In a progressive sense, government is on the right track this week by allowing an e-democracy debate in the House of Commons. The idea is that voters should be able to e-mail in their views on new legislation before it is rubber-stamped by an enormous majority and passes on to the statute book.
Labour MP Graham Allen is asking parliament to consider expanding its e-democracy programme. He would like to allow the public to comment on the small print of new laws through "pre-legislative scrutiny" and Webcasting special committees, to avoid problems in future. Poor old Sir Humphrey Appleby must be spinning in his grave at the thought of such a thing.
The IR35 and the regulation of investigatory powers legislation are two good examples of legislation that might have benefited from e-democracy. But apart from these it's hard to find anything these days that can become law without encouraging a collective shudder from the rest of us.
I agree with Alcibiades, who got it right before the Athenians shoved him into exile for being a little too good-looking and ambitious. You start allowing the people to decide on the direction of legislation and who knows where it will lead?
These days, the only people who get really involved in politics are the card-carrying zealots. Take the hunting argument online and MPs will be swamped with e-mail from people who are in favour of spending the weekend on horseback as their dogs tear apart small furry animals, while the rest of us will continue watching the omnibus edition of Eastenders.
A better idea perhaps, rather than inviting an e-mail plague from the Countryside Alliance, is to use the Sky News interactive polling model. It's very simple, press the red button or the green button. "Should we invade Iraq?" Yes or No? "Do you believe Steven Byers?" Yes or No?
It may be Big Brother all over again, but it is also a great opportunity to start involving the people, you and me, at least in the early stages of legislation, through the television and the 6,000 UK-Online centres across the country.
What the politicians forget is that, regardless of class or education, most people have some degree of common sense. Today's politicians are also unlikely to have a strong grasp of classical history. I don't think they realise that democracy was an early interactive entertainment medium that gave the hungry masses a sense of involvement, something that we have very little sense of in this country anymore.
Watching Webcasts of parliament sessions are reassuring to those of us who are interested because it shows willing on the part of the government and cuts through the veil of secrecy that continues to plague our democratic process. My wife, who used to work as a press officer in Downing Street, tells me that the Ministry of Defence's alcohol entertainment budget is an official secret.
You should have the right to e-mail your views on legislation in the same way that you should expect to be able to e-mail your MP. However, I cannot see a process of e-mail consultation really working and I have had experience of this working in practice. It costs money; lots of money, to moderate the incoming message flow, and it attracts hackers like flies to honey.
All that will happen is that government will be swamped and generate even more paperwork that MPs will have no time to read.
A far better idea is to do a deal with Sky Television, the BBC and the new local digital TV pilot projects. Concentrate on the big issues and not the small details. Ask the people what they think, rather than the MPs who rarely bother to ask. Press button polling to express an opinion every now and then. It does sound dangerously like democracy to me.
Will interactive TV voting enhance the democratic process?>>
Zentelligence: Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and ramblings of the futurist writer, broadcaster and Computer Weekly columnist Simon Moores.