In a Policy Exchange ‘Road to 2015’ event, the Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow MP outlined his vision for digital democracy in the UK. Full details provided report of the Speaker’s ‘Digital Democracy Commission’, which is due to be published later this year but his comments at the event made clear that the Speaker believes the current voting system disenfranchises people and that politicians should stop patronising the electorate by calling groups ‘hard to hear’ instead of ‘hard to reach’. The Speaker will seek to adapt politics to how people live today and hope that the increased use of digital will make parliament not only more accountable but also more efficient.
So how does he plan to do this?
Most strikingly, Bercow outlined his belief in e-voting, asking whether requiring people to pencil in a cross in a community hall was the best way to run an election in the era of the smartphone where we do our banking, taxes and other sensitive activities online.
Bercow also raised the point of efficiency, highlighting that running elections is expensive, labour intensive task and time could be saved as candidates would no longer have to wait until the following day to get the results.
Digital policy making
Bercow would also like to extend electronic voting to Parliament. Respecting that the division lobby has been an integral part of British politics he said there should be a digital method for those who wanted it, which would save time ‘not milling around’ and freeing up the parliamentary schedule as a result. Moreover, vast sums could be saved by using e-voting for ballots, Early Day Motions and elections for Committee chairs.
Away from voting, the Speaker called on Parliament to embrace digital in its functions too. He said he wants to see more people get involved in the policy making process at an early stage and suggested that crowd-sourcing and social media could complement Committee hearing as a form of pre-legislative scrutiny.
How will a digital parliament affect public affairs?
The Palace of Westminster is steeped in traditions and Bercow may face an uphill struggle in getting his ideas approved. However, his plans could have an effect on how businesses and organisations engage with Westminster. While digital tools and social media are already becoming increasing important in public affairs, Bercow’s plan could shake-up the stakeholder landscape and make the early phases of legislation more crowded and nosier. Whilst this would certainly be a good development in terms of wider political engagement, it could also make it harder to get important points across to political decision makers.
The Digital Democracy Commission hopes to report by the end of 2014, and regardless of opinions in his performance in the Speaker’s Chair, he is clear he wants the next parliament to be the most digital one ever.