Today I’m really pleased to be able to share with you news of an exciting new project I’ll be working on in 2014. I’ve been invited by the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Rt Hon John Bercow MP to sit on his new Commission on Digital Democracy. I’ll be working alongside Meg Hillier MP and Robert Halfon MP, both of whom I met yesterday and I know they are really committed to making the committee a success, and I can’t wait to get started.
And after a weekend where over a million people voted for X Factor winner Sam Bailey, and 400,000 crowned Andy Murray Sports Personality of the Year from the comfort of their own home, I think it’s the right time for the UK to take a real look at the role digital has to play in our national democracy. Now, I know politics is quite different to the X Factor final – less sequins for a start! – but I think we can learn something from the way voting has shaped our entertainment, and apply it to something as vital as politics, giving people the opportunity to have an impact not just on their Christmas Number 1, but on how we decide on policies and shape our nation.
John Bercow said: “There is an enormous challenge out there not only for the House of Commons and Parliament as a whole but for all legislatures in the 21st century. That challenge is how we reconcile traditional concepts and institutions of representative democracy with the technological revolution which we have witnessed over the past decade or two which has created both a demand for and an opportunity to establish a digital democracy. Quietly, over past decades, a radically different world has emerged which in time will make the industrial revolution seem minor.”
“Indeed, there has not been one single overarching strategy for how we might move from where we are now to what a parliament in a digital democracy may look like, nor is there one role model from whom we can all take inspiration. (…) I am convinced that we need an innovation of our own to create such a map and a compass and to invite outside expertise in to assist us in this endeavour. That is why I am announcing today the creation of a Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy.” (You can read the full speech here)
Of course, as always, I’ll be using my place on the commission to make the voice of the digitally excluded heard and to ensure that the introduction of digital voting methods doesn’t exclude those who don’t have digital skills. But I’m also really interested in the link between being digitally disempowered, and feeling disempowered from the democratic processes. I’m sure that those who aren’t participating digitally are probably not voting, nor particularly interested in what government is doing, and so I’m interested to see whether we can engage them digitally and get them engaged with democracy – particularly at a local level where individuals can really have a huge impact.
On the other side of the coin, I know there are scores of young people who are very digitally skilled up, but while they might have voted for the X Factor winner this weekend, they’re not particularly interested in what Parliament does, or playing a part in democracy. I think digital could have a huge impact on getting them more engaged, and so I’m really looking forward to delving into this.
John Bercow MP said in his speech: “If we get this right, then the Speaker’s Commission would provide a blueprint for action covering, among other topics, ways to bring to the heart of our democracy the things that really matter to our citizens – how to put right grievances, how to turn law-making into something that really involves the people who will be affected – and not just a conversation between interest groups and political parties – and much more that we have yet to discover.” It’s a pretty big job, but one that is vital to shaping the democracy of our nation, empowering everyone and ensuring that everyone knows how they can have a say. I’m looking forward to getting stuck in!
I’ll keep you posted on our progress and how you can have a say.