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
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
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
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
It is worrying. Electoral democracy may be imperfect, but it has served
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
Changes that we are only just starting to understand and rules that
haven’t been written yet.