Over the last week or so I’ve been watching with interest the results of the recent elections, and the various interpretations of winners, losers, damned lies and statistics.
Whatever your political persuasion, I think we can all agree that by far the biggest loser was democracy itself. A whopping 65% of the electorate didn’t choose to vote at all.
Let’s think about that in real terms for a second. Look around you now. In your office, at home looking down the street, on the train, the bus, in the queue at Tesco. At least 6 out of every ten people you see didn’t cast their vote.
If you’re in a position where it isn’t too awfully rude to stare, really look at them. That little old lady. That student. That harassed father. That businesswoman. WHY didn’t they vote? Perhaps for some it’s disappointment in the system – the feeling ‘they’re all the same anyway’, or that politics ‘doesn’t affect me’. Perhaps others were abstaining in considered political protest. Maybe they were held up at the office, or couldn’t get the kids to bed on time, or lost their postal vote form under a pile of washing. It could be that they didn’t feel they knew enough about the policies, nuances, and local or European issues to have their say.
And I wonder (as I do) whether technology could be a solution to all of these many and varied reasons for not voting – especially in the run up to a general election just a year away. Could digital bridge the considerable apathy gap Britain faces?
Just think. What if we could use technology to revolutionise the back-office and security systems so that that harassed father could have gone and voted in the centre of town near his office, rather than trying to fit it in around the school run at his local polling station? What if that student was following his local MEP on Twitter and actually knew about the issues being debated? What if after a hard day of deadlines that businesswoman could have used her smartphone to find and register at a polling station on her way to the pub? What if that little old lady was so connected to her local council she already knew exactly what she wanted and didn’t want for the next term of office?
If they knew where and how to look for the information on policies and plans beyond the contents of party political broadcasts, I wonder how many more might have felt empowered to find out the differences and make their choice.
I read recently that the more people now use online channels to book holidays and manage their bank accounts than any other method. In that sort of digital world, surely we can do more with technology to improve the processes and information around something as important as democracy?
In my mind, digital democracy has the potential to be the biggest revolution in our voting history since women were first given the vote in 1918 after the war. It might not be a big bang. There might not be parties in the streets. It may not go down in history as a milestone for equality. But it could help just as many people find and use their political voice.
That’s why I’m so passionate about it, and so excited about my role on the Commission on Digital Democracy set up by Speaker of the House of Commons, the Rt Hon John Bercow MP, at the end of last year. Because these are the issues we discuss, and the ideas we’re bringing to the table. And we need your input. What do you think? Could it make a difference? UK online centres – would it have made a difference to your learners?
If you want to talk more about digital democracy, its potential and pitfalls, then please do join me to discuss it further. I’m running a focus group for UK online centres on Tuesday 15 July 2-4pm, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to take part, or follow us on Twitter using #digitaldemocracy @digidemocracyuk