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.