As I watch politicians on TV making promises and proposing ideas to the public in exchange for votes, the experience can feel rather individualistic and transactional.
David Axelrod, Senior Advisor to President Obama, neatly parodied this with the words “Vote Labour and win a microwave”, but he could’ve been talking about any political party. Although it’s good to know whether I will personally benefit from a policy, shouldn’t we be guided by a sense of the common good?
I go to hustings events with election candidates, but often leave feeling weak and powerless.
The questions are wide ranging, unfocused and the answers heavy on rhetoric. There’s no meaningful way of holding the candidates to account for their responses once the election is over.
It’s as if the audience’s power dissipates as we drive to our homes in different directions.
Although it’s nice to have our individual questions answered, couldn’t we work together as constituents to get more specific commitments from the candidates? My Facebook and Twitter feeds are no more inspiring. Lazy tribalism abounds, where one side is 100 per cent right and the other side is 100 per cent wrong.
As I scroll down the page, I dive deeper into an echo chamber where everyone agrees with me. Although it’s nice to connect with likeminded people, wouldn’t it be better to hear a range of views and perhaps be challenged by someone who thinks a little differently?
I am concerned for the health of our democracy.
Ordinary people should be active participants, not just passive observers of politicians.
Communities and civil society should have the power to hold government to account.
Policies and proposals should be developed through discussion and deliberation between people of different ages, faiths and backgrounds.
Those who stand for election should be guided by a sense of the common good.
I find encouragement in my work with Leeds Citizens, a local alliance of faith, education and civil society groups and part of the Community Organising charity, Citizens UK. We use listening exercises to identify issues that unite diverse communities for action, such as mental health, the Living Wage and youth opportunities.
We equip hundreds of people with the skills to build power and participate in public life.
During the election, our teams of constituents are meeting with candidates to negotiate a plan for a working relationship and genuine accountability with them for the duration of the parliament.
Through these actions, we are making the election more meaningful to people and their communities. I hope the politicians respond positively and recognise that the most important office in a democracy is not MP, but the one which we all share: citizen.