Edinburgh Book Festival: David Runciman

“There are terrible things happening in the world currently and in many places politics has gone wrong…Yet despite this it is important to persuade people that politics still matters.” This was how David Runciman introduced his new book ‘Politics’ and for the next 60 minutes we were treated to an insightful, informative and entertaining discussion on the state of Politics in the 21st Century.

Runciman opened up the discussion by suggesting that Politics has not changed since the seismic changes of 1989 -1991 which saw the collapse of Communism and the end of Apartheid. Technology on the other hand has seen a revolution take place which continues apace.  When compared with the new technological world Runciman feels politics is “an old fashioned activity in a technological world.”

What will happen to Politics asked Runciman?  Will it become obsolete and left behind, squeezed into the margins? According to Runciman “Politics can’t be left behind.” Google can develop a driver less car however the roads that it drives on will be provided and managed by the Government. Government still underpins society”…and when Google clashes with Government, it’s on the terms of the Government.”

Runciman continued by expressing his belief that we are moving into a technocratic world, but with major differences between China and the West.  China’s political elite are Engineers; the West Financiers. Will these two rival systems clash together? Unlikely believes Runciman. But can Technology and Politics come together?

Runciman has heard a lot about ‘Liquid Democracy’, allowing “technology to flow through politics.”  He’s not sure exactly what this means and remains sceptical. In his words, politics is “a bit sticky, technology is more likely to flow around politics.” Or in the words of Malcolm Gladwell in the aftermath of the uprising in Iran in 2012, “The revolution will not be tweeted.”

As the questions from the floor came thick and fast Runciman gave his opinion on a number of matters including how do you define politics, “It’s about giving people responsibility for life and death” and why are people disenfranchised from politics in the UK, “because we are not scared enough of the other side.”

Throughout the talk Runciman spoke knowledgeably, maintaining the audiences  interest throughout and giving many points for debate to continue. As Chair of the event and publisher of the book Andrew Franklin asked, why isn’t Runciman a politician himself…

David Runciman is Professor of Politics at Cambridge University. He also writes for the Guardian and the London Review of books.

To read his latest Guardian columns click here