We have a right to feel angry and powerless at the state of our democracy but Wales has a unique opportunity to change things for the better, writes Mat Matthias
Snow was falling in the micro-climate of Caerleon this morning. I opened the window of my Dickensian cottage and saw a waif-like urchin on the way to school obviously buoyed by the recent Pisa results. I’d had a bit of a night to be honest (visits from the ghosts of Assembly past, present and Senedd Cymru, Welsh Parliament future – Mick Bates, Angela Burns and Jane Hutt…) but having seen the future if we fully accepted the recommendations by the Expert Panel on Assembly electoral reform (sic) I also felt joy and a huge sense of optimism at the beginning of this festive season.
“What’s today!” I cried, calling downward to the boy.
“Eh?” returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.
“What’s today, my fine fellow?” said I.
“Today!” replied the boy. “Why it’s Democracy Day.”
Yes, today has been declared Democracy Day – an opportunity to think about what we should have rather than what we’ve been lumbered with.
It’s easy to be peed off with politics at the moment. The amount of bullshit flying about is depressing but also needed if we are to fertilise the gazillion new trees that have been promised. We are obviously concerned with the shortfall in doctors, nurses and fruit pickers post-Brexit but I think the biggest strain on our immigration stats will be the amount of fact checkers we will have to import from now on. ‘We need ‘em’ they said, ‘it’s not a job locals want to do, it’s too ‘ard.’
We are a democracy in peril…
Whatboutery at an Olympic level, manifestos that you can add uncosted stuff onto like bogroll on a shopping list, canvassers attacked , placards defaced, politicians dodging debates and interviews, and, worst of all, the disgusting horror of a man who wants to be Prime Minister, wearing his glasses at a jaunty angle on primetime TV, has made these days of limited daylight seem even darker.
Just like this morning as I sent off that urchin to mini Sainsbury’s to get my plant based faux-Turkey, there is hope. And that hope is coming from Wales.
Despite the best efforts of the Welsh media over the past few months to make the changes to our Welsh Parliament all about it’s bloody name (by the way, what was wrong with Seneddy ap Welshparliament-face?) the extension of the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds is a historic change for the better. Not historic enough for the UK news that evening though, far too provincial not to mention their difficulty in trying to pronounce Senedd…
But the vote itself is no silver bullet. It’s not enough to give people the chance to vote and then leave them to work it all out for themselves. Look at the mess that has gotten us into. Whether its driving, getting a passport or putting together that stupid bloody side table from Ikea; there is some sort of education and/or instructions on how to do it.
We don’t get that in democracy though, and that is something that affects our everyday lives.
If the Government and the Senedd commission move fast, and I know that they are, we in Wales could have an informed and politically confident new cohort of voters taking their place in deciding the country’s future. Better political education backed up by decent resources is something that is needed and hopefully on its way. Even those who are against votes at 16 should have their cynical hearts warmed a little by this knowledge.
Once the turnout percentage of the 16-24 age group begins to rise so will party political interest in them, no more will they be a policy afterthought, and once resources are directed towards their issues I believe it will benefit us all. That’s because their issues are mostly our issues. Finding ways to improve physical and mental health, employment and housing for this generation will help out generations to come and it doesn’t mean everybody else will be forgotten either… They know we vote… (I am generation X – yes we exist, we are the goodies.)
I wax lyrical about these changes but they really are leading the way and there are plenty more to come if Wales has the political courage to fight for them. There’s an opportunity for us to have a better way of electing our politicians. We can have a much needed larger Senedd that will be elected by Single Transferable Vote which is more proportional and fair.
This election nearly a third of us, many dragging our dogs for social media opportunities, will be heading to the polling station not to put our mark for a candidate or party who we actually want to win. We are going there to vote for a party we hold in mild disdain in order for that party to beat one we hate. That is no way for a 21st century democracy to work. Even then, the party that wins, bolstered by part of the electorate who think they aren’t as crap as the other lot, are probably going to be elected with less than half the vote.
So on Friday the 13th, some of our MPs will be elected even though over half of their voters think they are rubbish and many of the people who did vote for them think they are a little bit rubbish but not as rubbish as the other lot. If we started democracy from scratch would such a crapocracy even be an option?
Through further proposed Senedd reform and the new Local Government and Elections Bill, there will be scrutiny into vibrant democratic ideas like a new voting system, an all-Wales electoral register or pilots on things like being able to vote on different days and in more accessible locations. Local authorities will have to publish and review a public participation strategy and provision will be made to ensure that open council meetings are broadcast.
We are opening out our democracy to more people and hopefully making them more informed in the process. We moan but isn’t it refreshing that we in Wales are looking at this? On the other end of the M4 nothing is going to change. Reform is a dirty word, lost amongst hubris. A new £4 billion chamber will change bog all, it’ll still be a place for Punch and Judy politics and a winner takes all mentality, a chamber of talking not listening, of game playing and of 19th century shamateurism.
I can’t even bring myself to decry the House of Lords as I am talking about democracy and it bears as much resemblance to it as I do to Harrison Ford or that lovely Mr Stormzy or whomever the cool kids fancy nowadays. One of the largest second chambers in the world, not one of the members are elected by us, they get paid for just turning up and, like only Iran and the Vatican City, allow religious clerics to represent us like we are part of a weird axis of medieval governance.
Before, like modern political discourse, I spiral downwards, I return to what’s happening here.
Today was declared Democracy Day because the parties have all but ignored the subject during this election campaign. It is one of the first issues in the suffocation of electoral battle to be discarded but in Wales at least, we are looking at ways to improve it.
It is vital that throughout future developments that people are fully informed and able to participate. Civil society, now finally awakening from its torpor and finding its confidence, also has a valuable role to play in leading the way in fighting for a democracy Wales deserves. They make the decisions but the way politics is run in this country is too important to leave to politicians and parties alone.
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