New parties the world over are using technology to enhance democratic engagement, and the UK could be nextby Geoff Mulgan / December 30, 2014 / Leave a comment
This is an exciting moment for new parties in Europe, such as the UK Independence Party, Germany’s Alternative fuer Deutschland, the Finns Party and the Sweden Democrats, all of whom are benefitting from anger and distrust directed against incumbent politicians and elites. Many of them have now progressed to become serious contenders for power.
Most of the debate about these parties has focused on their programmes—populist, anti-European Union and anti-immigrant. There has been much less attention paid to what kind of parties these are—their structure, and the methods used to organise themselves and promote their message—and what other kinds of party might emerge in years to come.
Most of the newer parties on the populist right are very traditional in their methods, made up of local branches, national conferences and predominantly middle-aged, white male leaderships. But other new parties are radically reinventing how they work and may point to a very different future for the political party, both mainstream and otherwise. Five Star in Italy is best known elsewhere for being the creation of comedian Beppe Grillo—but just as interesting is the internet-based decision-making structure at its core. For example, choices for its parliamentary candidates were made through an online vote involving tens of thousands of registered party members. The Pirate Parties in Iceland, Germany and Sweden pioneered what they call “Liquid Democracy,” a way for members and the wider public to take part in every decision. Democracy OS in Argentina is a sophisticated digital platform that allows citizens to propose and shape policy ideas online, a system being used by the new Partido de la Red.
Podemos in Spain is rapidly emerging as one of Europe’s most impressive parties, combining mass public support (they currently lead in the polls, on around 30 per cent), serious policy prescriptions (the Financial Times columnist Wolfgang Münchau recently praised them for having one of the most coherent approaches to post-crisis economic management), and, again, a radical use of the internet to involve supporters. Like many of the other parties, it rose to prominence thanks to leaders who had gained exposure in other areas—in this case, Pablo Iglesias, a professor who regularly appeared on TV.
For all of these parties the internet offers a way to bypass discredited elites. Podemos’s slogan during the 2014 European Parliament election campaign was…