Members of the public in the Commons: populist stunt or authentic democratic renewal?

As a populist stunt, it is certainly a clever one.

As a populist stunt, it’s certainly a clever one

Ed Miliband announced today that if he were elected Prime Minister, he would invite a carefully selected cross-section of the public into the House of Commons to question him. This would take place on a Wednesday afternoon, after questions from MPs.

Is this a populist stunt designed to make the wider public feel included, or is it a brave step towards authentic regeneration?

As a populist stunt, it is certainly a clever one. In a climate in which young people feel that there is no point in voting because it will not make a difference, or, worse, will legitimise the current politics, offering this appearance of inclusion could bring a swing towards Labour.

The move may also be considered somewhat cynical. Simply inviting a cross-section of the public to question the Prime Minister will not make the Prime Minister’s answers any more authentic. Nor will it give those people an opportunity to actually change what is happening around them. It’s more Wizard of Oz than Yes We Can.

What is worse, simply inviting the public to ‘have a go’ at drawing a genuine answer from an opaque Prime Minister may disenchant the public further.

But perhaps this move is a real signal authentic democratic renewal. If one reads the move in the context of other steps by Ed Miliband to embrace a post-liberal, democratic agenda, it can be seen as one amongst many changes that could genuinely reinvigorate democracy.

Most important of these changes was inviting Arnie Graf, a US community organiser, to reinvigorate safe Labour seats. Graf’s techniques included inviting non-Labour voters into public meetings to encourage authentic debate about what the local community wanted.

This suggested a step away from the latest technocratic move in electioneering, microtrends, and towards the renewal of genuine democratic consensus building. Just last month, however, we hear Arnie Graf was fired.

In short, if this is an isolated move, it should be treated with all the cynicism I’m short it will receive. If, however, Ed carves this move out in terms of a wider context of democratic renewal, we should see it as a genuine step towards a better politics.

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9 Responses to “Members of the public in the Commons: populist stunt or authentic democratic renewal?”

  1. Dave Roberts

    It’s a populist stunt and not clever. Who thought of this one for God’s sake?

  2. London Person

    Notice at the bottom of the page this blog is hosted in TEXAS. Good not!

  3. David Lindsay

    A bloody stupid idea.

    The only people who could possibly participate would be those with nowhere else to be on a midweek afternoon.

    Not even, most probably, at very short notice.

    I can reasonably claim to be loyal to my Leader, as he is, since I am an affiliated member several times over. I am a great deal more loyal than much of the party’s paid staff is.

    But he is too surrounded by them, by the interchangeable London think tank boys, and by refugees and wannabes from The West Wing.

    Hence, among other things, this silly little gimmick.

    Instead, let him codify the powers of Parliament as they existed in 1978, and write up that codification as a Bill to restore all those powers which have been lost.

    As well as to add a few more. Indeed, as well as to add a very great many more.

    He might more than usefully do the same with the powers of municipal institutions.

    Such is the democracy in social democracy.

  4. swatnan

    Its a stunt and not a clever one at that.
    There’s lots of secutrity around Parliament, ever since Spencer Percival got assinated and the intrusion of the militant IRA and the murderous Islamists into our politics. They’ve virtually closed down Open Govt between them; shame on them; thats their legacy. All questions will be vetted as will the Questioners and their belts shoes and undergarments removed before being allowed into the Chamber. Or, do they have to stand behind a bullet proof screen, or put their questions by video.

  5. Selohesra

    Actually I think the questions will end up being asked by party activists pretending to be ordinary members of public – just like on the BBC Question Time audience. Daft idea borne out of desperation by Ed

  6. Dave Roberts

    The screen to seal of the public gallery was only actually put in 1978 when the daughter of the Maltese Prime Minister Yanna Mintoff threw horse shit onto the floor in protest about something to do with Ireland. She was in the SWP at the time.

  7. Guest

    Ah, projecting from what you do as usual.

  8. Guest

    Codify, hence defending the rights of the rich, at an arbitrary past date, hence leaving the UK stuck in the past and unable to function properly. And removing sovereignty, hence losing power – and not gaining one, since there’s this “sovereignty” concept you’re not grasping in the Westminster system.

    What would you “add”? More boss’s rights? Criminalising free speech? Do tell!

    (Then you’d strip local government of it’s rights, no surprise..)

  9. David Lindsay

    You can’t read English, can you? You certainly can’t write it.

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