* April Article of the Month *
It wasn’t long ago that we were being preached to by mercurial figure Russell Brand, the pre-eminent part of his soliloquy advocating the end of democracy on the grounds that voting is a waste of time- ‘a political hokey cokey’. He pronounced with fitful vigour that the democratic system is only to the advantage of a narrow cross section of society and for us as a country it just doesn’t work.
Whilst Brand was largely lamented by the political intelligentsia, his point did linger in the back of one’s mind as new esoteric political issues arose and effervesced away. Much like a waltz- minus the grace.
And so this pattern remained until the fall of Maria Miller. Far from inconsequential, Miller’s resignation was undoubtedly multicausal. But possibly the overbearing implication of the demise is that it was provoked foremostly by social media: the first parliamentary sacking necessitated by social media action?
As of the time of writing, a change.org petition started by Twitter user Matthew Lawrence received over 184,000 signatures urging the now ex- Culture Secretary to ‘either pay back £45,000 in fraudulent expense claims or resign’. It was this petition which replaced Tory MP’s indifference with urgency, displayed firstly by Lord Tebbit, in an urgent attempt to remove a black mark on the party from the party- potentially cancerous to its chances in the elections of 2014 and 2015.
Despite the public backing of senior Tories; Iain Duncan-Smith, David Cameron, Boris Johnson, and the large indifference of the Commons, Miller was eventually deposed. Arrogance, gross misconduct and unethical action may have been the reasons why trouble arose, yet it was ultimately social media which provided the push that was needed to see the end of Miller’s reign as Culture Secretary. Democracy at work.
Several questions emerge in the wake of Miller’s resignation: the actions taken by those on social media- are those a blueprint for a form of recall elections or something of the sort? Would recalls even be needed if e-petitions are sufficient? Is apathy not a disease but a symptom of a politically engaged but disinterested franchise? How much more can be achieved via social media? How can we maximise political participation and democracy through tools available such as the internet and social media?
Answers would all be hypotheticals, yet the importance of the questions are not to be understated. The internet is a voice of a living political culture within British society- a voice which has maybe been stifled by political developments being outpaced by technological and cultural advances. Many seem to have a political opinion when one scours the internet- a notion which just isn’t backed up by physical participation at the ballot box. The concept of using technology to advance democracy seems packed with potential, and maybe this is the method to remedy the stagnation of interest Brand seemed to be addressing. No doubt, the fall of Miller is a pivotal moment in politics; maybe it is just the start for social media’s involvement in the affairs of the country; maybe it is the beginning of an era, an era without apathy, an era of accountability and real democracy. We can only hope, and push, one tweet, one blog at a time.
By Adam Isaacs