Battle of Ideas: Democracy and its Discontents at the 2007 Battle of Ideas conference hosted by the Institute of Ideas.
Winston Churchill famously quipped that democracy 'is the worst form of government - except for all those other forms'. In 2007, he would surely be surprised by the way democracy has come to be seen as the answer to all our ills. On the high street shoppers are said to exercise 'consumer democracy'; in war zones citizen-journalists are said to be democratising the news media. Lay people are included through focus groups and ethics bodies to create a more democratic science; and alternative medicine is seen as an expression of citizens' democratic choice. The internet is discussed as a means to democratise knowledge, and 'open-source' boffins beaver away to create democratic software beyond the control of multinational corporations. And of course, Western foreign policy is dominated by the idea of 'democratising' the world.
Democracy, it seems, is everywhere. But how do we square this profusion of democracy with popular disengagement from democratic politics at the ballot box? Politicians prefer to talk about 'participative' rather than representative democracy, and in response to public apathy, they have embraced new technologies - from e-democracy to Reality TV-style 'phone-in' democracy - and new styles of communicating with citizens. But are citizens' juries and 'listening' politicians really more democratic than traditional party politics? Are we witnessing a blooming the birth of a new kind of democracy, or rather the degradation of the old?- IoI
David Aaronovitch is a journalist, broadcaster and columnist. He started his media career as a television researcher, working on programmes such as Weekend World and On The Record. Moving over to print journalism in 1995, David has worked for The Independent, Independent on Sunday, New Statesman, Guardian and Observer.
Since 2005 he has been a regular contributor to The Times and the Jewish Chronicle. He is currently working on a series of interviews with former Prime Minister Tony Blair, to be shown on BBC1 later in the year. He won the George Orwell Prize for political journalism in 1998 and again in 2001. David recently completed a book on conspiracy theory entitled Voodoo History to be published in Spring of 2009. He is the son of the late economist and communist Sam Aaronovitch.
Stella Creasy is Head of Research and Development for the Involve organisation, a citizen advocacy group that works to promote public involvement in the public, private and voluntary sectors. She was previously a local councillor in East London, as Mayor and Chief Whip, and an adviser to Dougles Alexander, MP. She wrote her doctorate on 'Understanding the Lifeworld of Social Exclusion', and specialises in the social psychology of public participation. She has written extensively on how to increase public involvement in a range of organisations. She is active within her own local area, as a school governor and member of several community action groups.
Claire Fox is the director of the Institute of Ideas (IoI), which she established to create a public space where ideas can be contested without constraint.
Fox initiated the IoI while co-publisher of the current affairs journal LM magazine (formerly Living Marxism). The IoI has since worked with a variety of prestigious institutions in Britain and abroad.
Fox is a panelist on BBC Radio 4's "The Moral Maze" and is regularly invited to comment on developments in culture, education and the media on TV and radio. Fox writes regularly for national newspapers and a range of specialist journals. Fox has a monthly column in the Municipal Journal.
Paul Mason is Newsnight's business and industrial correspondent. He joined the programme in 2001.
Before that he was deputy editor of Computer Weekly, a campaigning magazine whose investigative team regularly broke stories that made waves across government and industry. He spent a total of nine years covering business in magazines and newspapers before making the move into TV.
Prior to becoming a journalist Paul was a professional musician and lectured at Loughborough University of Technology. He was born in 1960 in Leigh, Greater Manchester. He was educated at Thornleigh Salesian College, Sheffield University and London University.
Paul won the 2003 Wincott Award for business journalism for his series of reports from China covering the economic and political transition there.
Paul was named Broadcast Journalist of the year in the 2004 Workworld Awards, for his reports on China, pensions and a film from Ebbw Vale on the way the steel unions are coping with life after the works have closed.
Live Working or Die Fighting: How the Working Class Went Global, a book on the rise and fall of the global labour movement, was released in November 2006 and has been longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award.
James Panton is a tutor in politics at St John's College, Oxford and co-convenor of the Battle of Ideas. He is co-founder of the Manifesto Club and sits on the steering committee of Pro-Test, the Oxford-based group which campaigns in defense of vivisection.
Panton's research looks at historical and contemporary debates around ideas of politics, democracy and rights. He is currently working on a research project investigating changing conceptions of the public and the private in post-war political thinking in the UK and the USA, and is writing a book investigating elite attitudes to political apathy in the 20th century.
Panton writes and comments regularly in the media on issues around vivisection, politics and education, and is the author of a number of academic articles on politics, education and the state of intellectual life in the 21st century. He is the editor of a forthcoming book on contemporary attitudes to science, Science and Superstititon: the case for a new scientific enlightenment (Policy Exchange, 2006).
Panton previously taught politics and sociology at Lady Margaret Hall and Exeter College, Oxford. He has held a number of awards, most recently Carlyle Scholar in the History of Ideas in the Modern History Faculty, University of Oxford. From 2003 to 2004 James was national co-ordinator of the Institute of Ideas and Pfizer Debating Matters schools debating competition. In January 2004 he established the IoI Post-Graduate Forum, an interdisciplinary research group for post-graduate students working in the arts, humanities and social sciences.