Friday, November 06, 2009

Power 2010

Power 2010 is asking people to come up with ideas for the democratic and political reforms that are needed in Britain. You can submit them here, the deadline is November 30th.

These ideas will then be considered by a panel of citizens chosen at random, and the five ideas that they like most will become the 'Power 2010 pledge', which Power 2010 will try to get politicians to sign up to in the run up to the next General Election.

There's been a lively discussion about these plans, here, here and here. I think the principle of the campaign is a good one, but have some questions:

1. How can we get ideas from a sufficiently wide range of people?

The campaign seems very orientated towards getting responses from politically engaged people who read and write blogs (it is possible to submit ideas via e-mail, by post or at public meetings - venues to be confirmed). The panel of citizens also need to have the chance to consider ideas from a much wider range of people - those who don't have computers, people who don't vote or follow politics closely, people from all parts of the UK. Maybe one way to achieve this would be to hold the public meeting in areas where there have been low levels of responses, in partnership with local community groups. Instead of London and Manchester, why not go to places like Rhyl, Sunderland and Glossop?

A campaign based on ideas from bloggers who don't like party politics is too narrow a base to build a popular campaign on, and a personal reflection is that most of the ideas highlighted so far are not ones which I can imagine leading to the creation of a credible pledge.

2. How will the top five ideas will be chosen?

I like the idea of getting a panel of randomly chosen people to evaluate the ideas, but what are the safeguards to ensure that (a) they don't choose some really off-the-wall ideas, while at the same time ensuring that (b) the organisers don't end up "fixing" the discussion. For example, if the panel chose 'take the vote away from all immigrants' as one of its top five, would Power2010 really campaign on that?

3. Why would any politician sign up to the pledge?

For this whole exercise to be successful, it needs to gain the active support of a significant number of candidates standing for election. Some might sign it because they happen to agree with the proposals, but to win over people who are unconvinced, Power2010 needs credible threats 'x number of people will not vote for you if you oppose this' or incentives 'you will be more popular/have a better reputation/get access to more funding and volunteer help if you sign up'. What's the plan to make these threats or incentive credible?


Some critics of Power2010 have suggested that the whole exercise is a waste of time, with significant opportunity costs. I don't agree with them, because I think a range of different progressive campaigns and campaigning techniques are worthwhile (it is not as if we know of any particular way of campaigning which is so amazingly effective that everything else should be abandoned). I'm particularly interested to see how the citizens' panel idea works.

At the same time, I think that, overall, us lefties and liberals put too many resources into 'insider' campaigns such as think tanks and lobby groups which spend their time talking to the small minority who are already politically engaged, and not enough into grassroots community organising which mobilises more people to join us and get involved. Hopefully Power2010 will be able to reach out further and mobilise more people to get involved and campaign for change.


At 3:56 pm , Anonymous Paul said...


Good post.

I agree v much with your last para, which you put more succintly than me when I talk of opp costs blah blah.

can't quite work out though why this is such a hard point to get across

I should have said as much to your comment at TCF but i ran out of time responding to others and I thjink it was clear where i was coming from. anyway you're not the type to take offence at that kind of thing (lots of others seem v touchy about all sorts).

At 2:45 pm , Blogger Nick said...

I think you've slightly misunderstood, if I've read it right - the randomly selected panel doesn't choose the final five pledges, they just choose a shortlist, which will then be put to a public vote to select the final five.

At 2:28 pm , Anonymous Guy Aitchison said...

Thanks Don, here's what I posted in reply on Liberal Conspiracy:

Hi Don – thanks for posting these questions. Sorry for slow reply – we’ve been busy launching the new improved Power2010 site.

It’s refreshing to see a critique from a blogger that actually deals with what the campaign aspires to be rather than with what it doesn’t (i.e. a mass movement to overthrow capitalism).

These are important questions for a campaign like this so it won’t surprise you to learn that the team thinks about them a lot as we evaluate the strategy and our approach.

In response to your Q 1 about the need to get responses from a sufficiently wide range of people and not just politically engaged people online, I agree that this is vital. Obviously, the campaign only has limited time and resources so the consultation will necessarily be imperfect but we are reaching out to people beyond the usual self-selecting groups. We’re talking to youth groups and poverty groups, first time voters, the unions, women’s instititute, environmental groups, peace campaigners, and groups readers of this site might find less palatable like the countryside alliances. The limits of time and resources means we often have to go to where people are already and where they’re meeting, but there will be public events of the kind you describe. Bringing disenfranchised groups into a process like this is notoriously difficult, but it’s just not the case that we’re just reaching out to bloggers and their ideas – this is just one way of engaing people and spreading the word.

On Q 2 and the danger of off-the wall ideas, I’d like to have more confidence in a democratic process than that. The pledges will have to be on political reform so something about immigrants wouldn’t actually make it in anyway, but my sense is that when people get together and deliberate on an issue with the aid of unbiased information they don’t come to reactionary conclusions but actually quite sensible ones (there’s evidence from deliberative polling that backs this up, see the work of Fishkin at Standford’s Centre for Deliberative Democracy). The citizens’ panel is being run by an outside agency and a balanced panel of academics will be overseeing proceedings so the process has legitimacy without danger of “fixing” – more info on this will be posted on the website soon.

In response to Q3 asking why any politician would bother to sign up, the key, as you say, is to demonstrate popular support for reform. The standard response of most MPs to questions about constitutional reform, is “That’s all very well, but people don’t care – there’s nothing in my mailbag from constituents on this”. If enough people in constituencies do write to their candidates, call them, challenge them in a public meeting then this response is no longer available to them – they will be forced to say whether they back reform and people can choose to vote accordingly. Obviously the more people the better but a well organised minority around the election can be successful in shifting opinion. According to Alisdair Campbell, and the rest of the political class, Constitutional reform is something worcester women and mondeo man don’t “give a shit about”, so an important part of this will be showing how dealing with other issues – the economy, civil liberties, the environment etc – requires a healthy democratic system. By reaching people who hadn’t previously thought about these issues we can leave the long-term reform movement in better shape and put the specific reforms on them Power2010pledge on then agenda for the next parliament

Anyway, I hope this addresses at least some of your concerns – thanks again for the questions.


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