How to make politics work
8 November 2006
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The increasing professionalisation of politics has left ordinary people disenchanted and alienated from the political system, author and political commentator Professor Gerry Stoker told the audience at Sydney Ideas, the University of Sydney's international public lecture series, last week.
Politics, he said, has become a "specialist's game" where individual voices are marginalised. Even lobby groups and interest groups have become more professional and use their "large memberships as a weapon in their various campaigns" rather than actually engaging their members, he said.
And according to Professor Stoker, this disengagement is a major concern for mature democracies. "Democracy is a great idea," Professor Stoker said. "But I have serious doubts about the participation levels in politics. The degree of alienation can't be underestimated."
Professor Stoker, the UK-based author of WhyPolitics Matters: Making Democracy Work (Palgrave Macmillan), also argued that political disenchantment was caused by an increase in consumerism and individualism in modern societies, which often clashed with politics, based on collective decision making and compromise. "Often politics creates second-best but how counter-cultural has that become?" he asked the Sydney Ideas audience.
Political systems in mature democracies need to embrace processes such as direct referendums and increased consultation in political decisions in order to enable citizen's voices to be heard. "We need a politics for amateurs," Professor Stoker proposed.
Professor Stoker also argued that politicians needed to subject their decision-making to closer public scrutiny and urged politicians to remain engaged with constituents. "Representation is actually a verb, not a noun," he said. "We need to get politicians out of the town halls and Parliament and out into the communities."
Professor Gerry Stoker is the author/editor of more than 20 books including his latest, Why Politics Matters: Making DemocracyWork, which has recently been awarded the UK's Policial Studies Association Book of the Year prize. He is professor of political science and co-director of the Institute for Political and Economic Governance at the University of Manchester in the UK. Professor Stoker was introduced to the Sydney Ideas stage by Professor Geoff Gallop, director of the Graduate School of Government at the University of Sydney.
For podcasts of previous Sydney Ideas lectures visit http://www.usyd.edu.au/sydneyideas.
Contact: Katrina O'Brien
Phone: 02 9036 7842