Yesterday (Monday) evening I met with a young German ethnologist, Jan Linhart, who was in the audience when I gave my Centre/UACES lecture about fleshing out the Lisbon Treaty’s provisions on participatory democracy (see previous post) and had asked to see me to discuss his project. He and a few like-minded friends have been developing a sort of electronic agora or, as they describe it, an inter-active, on-line platform; a non-profit, open source, Web 02 project. The project, dubbed ‘ECHO’, is still embryonic, but it, or something like it, could be revolutionary. I was brought up to believe in parliamentary democracy and the importance of political parties as aggregators. Over the past ten years I have come to recognise the potential of participatory democracy and, in particular, the value of structured dialogue (‘civil dialogue’) with civil society as important complements to representative democracy. The Lisbon Treaty would also, in the form of the citizens’ initiative, introduce an element of direct democracy. But the web and the internet have opened up vast new possibilities for the aggregation and expression of the popular will that our establishments have not even really begun to address properly. I sometimes wonder if we are not shoring up a democratic house on shifting technical sands. As Jan Linhart put it, ‘If it’s not our project then it will be somebody else’s.’ By coincidence, in the next day’s edition of the Guardian newspaper, there was an article about a new Fabian Society pamphlet regarding online campaigning. In the pamphlet, Nick Anstead and Will Straw explain that ‘In the networked society citizens do not require the institutional scaffolding offered by parties to engage in political activity. Anyone can set up a simple campaigning group on an issue with a few clicks of a mouse.’ Under Jan Linhart’s model, citizens would not need to be partisan at all, but simply have and express views. Food for thought.