Many of the problems in our current political process spring from deficiencies in representation. In recent decades, the major political parties have increasingly converged upon a centre ground in an effort to win swing voters, but in doing so have become steadily less representative of large sections of their 'core' support. The professionalization of political parties has also promoted the act of governing above all else - including campaigning, opposing, mobilising - such that now opposition parties are more concerned to play the part of government in waiting than to represent their supporters' interests in all ways possible. The strengthening of the executive as against Parliament - including through supra-national government - has further challenged the representative edifice upon which our political process is premised.
Work to reform democratic politics might start by thinking beyond what currently passes for representation. We could pursue two broad strategies:
1. Delegate democracy. Take steps to ensure that elected representatives are more closely bound to speak up for the interests of those they represent. This would involve moving, to some extent, towards an ethos of delegate democracy. Regular constituency forums - including all citizens, not just members of the relevant party - could help hold MPs to account, if they were backed up by possible sanctions. These could take the form of power to revoke the popular mandate (and, perhaps, to impose political exile on an MP for a specified period), or of frequent elections (perhaps annual Parliaments, as demanded by the Chartists in nineteenth century).
2. Direct democracy. Take steps to counterbalance the power of elected representatives with power exercised directly by ordinary citizens. Citizen panels, selected by lot, could scrutinise the work of representatives at local, regional and national levels. Citizens juries could adjudicate on particular issues in local areas. Lastly, highly popular petitions could trigger referendums on especially contentious policy decisions at the national level.
Such changes would depend on having the kind of active and engaged citizenry which is often felt to be lacking. Yet measures to move beyond representation might themselves help to cultivate such popular engagement in politics, if delivered effectively. We should have faith that, when genuinely entrusted with making difficult and important decisions - and when given the necessary information and resources to make such decisions confidently - ordinary people will grow into an expanded role in the political process.