Not Saussure

March 8, 2007

Manufactured consent at the taxpayers’ expense

Filed under: Politics, Spin, UK — notsaussure @ 8:44 pm

Back in December, I expressed my reservations about the government’s plans to resurrect People’s Panels under the new name, Deliberative Forums; these, I opined, would be focus groups to determine ways better to sell potentially unpalatable policies to the paying public.

Via Chicken Yoghurt, there’s an account in the Groan by someone who attended one of these events, Liam Curtin. Mr Curtin writes,

I felt we were being used to rubber-stamp an assortment of controlling measures designed to keep an errant public in place. There was not much time given to open discussion, and no opportunity to put forward other ideas.Despite the press releases, this was not a dialogue – more a crafty way to get endorsement for a raft of reactionary measures aimed at imposing responsible citizenship through a patronising system of rewards and punishment. That it involved a cross section of the populace just gave the illusion that the ideas emerged from the street.

So it looks as if these aren’t even attempts to devise ways to sell the policy; from Mr Curtin’s account, people were given various loaded questions — e.g. Should people who harm themselves by smoking, etc, be allowed hospital treatment? (as opposed to, for example, Should people who harm themselves by participating in sports, etc, be allowed hospital treatment?, or Should the NHS continue to provide universal medical assistance, free at the point of delivery, to those who need it) — and asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the proposal , presumably so HMG can later say, ‘Well, we’ve consulted the public.’

It’s a bit like the way they used to ‘prove’ people can’t tell Stork margarine from butter; according to my late father, who participated in one of those rigged events, they apparently had him sample half-a-dozen or so little cream crackers. Then, having thoroughly confused his palate, they asked him which one had Stork on it; this he was understandably unable to do, much to his annoyance, even though he’d obviously have had no difficulty in distinguishing between the two if they’d have just given him one biscuit with Stork and one with butter.

Seems a bit off, to me at least, to spend the taxpayer’s money organising one of these fake consultations — including putting people up at a good hotel, apparently, and giving them £50 for their trouble — just in order to be able to say your policies enjoy public support. Shouldn’t that come from party, rather than public, funds?
Oops! Still think this panels are a bad idea, though.

UPDATE:   It would appear that, as with Road Pricing (see Crushed by Ingsoc’s comment below), the public hasn’t been as cooperative as it might, despite the leading questions.    The Indy reports

A representative panel of 70 ordinary people who took part in the Government’s policy review agreed that citizens had responsibilities as well as rights. But when they debated how that should be turned into policy, they favoured a “softly, softly” approach.

The verdict is a setback for Mr Blair, who wants changes such as cutting the benefits of single mothers who do not look for work when their eldest child reaches the age of 12. At present, this sanction does not apply until they are 16.

Oops.   Still think these panels are a bad idea, though; doubtless the only lesson the government will derive from this is that they’ll have to ask the questions rather differently to get the right answer.

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  1. Rather like the great consultation they’ve done over road pricing?
    Oh, whoops! Did I say something wrong, Tony?

    Comment by Crushed by Ingsoc — March 8, 2007 @ 9:03 pm

  2. They can always have another go until they get the answers they want. It’s not even costing them anything it’sourmoney.

    Or, if all else fails, they just have to say that they are grasping the nettle and taking the unpopular but right route.

    Comment by Dave Petterson — March 9, 2007 @ 12:43 pm

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