This is a high level review of the British political landscape, a description of current political system as it is; parties compete for votes in order to gain power through a parliamentary majority which will enable them to enact laws based on the policies that were put to the electorate. I’ll look at deeper questions such what is politics for and how democratic it is when I turn to the alternative vision.
If we set out to develop a better politics from our current politics the scale of change can look enormous. But the existing system contains within it rules and conventions that would allow it to evolve into something better. What is missing is both the political will and the necessary political capital – neither the vision nor the support currently exists.
When it comes to delivery the UK Civil Service is ranked 4th overall (InCiSE). But it does not feel like we have good governance. Democratic Audit identifies "unprecedented declines in the core institutions of the UK’s democratic system, particularly at the centre" (Democratic Audit 2). In many ways the UK is not as good as it likes to think.
Instead of engaging with its citizens the state now habitually sells assets and outsources or hives off services. With few exceptions these go to (usually large) private organisations. Even though they are running public services, commercial confidentiality throws a veil over transparency and hinders accountability. Public Services have a direct bearing on our lives. If they go wrong we suffer, our experience of the service is degraded.
Good governance is simply about management processes and accountability. When we insulate or remove services from users (who are citizens) by creating agencies, or by outsourcing, when we have cursory oversight there is no clear accountability. Management failings come in many guises: short term thinking, lack of investment, over-charging, loss of continuity because of management career hopping, hubris and the abouse of the right to manage, bullying, laziness, lack of direction, abuse of position power, group think, the list could go on an on. These are ever present, they are not selective they can occur in both the private and public sectors. Our current political economy does little to combat them, instead it provides a huge space in which they can thrive.
So far in current politics we have seen that it is difficult for cooperation to gain traction in a political system that is competitive, tribal and in thrall to the idea of competition, in poor governance that various forms of agencies, are remote from scrutiny. There is, in addition, an acknowledgement that there is a lack of participation and engagement which is a cause of concern, because there is little idea of how this can be combatted.