citizen blogger unaffiliated to a political grouping, able to move between causes and campaigns with little thought for the effect they may be causing on local democratic organisation are we in danger of making the Town Council a place that no one would wish to be elected to.

There’s a lot more thought to be put into this. I used to be heavily involved in politics at the “grass roots” as an old Liberal Party member. We worked hard to build consensus and ownership into our local campaigning – what would we have given for twitter or blogging in those days. These tools are now being used by all political parties but nearly always for delivering “the message” and faux consultation. They will struggle if an army of citizen bloggers begins to rise-up who have no allegiances, no sense of responsibility for their actions (other than a professed desire to “do the right thing”), and no real desire to take the place of those that they attack.

This is a concern to me … where does this all lead?

2 Replies to “The end of local democracy as we know it?”

  1. I understand your points, but isn’t this about broader democracy. I agree that people with an audience need to understand and adopt a social contract, but I am concerned that there is an implicit message that you must keep quiet unless you are willing to stand instead. Lib Dem MPs I believe don’t have to follow party line, if they strongly believe otherwise.

    I think this type of political blogging is in its infancy, in terms of use, reading and public interpretation.

  2. Of course I don’t disagree with you Lawrie, and yes of course there are plenty of examples of “good practice” where independence of mind is fostered and supported.

    The point I was trying to make, perhaps I didn’t expand it enough, is that I foresee the day when “ordinary” people – often those who are not hard-skinned politicos – will balk at the prospect of putting their names forward for election if they feel that an unelected blogger who does not even think it’s necessary to “put up, or shut up” can attack them with impunity.

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