I have ranted about these new citizen juries before. Last December, I argued that MPs already have a ready-made focus group – their constituents – and there was no need for an intermediate cross-section to represent the views of everyone else.
Listening on the radio to the thoughts of some of those who participated, the verdict from Gordon Brown’s first session seems positive. The caveat, however, was that the citizens would “wait and see if we;ve been listened to” before making a judgement as to their success.
There is an interesting section in the Fabian pamphlet Facing Out that deals with the subject of being ‘listened’ to:
As Paul Webb observes, the failure to understand that politics cannot always give you what you want can give rise to a related perception: that just because you do not get what you want, you have not been listened to. Yet if getting what you want is the benchmark for being listened to, then we have a problem since democratic politics can never deliver this – no matter how much listening is done – unless all citizens happen, magically, to agree.
The idea of Citizens’ Juries raises some interesting questions about the nature of political participation and leadership. A reliance on focus groups is seen as a sign of indecision and lack of conviction. And yet a Prime Minister or party leader who does not take into account the wishes of their constituents, and the public at large, is deemed dictatorial and aloof. Clearly, a fine balance must be struck, but I doubt that Citizen Juries are a part of that balance. However the government responds, it will be percieved to have ‘not listened’ to the the people, and the cynics will score a victory.
Two of my favourite blogger-journalists are in the cynics camp on this one. Both Dave Hill and Chris Dillow think that Gordon has already nobbled the Citizens Jury. Chris also makes a similar point about the Catch-22 of the “listening” rhetoric.