Posts Tagged

Democracy

As modern workers, we have much to learn from the rich tradition of labour republicanism in America. The second piece in our Democratic Wealth series, hosted with OurKingdom. In 1828, William Heighton, a radical shoemaker, announced to a group of Philadelphia labourers that the wage-labour system “is…an iron chain of bondage. A system of unjust abstraction, oppression, and legal fraud, by which the most useful classes of society are drained of their wealth, and consigned over to eternal toil and never-ending slavery.” Heighton had just created the first formal political party of workers in modern history, the Working Men’s Party of Philadelphia.

We must remember that democracies are not self-executing systems; they stand on complex political institutions that reflect the political power of the citizenry. For many countries, then, the challenge is keeping the population constructively engaged in the democratic process following successful free and fair elections.

A report on deepening democracy released by the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security recognised that the enfranchisement of displaced populations, including refugees, ‘is critical for ensuring the integrity of elections and the establishment of democracy’. But this statement belies a deeper interaction, and even conflict, between the international refugee regime and democracy. What would ‘deepening democracy’ mean for the refugee regime? I suggest that strengthening democratic institutions could deepen divides between refugees and host communities. To ensure that the international refugee regime and democracy can successfully co-exist, we must think not just of deepening democracy, but of also balancing it with the rights of refugees.

This week, Mark Thompson, former Director General of the BBC, gave a series of three lectures as part of his Humanitas Visiting Professorship in Rhetoric and the Art of Public Persuasion, in honour of Philip Gould. These lectures were all centred around the theme of how the language and tone of public debate has changed in recent years in ways that have been detrimental to the cause of public understanding and has created a ‘cloud of unknowing’ within the wider public regarding matters of civic policy.

Before joining the first cohort of students at the Blavatnik School of Government, I worked as a journalist for state-owned China Central Television, the biggest media outlet in China. Before that I spent four years working as a reporter and anchor for the Beijing Television Station, the local outlet for China’s capital city, also owned and operated by the government. Based on this, if I’m asked, about a single measure would strengthen democracy in my home country, I would firstly respond that you have to have more than one measure to reach that goal. However, if I can only choose one, I would definitely vote for free speech and an independent media.

From the coverage of the US election in the UK news media it would be easy to get the impression that we are witnessing a single battle of giants, or a least of the giantly funded. In mid-October the Center for Responsive Politics reported that the campaigns of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama had raised almost $900 million combined. But the presidential election is not the only place where money talks loudly.

On Monday David Cameron and Alex Salmond signed an agreement allowing the Scottish government to hold a referendum on independence. The Scotland independence referendum will be the latest in an ever growing list of referendums held in the UK that began in earnest with the Blair government.

Libya’s outgoing Prime Minister, Adurrahim al-Keib, stated recently that “we are seeing the birth of a new Libya that is as beautiful as the waves of the sea.” Yet, given the enormous task of building a new democracy from scratch — and the equally immense economic, ethnic and political problems plaguing the new state — those waves belie turbulent currents.