Confidence in politics has halved, but confidence in democracy itself is still there, say Klaas Jan Noorman and Marc Jager. According to them, therein lies the key to solving the crises and bringing our political system to a standstill.
The climate issue, energy poverty, the stalled housing market, the workload in healthcare, earthquakes in Groningen, the tension on the labor market. The crises in the Netherlands are piling up and are all the direct result of a lack of political leadership.
The politics of The Hague does not get any further than taking ad hoc measures and saying that it really can’t go on like this, while in the meantime they catch each other flying.
Decades of a ‘plaster-paste strategy’ by all parties involved, with a government that failed to take control, now not only brings a cabinet into a crisis atmosphere, but even worse: politics is dividing society to the bone.
Dead like a pier
We can no longer expect solutions from this policy: as dead as a doornail. Political reality is light years away from the everyday reality of citizens. And we say that with great pain in the heart.
Together we have been members of two different political parties for more than half a century. Where that was once self-evident to us, it is increasingly becoming a stone in our shoe. Our confidence is ebbing. And that, according to the Social and Cultural Planning Office, now applies to half of all Dutch people. In a survey she recently presented, half of the Dutch population has insufficient faith in politics. Half!
The good news is that a very large majority still have faith in democracy. Especially in free elections and freedom of expression. As far as we are concerned, therein lies the key to solving the crisis and bringing our political system to a standstill.
Politicians will have to ask for help from citizens to solve the crises. A democratic innovation that takes guts and can help. In countries around us, citizens participate in discussions and decisions in so-called ‘citizen deliberations’. In a citizens’ deliberation, a group of citizens drawn by lot considers a complex social problem.
They get all the help they need. Because, of course, they are no more experts than politicians are. They are informed by experts and experiential experts and together they look for solutions that serve social well-being. They do this by deliberating and discussing among themselves what the best solution is.
Eva Rovers gives in her book Now it’s up to us – call for real democracy, many examples from around the world where citizens’ councils have been successful. Within a few months and on the basis of very broad consensus, supported policy emerged. Partly for this reason, former national ombudsman Alex Brenninkmeijer also advocated this last year. The solutions that citizens’ deliberations come up with can then be adopted by the parliament and converted into legislation. Whether or not after a referendum.
Invest in direct democracy
It is not surprising that a group of citizens, who together form a good reflection of society, are able to do this. They are independent, do not speak on behalf of any political party, do not have to adhere to party discipline and are not concerned with winning elections. They focus on the broader common interest and the longer term. Of course there is still much to learn. It takes practice and time to get to grips with this direct form of democracy. Fortunately, we can make use of the many experiences in other countries.
Our appeal to politicians: start immediately with citizens’ councils and ask them to help solve the crises. Invest in direct democracy now. At national level and in provinces and municipalities. A new governance culture requires a government that shows that it is genuinely curious about what citizens are concerned about, that it is interested in what they consider important, that it is involved in what they need. Therefore, as a politician, give confidence to the common sense of the citizen. To all of us. In the hope that we will also start to trust politics again.
Klaas Jan Noorman (a member of the PvdA for over 30 years) and Marc Jager (a member of the CDA for almost 30 years)