Platform: Why consumers are the real threat to politics - As the power of an individual’s vote is reduced, consumer pressure has emerged as the best way to effect change, says Trevor Morris

We are now in 1997 - election year. Hours of political punditry and endless party politicals. Finally, after five years of waiting, the British public will be able to make a difference. Or will it?

We are now in 1997 - election year. Hours of political punditry and

endless party politicals. Finally, after five years of waiting, the

British public will be able to make a difference. Or will it?



Will things really be that different if Labour gets in?



With the big political debate between socialism and capitalism fought

and won the difference between parties has shrunk to a nuance.



And with politicians’ power being further reduced by electronic money

markets, less media deference, and increasingly global businesses, the

power of the individual’s vote has also been downsized.



But just as the power of the voter is diminished, the power of the

consumer has grown.



Grown to such an extent that we now live in a ’consumer democracy’.

Increasingly, people express their social, political and even spiritual

values not as voters, but as consumers using the power of their bank

balance to force change.



And if their bank balance isn’t enough to force change, then consumer

democrats may transform themselves into militant consumers prepared to

demonstrate, picket, damage property and, in extreme cases, commit acts

of terrorism.



Your vote may change very little. But disrupt an AGM, picket a head

office, leaflet a shop’s customers, boycott a range of products and you

can almost hear your voice being heard. Single issue pressure groups on

everything from the Third World and the environment through to food,

alcohol and hospital care can already demand prime time TV coverage,

force multinationals to change policy and governments to enact new

laws.



So what of the future?



BT’s ’social audit’ will become commonplace as major corporations

struggle to come to terms with the consumer democrats. Ethics committees

designed to act as the conscience of the company will spring up.



And don’t be surprised if you see legally enforceable ’rules of

disclosure’ that will compel companies to reveal salary details,

political payments and a list of suppliers.



But it won’t just be companies that are affected by the consumer

democracy.



As people increasingly pay for their educations, healthcare and

retirement they will demand more choice and power in how their schools,

hospitals and nursing homes are run.



Each increase in consumer democracy increases the importance of, and

need for, PR professionals, who will need to persuade chief executives

that reading the Financial Times, being chauffeured to work and living

in rich ghettos in Surrey is not necessarily the best vantage point from

which to understand the dynamics of a consumer democracy.



If you still don’t believe in the decline of electoral democracy ask

yourself why only 48.8 per cent of people bothered to vote in the US

Presidential elections last year (down from 51 per cent in 1992) and why

there was only a 35 per cent turnout at the Barnsley by-election in

December.



It is worrying. Electoral democracy may be imperfect, but it has served

us well.



The new consumer democracy inevitably detracts from the power of the

electoral democracy. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing - and anyway

can probably not be stopped - but it will mean big changes and new

rules.



Changes that we are only just starting to understand and rules that

haven’t been written yet.



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