We, The People - Developing a New Democracy

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Democracy, by general consent, is in a parlous state. Fewer people are voting or joining political parties, cynicism and alienation are widespread, debate is polarised, governments are perceived as in thrall to powerful interests. The last decade has seen a host of new initiatives aimed at giving people a voice as well as a vote - and thus of rejuvenating democracy where it matters, at the grassroots. But a genuinely participatory democracy not only offers the prospect of more efficient government and more meaningful “national debates”. As the evidence demonstrates, it makes people happier too. Democracy, the American political philosopher John Dewey remarked on his ninetieth birthday, “begins in conversation”. When, in 1999, Bill Clinton suggested that the World Trade Organisation invite the protesters in Seattle to the talks, rather than use the police to keep them out, there was no format he could propose in which both sides would have felt safe. The agreed conventions did not exist - so no conversation could take place. This pocketbook is for everyone who feels frustrated with the state of people’s participation in local and national affairs. Voters feel alienated from the political process - mistrustful of the political establishment, cynical about those who are supposed to represent them, deeply pessimistic about their capacity to have any influence.

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