This is an extract from a series of blogs written by Guy Aitchison, who spoke at our Democracy For A Digital Future event in Cambridge on 6th June. The blogs explain the discussion and conclusions from the event.
We are in a curious and uncertain period for the British state, its antiquated constitution and ways of doing politics. A number of serious challenges are on the horizon and it is unclear how much longer the political framework of the Westminster system can remain intact. The traditional attitude of the British elite has been to ‘muddle through’, introducing reform in a piecemeal manner in response to popular demands for change, while doing its best to preserve the core features of a monarchical system based on executive dominance of a ‘sovereign’ parliament via royally acquired prerogatives and patronage. A huge gulf exists between the empowered governance made possible by digital technology and the antiquated reality of the Westminster system. In its current ossified form, the British state offers an unpalatable mix of medieval hierarchy and techno-authoritarianism, symbolised in recent weeks by an enthroned Queen Elizabeth II announcing plans to deepen the government’s already vast powers of electronic surveillance over her subjects.
Given these profound challenges to self-government, what are the prospects of democratic change for the peoples, nations and localities of the UK? How can we protect rights and freedoms in the age of Facebook, Google and a semi-permanent ‘war on terror’? And what are the campaigns, forms and strategies to bring this change about? These are the some of the questions we discussed at a public event in Cambridge on Saturday, organised by Unlock Democracy and Cambridge Commons as part of a series of meetings on democracy and liberty held around the country to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.
Guest blogger: Guy Aitchison