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Creating the Future: Democracy

Posted on 11 November 2019

In this short series we cover some of the ideas that came out of the Creating the Future conference, and explain what this might mean for the future.

'Can democracy reinvent itself for the world that is arriving?' – Roger Weatherby

Putting together a conference where the world's leading thinkers introduce sometimes radical and world-changing ideas to the elite may be an unusual concept for a private bank. But as Roger Weatherby, Weatherby's CEO, said "I wanted our bank to be on the right side of history".

So where better to start than democracy? Why democracy seems to struggle to fit the changing world is one of the most pertinent questions of today. Worldwide unrest has led many to question whether or not this societal structure continues to serve us. As our speakers seemed to think, in order to make democracy fit for the 21st century, radical changes will need to be made.

Writer Mark Stevenson opened the talks, challenging us to change how we organise ourselves. Genuine systems change according to Stevenson is driven by "bottom up diverse collaboration". But why? Because that’s actually how human beings work together and build trust.

We build trust by sharing stories, information, then assets, projects and finally, priorities. But currently society is organised in the opposite way. The person at the top sets the priorities and then projects are shared, then assets, information and then stories.

So how can we affect meaningful change? By 'infecting' people with the 'participation virus'. According to Stevenson, people need to feel like they are part of something in order to buy into an idea.

Professor David Runciman, the Head of the Department of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge, wanted to know if democracy was able to bridge the generation divide. According to him, our House of Commons is unrepresentative in many ways, but age and education are two pressing issues that we have yet to address.

On issues like climate change the young are not represented in Parliament. Runciman thinks it's no wonder that the young don't feel like democracy works, as they have never known peace under it:

"I think there's something fundamentally broken in our system of representation and I think the young are the ones who are losing."

The internet has transformed our society rapidly in many ways, some of which are hard to define. When asked about 'safe spaces' Runciman offers the argument that if you've grown up online, with all its vitriol and possibility for harassment, finding somewhere safe to express your views is important and, sometimes, can feel rare.

So what can we do? "Reduce the voting age to six."

Why not? If, as Runciman argues, the world is on the verge of collapse, what's the worst that could happen by letting the children vote? If these are desperate times, then perhaps they call for desperate measures.

And finally Carole Cadwalladr was interviewed by compare Oli Barrett. She spoke about her own journey into uncovering the flaws of democracy. Beginning with her post-Brexit vote to Emmervale, where she experienced first hand just how effective Vote Leave's campaigning had been, she discussed Facebook and fake news, and how vulnerable we all are to its pervasive spread.

She ended with a call for emergency legislation that would help protect us, saying she cannot see how another election "could be free and fair".

You can find out more about the pressures on democracy through Now & Next, a Mishcon de Reya partnership with The Economist that reveals the pressures, the plans and the likely tipping points for enduring global change.

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