Researcher and Writer in Washington, DC

Tony Wright Lecture on Doing Politics Differently

This podcast video is “comprises the entirety of the 2009 annual Political Quarterly lecture of the 4th March; this year given by co-editor Tony Wright MP, entitled “Doing Politics Differently.”

Political Quarterly is a U.K. journal that has as its editorial objective to publish

articles on issues of public policy, aimed at the most demanding level of intelligence but without being technical and pedantic. The tradition of the journal has always been to accept articles written in plain English, without jargon, that deal with issues of political importance of provided background material of basic speculation devoted to those issues.

Wright begins by suggesting that he considered titling his lecture, “In Defense of Politicians.”  This is because, as he notes, political systems require politicians “as a class.” Someone needs to negotiate between competing demands from diverse viewpoints. Wright says that there are two types on politicians, those who exercise power, and those who police its use.

Does doing politics differently require institutional changes or cultural changes?

Wright despairs that British politics currently consists of a sort of “adversarial pantomime.” The ruling party brings forth a proposal, the minority parties trot out their standard opposition lines, and this is replayed in the media and by media personalities. The public, meanwhile, is deprived of an honest conversation. This breeds cynicism and disaffection, and makes for divisive politics that makes it difficult for government to promptly reach solutions.

Wright characterizes self-governance in the current British political system as involving three activities: (1) kicking elected officials out, which is done through elections; (2) kicking elected officials and government, which is done via the media; and (3) having active participation by citizens in government.

Wright states that activities (1) and (2) are working decently, but that activity (3) has atrophied horribly.  Citizen membership in aprties has plunged, adn psychically there is a gulf between the political class and everyone else.

Wrigth argues that the present executive-dominated political system is in need of devolution so that individuals may once again actively participate in citizenship through local channels, “especially in the organization of public services.” He quips, “The new public management has not been matched by a new public involvement.” This opportunity to particpate, Wright suggests, would have developmental effects on individuals, and presumably would help reduce the chasm between the governors and the governed.

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