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People Are Switched Off Politics - We Must Bring Them Back

17/02/2014 17:04 GMT | Updated 19/04/2014 10:59 BST

That people are disenchanted with politics is hardly an original observation. Turnout at elections is declining, politicians are almost universally derided, distrusted and disliked. Perhaps it was ever thus, but modern voters seem less interested and less willing to listen to what politicians say than ever before.

Possibly this is because we live in a society that's much less deferential, where politicians have lost control over the flow of information to the public and where technological advances in the private sector have raised expectations on speed, simplicity and quality of services provided (think Amazon versus HMRC).

I think these developments are encouraging. But government is, as ever, behind the curve and people are increasingly realising that a remote, detached, centralised bureaucracy is a very bad way of delivering services.

People are switching off altogether. While understandable, it is worrying. Democracy depends on an engaged electorate but what we have now is a vicious cycle of disengagement, where disaffected and uninterested voters withdraw from the process, leading to the election of out-of-touch career politicians, leading to flawed policies, leading to disaffected and uninterested voters...

It's time for radical reform of the way we do democracy in Britain.

Zac Goldsmith, the admirably independent-minded Conservative MP for Richmond Park, wrote for ConservativeHome ridiculing Nick Clegg's version of the right to recall, whereby a committee of backbench MPs replaces the electorate in deciding whether or not a Parliamentary colleague should face recall. Zac calls it a stich-up. I'd add that it's patronising, paternalistic nonsense. Clegg is saying that voters are not up to the task of making a responsible decision about whether to invoke recall. This attitude is symptomatic of why people are no longer listening.

In his article Zac says that, 'we have reached one of those points in our history where democracy must evolve, as it did in response to the vast social changes triggered by industrialisation'. He's right. This time, changes to the way we receive and share information are driving the requirement to reform.

But what would that reform look like? Recall is part of the solution but on its own would be only a small step in the right direction. Much of the answer turns on pushing power out and down from the centre. Make councils self-financing bodies with the ability to experiment and be bold. The USA has their 'fifty laboratories of innovation', why can't we have ours? Elected mayors must be part of the picture, not just for cities but for districts and boroughs, too.

Open primaries are essential if we are to make Westminster truly accountable to the people, as is an elected House of Lords with specifically defined powers. Also urgently needed is a genuine 'bonfire of the quangos'; they can't simply be rolled back into the parent department. One of the root causes of the complaint that voting makes no difference is that many activities of government are executed by these unaccountable bodies.

All these ideas should be part of a package of reform designed to bring government into the 21st Century.

I also wonder if the solution is a written constitution. I have always fought against this, mostly because I love the US Constitution and no constitutional convention today would produce such an elegant document that in 4,400 words created one of the greatest nations in history. But there is an argument to be made that Britain has 'muddled through' long enough. I want to hear your views.