Tuesday 19 May 2009 8:00 pm

Representative democracy needs another look

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The European Commission fined Intel a record &1119;1bn last week for anti-competitive practices. The graph shows the buzz scores for Intel in the UK, Germany and the US, with them all taking a dive on the news. Often when we see bad PR stories with accompanying drops in their “buzz” scores we see no particular drop in the other BrandIndex scores – often buzz doesn’t really effect the underlying brand health. But in this case, we’ve seen a drop of two points in the UK Index score at the end of a year-long period of decline.

I want to use my remaining space to respond to a piece in yesterday’s CityA.M. Julie Meyer, in the light of the expenses crisis, said we needed a new democratic deal including two-way interaction using YouGov. She also mentioned the timeliness of the appearance of the “Jury Team” standing candidates in the Euro elections. I’m not a big fan of the Jury Team – it seems to me an honest but half-baked idea for addressing the disengagement from politics. But I do believe that we need to look again at what we call “representative” democracy.

Democracy started in ancient Greece as a system which allowed everyone to participate in governance. With the size of the modern state, that hasn’t been possible – until the Internet.

Today we don’t need “representatives”, we can be there ourselves. We could, in theory, reproduce something like the Athenian gathering, only online. But would that lead to better decision-making, or would it lead to a disastrous type of mob-rule?

I think the majority of work done by Parliament, full of boring detail, should still be done by something like professionals.

But the big decisions, where there is no “right” answer and where we need collective buy-in to go in one direction or another, could certainly be dealt with by using referenda to a much greater extent. After all, the people of the North-East did a good job when they ended the “regional assembly” ambitions of John Prescott.

Stephan Shakespeare is co-founder of YouGov

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