29th April 2017 I was asked to facilitate a community session for the Mayor of Bristol (Marvin Rees) and Kerry McCarthy MP. The localised issues raised at community engagement sessions can often be listed beforehand housing, transport, education, fly-tipping, but nesting amongst these issues was the ongoing ramifications of Brexit. The audience while not large certainly reflected the diverse nature of opinion concerning the Brexit debate. What became clear during the session was that when politicians listen and engage with the fears and concerns of ordinary people a more considered debate takes place, which in turn helps forge a more objective understanding of the complex issues that are often presented in simplistic headlines. My lesson from facilitating this session is that we need to develop ways of breaking down the often perceived barriers between elected representatives and the general public.
It will not be easy, but social media has its limitations. There is no real substitute for eye to eye contact and exchange of opinions, which often energises and secures the principle of accountability. We have allowed the vilification of our elected representatives to cloud our wider engagement in our democracy. That is not to say some of our MPs and elected representatives have not been the cause of their own vilification. But there is a space, a void and dare I say a responsibility we need to claim back to make our democracy and accountability work.
If we are to recapture hearts and minds then it will need to be done community by community, neighbourhood by neighbourhood reconstructing the relationship and replacing it with politics that works for people.