A touch-screen smartphone and a top made of zips. Folks, we’re in the future. Image courtesy of Billy Farrell/bfanyc.com/Rex and The Guardian
There are myriad aspects of democratic process that can be more slickly streamlined, so let’s start right at the very beginning: step 1 of having your voice heard in between elections is contacting your local MP, and that’s not entirely straight-forward. There’s a vibrant spectrum of communication choices, ranging from delicately crafting a well-researched diplomatic masterpiece of an email, to tweeting them some naughty swear words in capital letters, garnished with an angry emoji for good measure. The former will get a late reply, and the only way anyone will be aware of its existence is if you tell them with actual words to their actual face (which takes ages). The latter gets 23 retweets and 31 likes within two hours, and comes with a side order of self-satisfaction. The former is actually more democratically potent, but the latter is ten times more dangerous and exciting, init?
Writing an email takes up too much of our precious time, and I don’t honestly expect my MP to be able to read it attentively. I don’t blame them; they must be inundated with correspondence from hundreds of constituents, and ain’t nobody got time for that. MPs are not only talking to constituents but also delivering speeches, giving interviews, voting, and reading the ridiculous tidal wave of bill updates or committee reports or news articles or expletive-filled tweets. A human attention span is a finite thing: we only have one jar of it per day and we have to choose what we spread it on.
This week I’ve had a taste of the pointlessness of emailing my MP. My email was designed to be nuanced, conceding points about an issue and asking for more information about certain aspects of it, but my MP’s response was so generic that I could have written it myself (but mine would have had more slang in it, obvs). I’m all set to reply to their letter, but who will it benefit? Ideally, he would reflect on my reply with a hand on his chin, and respond with honest explanations and evidence to back up his claims, and inviting me to reply to continue the discussion. In reality, it’s pragmatically impossible for MPs to forge a rich and authentic connection with every single one of their constituents.
So MPs don’t have the physical capacity to interact with every constituent and go into much detail on key issues, and the methods they do have aren’t currently engaging everyone in the community. Meanwhile, 25.7% more people under the age of 35 have at least one social media profile that they check once a day than are registered to vote in the UK. So, the solution could be to create a local social media platform that streamlines communication to MPs, meaning they can engage with more constituents and their issues are more easily publicly raised than by a private email.
On this shiny new social media platform, everyone on the electoral register will have an account for that constituency. Each constituent will be able to write a question to their MP, and if the question gets over 100 likes (for example), then the MP will have to respond to this issue. If the answer is unsatisfactory, this group of 100+ people can reply, and expect a full response from their MP. If their question doesn’t reach 100 likes, then they will have to acknowledge that their issue is not in their constituency’s interest at that time, and focus on a new question.
Using this platform, the MP will be visibly responding to constituent’s issues, and there will be a way of publicly holding them to account on local issues. Rather than requiring constituents to type up an entire email every time they’re miffed, they can just click a button to show their support. This escapes the pointlessness of letters to individuals and harnesses the power of social media on full throttle. Of course, this idea is so sketchy it’s nearly transparent, but it could be a step in the right direction of making social media more useful and MPs more representative. It’s the social media version of the Town Hall meeting, but with less witch-hunting. Cushty.
So, I just need 3 software engineers with laptops, 6 months and 21 jars of Rocket Fuel coffee, and we’ll have this new social media platform up and running and pronto. If anyone has/is any of these things, I am officially accepting donations.