Can we learn from the German example of civic engagement to strengthen our democracy?

Can we learn from the German example of civic engagement to strengthen our democracy?

By Sam Tomlin

While politicos clamour over the winners and losers of #Vote2014 in the national and local elections, it is clear in my mind that far from UKIP, Labour or Conservatives coming out on top, once again the winner was apathy. 65 per cent of the electorate did not vote on Thursday in local elections; as Jon Snow said, that is the real earthquake.

Using my borough in London as an example (for local elections), it is also clear that the areas of higher socio-economic deprivation had significantly lower turnout (in the lower 30s per cent, compared to pushing 50 per cent in the richer areas), strongly suggesting that it is people in poorer areas who feel more disenfranchised with what they are being offered by the political system as a whole.

The figures were not much better for the European elections with 64 per cent not voting. Not quite as bad as 76 per cent in 1999, but up again from 61 per cent in 2004. Not particularly inspiring reading. Read More

By Antoine Bouziat

Despite a glooming campaign for the European parliament elections, something is happening in French politics. A new party has gathered 8,000 citizens in six months around iconoclast economists and popular figures. As an alternative to European blind austerity and national right-wing populism, they promote common sense, participative democracy and social progress.

Pierre Larrouturou, economist and founder of the party

Pierre Larrouturou, economist and founder of the party

Politically speaking, two things seem highly symbolic of the French people to British eyes. The first one is their taste for public debate and democracy. Even if voter turnout in France is falling in a worrying manner, it still stays well above the level we observe in the United Kingdom, while the intensive use of leaflets, posters and rallies strongly contrasts with the usual apathy of British political campaigns. The second one is their passion for equality and social justice, deeply rooted in French history since the fall of the Bastille, the rise of the “Popular Front” in the 1930’s, and the project of the “National Counsel of the Resistance” after the second world war, which imagined under the name “Les Jours Heureux” (“The Happy Days”) most of the French welfare system we still know today.

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By Sam Tomlin

Greed“One more dollar.” – The answer John D. Rockerfeller reportedly gave to the question ‘How much is enough?’

The latest Rich List came out the other day with news that the number of Billionaires had surpassed 100 for the first time. According to Martin Vander Weyer of the right-leaning Spectator, this should be celebrated. The main thrust of the argument is that it is ‘not about money, it’s about success’: the younger generation, who may have the audacity to believe that they are ‘starting out at a massive debt-laden disadvantage compared to their parents, who have wrecked the economy while accumulating lavish entitlements that their offspring will have to fund’, should be inspired to ‘achieve’ like those who have climbed the fiscal cliff that is the Rich List. Read More

By Vanya Vaidehi Bhargav


Modi appeals to the middle-class

In a country as vast and diverse as India, it is difficult to analyse the various reasons why people are supporting Narendra Modi. Nevertheless, this article is an attempt to do so. The following observations are not based on detailed surveys ‘in the field’, but on conversations and debates with persons who can be seen as partially representing Modi’s urban, middle-class support base.

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By Marc Morgan

Economist cover - Marc Morgan If one picks up one of the latest editions of The Economist newspaper (May 3rd – 9th 2014), a well-respected and influential publication in the business, economics and politics spheres, one would not be surprised of its content. But one should be worried about the increasing intellectual hostility the publication displays. On the front cover of this edition, leashed and perched over a globe of the world stands a bald eagle, the national symbol of the United States of America. It has its gaze fixed on the East, as it watches it burn. The headline reads ‘What would America fight for?’, which is the title of the edition’s lead story. In it, the editors appear disillusioned with the superpower’s present lack of war appetite.

This state of affairs is one that is meant to haunt all of us (where ‘us’ refers to America’s allies, thus ‘us’ in the West). America is portrayed as failing on its duties, they being the protection of the West’s (now ever more depleting) global hegemony. This is because ‘the most basic issue of a superpower’ is its ‘willingness to fight’. Of course, in passing, it must be mentioned that one must digest The Economist’s analysis with kilos of salt, which is never good for one’s health. Through its self-serving journalistic lens, the particular view of the world that it portrays is an increasing threat to equality, true liberty and meaningful democracy. Not to mention peace.

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US God nationBy Sam Tomlin

I have always squirmed when hearing talk of a ‘Christian country’, and it was no exception when David Cameron wheeled the concept out once again the other day. There is a lot of conjecture around why he did it, including potentially to placate the majority of evangelicals after legalising same sex marriage, but I wanted to use this short article to outline some of the reasons Christians like myself are very uneasy and even outright critical of attempts to align our faith with our nation. While this issue is perhaps more pronounced in the USA, there are important political and (Christian) theo-political reasons we should avoid talk of Britain as a ‘Christian nation:

1) It is questionable whether a human-made entity such as a nation can be described in such anthropomorphic terminology. Being a ‘Christian’ implies having some form of relationship with God. While it is possible for a nation to have Christians in it I question whether a nation can be Christian itself, especially when a large minority (41% at the last census) do not associate themselves with Christianity.

2) Some argue that clearly we’re a Christian nation because we have holidays around Christian festivals and we have a monarch who is the head of a church. I would suggest the ‘Christian’ element within these has essentially been watered down so much they have become what many call ‘culturally Christian’, which I’d argue is a pale imitation of Christianity. Read More

By Sundar Senthilnathan and Sudeep Surendra

A well-designed transport system

A well-designed transport system

India is no longer the place where one can romanticize sleepy villages. It is urbanizing at rapid pace. Out of a billion plus people, 377 million are living in more than 7,000 towns and cities. Over the next fifteen years, more than 200 million people could be added to the urban population. The number of million plus cities in India increased to 53 in 2011 from just 35 in 2001. 40% of the total urban populace reside in these 53 million plus cities. There is nothing unnatural about this spectacular growth as economic growth and urbanization go hand in hand. Despite Indian cities disproportionately contributing to GDP, the quality of life however is getting worse by the day. Roads, public transport, traffic regulation, housing, waste management, water distribution network, sewerage systems, health and educations services, and law and order – all in a state of seemingly irretrievable mess. In the 2013 liveability rankings by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Mumbai ranks 116 out of 140 cities. It fares just a notch better than violence prone Karachi and Damascus.

Resolving liveability problems require a systemic governance overhaul. At present, there are way too many city agencies that exist alongside Indian city governments. Planning and infrastructure provision for instance is under the control of bureaucratic bodies quite ironically called development authorities. The city governments have hardly any say in it. In most of Indian cities, water supply, sewerage and transport are not under the city government but under agencies that are accountable only to the state government.  Many city governments are responsible only for street lights, parks, approach roads and storm water drains. This existing system is against the spirit of the 74th Constitutional amendment passed in the year 1992 that mandated establishing directly elected city councils. They were to be given the necessary powers to carry out functions from city planning to poverty alleviation. These city councils were set up as mandated, but were not given adequate powers to govern themselves. Many of them do not have control even over their own budget. The continuing deterioration of quality of life in cities is a function of impotence and inefficiency of city governments. Read More


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