At the Social Market Foundation on Wednesday, Liberal Democrat Leadership Candidate Nick Clegg began a speech by outlining the technological context of 21st Century politics. It is a good approximation of my own view. He said:
… the innovations and technological advances that are already shaping and defining the 21st century – Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, YouTube – are about something very different: they are about creating the tools that will enable people to deliver services to each other.
The old model was about constructing the institutional hardware of the paternalistic state. The new model is about developing the democratic software of the empowered society. The old model was controlled by a professional elite. The new model is operated by ordinary people.
The old model worked from the top down, with service users viewed as passive recipients at the end of the process. The new model works from the bottom up, and views individuals as active participants in the design and development of the services they use.
It would be hard to overstate the disruptive impact of these technological advances. For the way we access information, the way we shop, the way we work, the way we socialise, the way we communicate – all have been transformed, fundamentally and irreversibly. And with these technological changes has come a profound cultural shift that cannot but affect the way in which our society will organise itself in the future.
For young people don’t any longer just aspire to be in control of their lives. They expect it. They’re not waiting to be given the power to decide things for themselves. They’ve already got it. they’re already using it.
And choice isn’t something they hope for. It is something they are conditioned to – something they exercise instinctively, unconsciously, every hour of every day of the year.
Yet – and here’s the crucial point for the political community – this increasingly affluent, well educated, self confident cohort are still treated as supplicants when they knock on the government’s door.
This is true of their political relationship with government, where they feel cut off, shut out and ignored. It is true of their bureaucratic relationship with government, which they rightly view as faceless, unresponsive and deeply dysfunctional. And it is true of their everyday interactions with our public services which, for the most part, are still delivered from on high to an
increasingly dissatisfied public below.
This is the great paradox of our times: in our private and professional lives, we have never been more empowered. But in our relationship with the state, we have never been so powerless.
And make no mistake; it is the poorest and the most vulnerable amongst us who lose out the most.
Mr Clegg’s campaign website has the full text (in which he goes onto propose that LEAs and PCTs be directly elected).
Clegg is often viewed as being on the right of his party, but this introduction looks like a left-wing analysis to me. As I tried to articulate in Graachi’s post (which discussed What Blogging Can and Can’t Achieve), the attraction of blogging and the wider digital revolution, is in its potential to redress the power imbalance, leaking power from the elites to the masses. Does Clegg’s talk of “delivering services to each other” spring from the Right’s affection for the free market and the choices of individuals, or from the Left’s long held belief that we can achieve more through collective action, than we can alone? Given the free and social nature of blogging, YouTube and the political campaigns we see online, I’m inclined towards the latter view.