Politics as we know it is coming to an end and it's the internet that is killing it. For many, the internet has been seen as the saviour of politics, a way of reconnecting politicians with communities and citizens and giving real power to the people. The way that we have done politics is under more pressure than ever before and could fall over at any minute.
The internet, most notably social media, is showing people how detached central governments have become and is putting traditional party politics at risk. It is also contributing to the general lack of satisfaction with politicians, political parties and Parliament.
The more people can, for instance, enjoy a direct relationship with brands and celebrities, the more detached politics feels. The more that informal, direct conversations can be had through social media, the more alien message discipline applied by the political parties feels and the more remote many politicians seem.
The internet has shown people how little direct power they have especially over Parliament. Parliament's failure to make itself reflective of the population, modern working practices, or to allow direct input is doing it a massive disservice. As Speaker of the House, John Bercow, has done much to try and tackle these issues. His recent talk, A House Rebuilt?, discussed the challenges in some detail and what has been achieved. It also shows that much remains to be done.
Similarly, the centralised party structures with messages disseminated from the top for repetition by members and supporters does not fit with the autonomy and freedom that the internet has brought with it. There are many more MPs on Twitter now, currently around 78%, but the quality and frequency of their interaction is variable (there are some really good examples though!). According to PR Week, the political parties all sound like middle-aged men on their Twitter accounts.
How politics operates has remained largely untouched for over a century. The parties represented politics in collective form in the c20th, the 21st is starting to see more direct individual control facilitated by the very tools that are breaking traditional politics. From candidate selection through to greater involvement in decision-making, the parties need to think differently.
Simply devolving powers may not be the answer. Yes, it is essential that Westminster and Whitehall learn to let go. It is also clear that putting power nearer to people may help them feel more connected. But this golden solution will not work if one set of remote bureaucracy is replaced by another set albeit in a town nearer to where people live. Input and empowerment will not necessarily be any easier at a local level. The clever councils are already thinking about this and taking action.
Part of the challenge also lies in where people get their politics from. They no longer exclusively rely on politicians and just as with music, books, cooking and a whole range of other areas they take recommendations from their friends. Social sharing is the essence of good communications.
The internet has brought changes in the way people engage with politics but not every effect has been constructive or beneficial. Content is often free so consuming becomes easier and attention spans are shorter. This type of browsing does not suit political parties. They are based on a solid structure, still rely largely on often time intensive traditional campaigning techniques, the use of donated time and long term commitment.
It also makes the process of governing more difficult. Politics is about choices but when people are used to choices being, in essence, free and made quickly this makes complex governing decisions seem out of touch. The concept of winners and losers from decisions seem alien in the online world.
The age of the speech is coming to an end with the emphasis on short messages. This makes developing arguments more difficult. There is also more variety of views being expressed and this does not sit well with a couple of large, mass membership parties. That very variety makes control more difficult to achieve as well.
It is up to the political parties and Parliament to embrace the change and treat this as an opportunity, not just a threat. They need to help the internet to deliver on the promised empowerment rather than sticking to traditional ways of working which will only alienate people still further.
Politics as we have known is being destroyed but its replacement looks more exciting.