Yeah, yeah, yeah. This is hardly fresh stuff. It would have been stale in 2004. Perhaps even as early as 1994 this looked like old jobs. Must have been a quiet in the Telegraph office when it got commissioned. Yes, blogging and social media have brought the costs of a public platform down to the price of a broadband subscription and the amount of time one can sink into it. Millions of voices now have the opportunity to mouth off to their heart's content. Amazingly, even my ravings have a modest following. Yet has epolitics, for want of a better word, forced a big change in the way we do politics? Not really. Quickly surveying the landscape now vs four years ago, most politicians have a social media presence, all parties are plugged in and (theoretically) clued up about the new technologies and many millions more Britons check out their Twitter everyday - a good chunk of whom will have clicked on a politics-related hashtag from time to time.
The dam hasn't burst though. Parties continue to obsessively media manage and the internet has not driven vast numbers of new people into political activity. The reflection on social media of UKIP's rise is more an echo of the mainstream media presence Farage has carved out than the other way round. Millions remain alienated from normal politics. No one is loading and reloading YouTube clips of exciting speeches and policy announcements. Politics is still largely a spectator sport, and the ability to send 140 character-long rants out into the ether, at best, creates a simulation of participation.
Does Douglas have a point though? True, the plates beneath organised politics are in a state of upheaval, which UKIP reflects. However, it appears Douglas is paying little attention to this and is indulging in a spot of technological determinism. That somehow the weaving together of disparate statuses, tweets, tumblrs, reddits, blogs and re-blogs will affect big political change in and of themselves. It won't. A politically disengaged but social media-savvy electorate will be a disengaged, social media-savvy electorate. If politics is to matter, it has to make itself more conducive to participation, to speak plainly and honestly, and keep its promises. And for that it requires the rude intrusion of masses of 'new people'. Looks a bit chicken-and-the-egg, doesn't it?
Perhaps this post could be such a small contribution to honesty in politics. Douglas is as libertarian as you get in the Tory party. He believes in individual sovereignty and free market fundamentalism. His political vision is of a devolved politics in which politicians, as such, no longer exist. It's self-government by referenda, of policy decided by politics. To Douglas his government isn't really a government at all, it's a Twitter fall of petitions and survey monkeys. That's not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but that is one side of the vision. Hand in hand with very, very democratic governance stands the utter despotism of the marketplace. In this utopia, the majority of living, breathing individuals have to work in businesses and enterprises where there is no democracy, where the despotism of the employer goes unchecked, where the only accountability possible is whether people buy her or his goods and/or services. Individuals have to enter this relationship of unequals on pain of severe impoverishment and want, and yet because it involves consenting to it all is fine. In reality Douglas's world is a recipe for hell, of a society ground beneath the iron heel of oligarchy. That economic power is self-interested and, ultimately, opposed to people living free, autonomous lives, to the actual realisation of individual sovereignty does not compute.
No amount of tweeting, YouTube thumbs down, or strongly-worded blogs would undermine the power Douglas would grant his oligarchy. But good old-fashioned movements of real people might.