Public opinion of the body politic has never been lower. Dinnergate is just the latest example of scandal and sleaze that has been the constant companion of the industry for as long as I care to remember. It is the Tories’ turn in the spotlight now, but the Labour Party were far from squeaky clean during our time in Government.
It may simply be an expectation game, that politicians can never deliver on the unrealistic anticipations of a demanding public. Or it may be that power really does corrupt. Whatever the reason, trust will not be regained with the publication of dinner details, just as it wasn’t with the introduction of a new expenses system in the Commons.
The answer therefore, may lie not in an attempt to repair old systems, although this is undoubtedly necessary, but in accepting and addressing the new reality of public engagement. It is somewhat of a fallacy that voters are more disengaged. They may be less inclined to knock on doors or deliver leaflets or even vote, but they still care passionately about the issues that affect their lives.
And it was these thoughts which led me to set up a Citizen’s Focus Group in my ward.
It has taken a while to come to fruition but the first meetings have been a huge success, well attended by passionate citizens who welcome the opportunity for a discussion of the issues without the burden of party loyalty hanging over their every word.
These conversations are happening every day, in pubs, and offices, on blogs and Twitter. But I found it incredibly refreshing that a group of strangers could come together, without loyalties or division, and discuss issues that may otherwise only reach their elected representatives through a partisan political filter.
I’ve been a Labour man my entire life, and a Labour councillor for the best part of 20 years. I hold the values of the party dear and believe that the vast majority of the population share them, at least to some extent. But if voters are unwilling to engage with our current political structures, we must find new ways to address their concerns and to represent their hopes. I hope the Citizens Forum in Broxtowe, and other organisations across the country like it can begin to do that.
For more on the results of my Citizens Focus Groups that have taken place so far this year, please see http://richardsrobinson.org.