Technology makes politicians and parties redundant but they won’t go without a big push into the dustbin

July 2, 2014 by
Filed under: Adam Lent 

A quick post to highlight a good piece today by Daniel Finkelstein. Behind The Times paywall unfortunately but his core argument is that the rationale for politicians and parties is losing its resonance. The opinion aggregation that is their main raison d’etre no longer makes much sense in a world where new technologies are far better at fulfilling this task.  He also predicts the decline of political parties for, as he says, “if it is possible to contact voters without a party machine, the power of the machine will decline”.

This all chimes closely with identical themes I have explored on this blog. In fact, Finkelstein goes even further than me arguing that many of the governing and decision-making functions assigned to our leaders will soon be done better by artificial intelligence. 

However, there is an air of inevitability permeating the article. This is the only point on which I would disagree. The political system is enormously and very successfully resistant to any change which damages the position and interests of politicians. It took over one-hundred years to turn the House of Lords from a place dominated by aristocrats and political appointees to one dominated by political appointees alone. The revolutionary idea of actually letting people vote for their representatives in that chamber is now kicked well into the long grass. Party memberships have been in serious decline for forty years and parties are widely disliked and yet they still control the legislature and the executive.

The vision Finkelstein sets out where citizens have much more direct control over the decisions taken in their name free of self-interested and biased intermediaries such as parties and newspapers will actually require an almighty push. As I outlined here, I’m increasingly convinced that a straightforward popular campaign to legally require MPs to aggregate and then represent the views of their constituents could be just the battering ram to split the portcullis.


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  • Roland Bair

    The question is, which party picks it up first. Becoming the “managing part”

  • Steve Jordan

    The question is do we think evidence based decisions are better then emotional based decisions? If you think evidence based is best then we should be changing drug policy, reducing he price of houses in London, increasing tax on alcohol and sugar…If you are worried about emotional reaction then maybe not. Politicians can perform an aggregating function that smoothes out the decision making process and tries to reconcile emotion and evidence but they do less and less of this as we can see on discussions on Europe and drug policy.

    The problem with all this is that people by and large can’t be bothered to spend much time understanding and thinking about issues. They want other people to do that. There is a classic Dilbert cartoon where Dilbert accuses Dogbert of making up a fictitious disease to sell a book, Dilbert says that people won’t believe it because they require evidence. Dogbert points out that he doesn’t read the research he just reads press reports about the evidence, to which Dilbert says he is too busy to read the research. Dogbert’s killing line is “so you’re not gullible you are just busy”. As long as people’s opinions are based on second hand commentary they will be manipulated and all technology will do is pick that up not improve it. A good example is the Today programme on the BBC, when a politician speaks we have directly following Nick Robinson pop up and tell us what to think about it that is usually all emotion and supposed wheeler dealing (no offence Mike and Ed). Since we are all “busy” how does technology stop us being gullible? It has the ability to make us more gullible not less.