I was musing recently on Tony Benn’s famous five questions which should be asked of anyone in power. Well they’re famous if you’re a democracy geek anyway:
These are very important questions, focused on the accountability function of democracy. The last is the ultimate backstop question; it’s the ‘how do we get rid of the bastards’ question.
But, I think there are other important questions we need to ask if we are interested in strengthening democracy. I’d, somewhat presumptuously, add two more to Tony Benn’s list:
The first of these is critical to understanding the extent to which they are concerned about our welfare rather than scoring petty political points.
The second of these is critical to understanding the extent to which they hold an elitist perspective rather than valuing the public’s voice and understanding how best to involve citizens in the decisions they will take.
These questions are important for me because democracy has to be about more than accountability. If it is just this then it is a zero sum game – the person I support must win because otherwise I lose.
Our democracies must find ways to create spaces where citizens can identify and shape our understanding of the issues that face our societies, and develop solutions that work with their lives and not just for the most powerful. My questions are intended to help understand the extent to which our leaders are able to do this.
If you disagree with a politician’s answers to either of my two questions then Tony Benn’s fifth question becomes particularly pertinent.
Am I right to want to add greater depth to Tony Benn’s five questions? Have I found the right ones?