Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Does democracy have customers?

I wrote about cuts and choices recently , suggesting the debate needed to be about what we are prepared to do without. Matthew Taylor, on his RSA blog, puts his finger on the underlying problem: which is, as it so often is, an inappropriate metaphor:

'Modern representative democracy, as it is practised in England, is based on a false metaphor – that of consumerism. We think the task of democracy is to give us what we want, the customer is always right. In contrast, I want to argue that representative democracy is actually much more about trying to agree what we can’t have and coming to accept the reasons why. This, after all, is the question posed by the public spending deficit and by the even bigger challenge of reducing our national carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. But deciding how to make sacrifices is much harder than promising everyone goodies. The way we think about and undertake representative democracy is incapable of supporting this kind of discussion.'

I also relate this false metaphor to my unease when people - especially in the media - say certain things are 'owned' by the tax payer, or that 'the tax payer now pays some bankers' wages' because the government invest in them. It feels inaccurate. And maybe that's because it's based on the metaphor of consumerist shareholding for profit/goods rather than (jargon alert!) community stakeholding.

Matthew also says 'every policy option has a downside and involves a real political choice' which is something I feel is often overlooked by the sector in responding to arts policy. (And sometimes by policy makers themselves!)

This could be explored further, but no time for that now unfortunately - but felt it was a useful insight.

No comments: