Local Democracy Notepad

Democratic perfectionism as a political method

Archive for the ‘Machiavelli’ tag

Change from the bottom up?

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Copenhagen logoOne of this blog’s new contributors, Halina Ward, is currently in Copenhagen at the Climate Change Conference. The main reason she is there is to write a post for us (ahem). One thing she has passed on to me is a scepticism about the problems surrounding ‘bottom up’ solutions to the problem of carbon emissions. Rugby players know what a hospital pass is, and it seems to me that we present politicians with one when we demand such solutions.

It seems to me that carbon emissions will only be cut by governments that are possessed with what Machiavelli described as Virtù – the historical vitality that only comes from a high level of legitimacy. Machiavelli had in mind a Prince who had successfully marshaled a population to liberate them from a despotic neighbour. In modern terms, it is a politician that can command some respect. One thinks of Tony Blair in 1997 or Mrs Thatcher after the Falklands.

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The biggest challenge facing those who wish to cut carbon emissions is the distorting impact that pressure groups will have in frustrating the general will. Not some referendum snapshot, but the willing action of elected representatives to act in the public interest once they’ve reflected upon it properly. Their distributed moral wisdom. The idea that community organisations have the capacity to take on the might of those commercial pressure groups is the purest of fantasies.

Disrupting this ability is strongly in the interests of such pressure groups. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that those who have promoted the anti-politics mood in the UK have been the (un)witting allies of wealthy lobbyists.

Written by Paul Evans

December 15th, 2009 at 9:27 am

The right climate?

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Andrew Collinge has a really good post over on the LGIU blog. He’s picking up on an also-good post by Matthew Taylor of the RSA. 

I don’t have anything to say that engages with it directly, only to add something that I mentioned in a post a while ago over on the Liberal Conspiracy site about civic energy. It probably breaks every rule about humility and blogging (is it wrong to quote yourself writing elsewhere?), but here are the relevant paras:

Paraphrasing Tim Garton-Ash a while ago, when politicians were able to win elections and start the process of government, they often exhibited what Machiavelli called virtù - the capacity for collective action and historical vitality. It is politics - the whole reviled shebang – strong yet fractious political parties, that are the engine of that vitality.

Referendums remove that capacity at a stroke. If you are looking for an explanation for illiberalism – for the promotion of a bureaucratic / policing agenda – look no further than a Parliament along with local and regional assemblies that have had the virtùsucked out of them by the constant imperative to consult with stakeholders, negotiate with veto-wielding vested interests, disruptive agenda-led newspapers, opinion-polls, well-heeled pressure groups, bureaucrats and managerialists.

The nature of democracy makes a huge difference to the options that policymakers can exercise.

Written by Paul Evans

March 18th, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Should politicians blog?

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Nicolo Machiavelli - a bit sceptical about all of this candour business

Niccolò Machiavelli - a bit sceptical about all of this 'candour' business

Shorter version: If you’re a politician, it may be a good idea to get into blogging. But do it under a pen-name! It’s safer that way, and it will make you better at your job.

This is an old-ish question nowadays. And as the big question around social media at the moment is ‘should everyone Twitter‘, I think it may be a good time to revisit the question of blogging – now that the one-note evangelism for the medium has died down.

I’m not convinced that most politicians should set up an official blog of their own, or formally blog in their own name. Annoyingly, this is not a common view. Daniel Hannan, a UK Conservative Party MEP says it’s a good idea.

The inestimable Shane McCracken of Gallomanor also thinks they should – indeed, he goes further and asks if leaders should blog (three different times – here, here and here).

Though my own conclusions are slightly different, I’ve been helping a few councillors to have a crack at it recently, and I suspect that a few of them will emerge from it very well.

Former Lewisham Councillor, Andrew Brown picked up (a while ago now) on a Centre for Policy Studies paper on how the internet is changing politics, and how it skews some biases that may already be there in terms of activism and influence. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Paul Evans

January 26th, 2009 at 9:07 am