Let’s focus on the Citizens

April 2, 2012 5:44 pm

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.uk/what-new/

  • Brumanuensis

    This is a very interesting piece and I like the idea of Citizens’ Focus Groups. One question I do have is how you mitigate against the most politically-engaged – though not necessarily party politically-attached – monopolising the fora?

    • Hcrichard2004

      How do yu mitigate against the most politically engaged?  Very good question!  My answers a) have a strong chairperson b) specifically encourage those of no specific party allegiance to come c) let the meeting set the agenda d) advertise as widely as possible e) build up a good reputation!  Hope this helps

      • Brumanuensis

        Those do sound like good strategies and reading your website, this does sound like a promising venture. I’ll try and mention it to my CLP back home. Do you plan on inviting attendees to the CFGs to CLP meetings?

Latest

  • Comment Fairness dictates that we show concern for both sides

    Fairness dictates that we show concern for both sides

    We have all been shocked to see the surge in violence between Israel and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip. This conflict is causing enormous hardship on both sides. Particularly distressing is the sight of civilian casualties. The scale of human suffering in the current escalation is immense and every civilian casualty is a tragedy. The people of Gaza have the right to live in peace and freedom, just as Israelis have the right not to fear for […]

    Read more →
  • News Are Osborne’s spinners block journalists from asking questions they don’t like?

    Are Osborne’s spinners block journalists from asking questions they don’t like?

    An intriguing story emerged from a copy of the Express and Star last week, the regional newspaper that covers the West Midlands and Staffordshire. Daniel Wainwright reports that during a recent visit from the Chancellor, a radio journalist said she wanted to ask George Osborne about food banks, and was told that he simply wouldn’t answer it. Here’s the story: “Talking of George Osborne, here’s a little insight into what goes on in the run up to getting an interview. These […]

    Read more →
  • News Alexander intervenes on Gaza escalation that “shames our shared humanity”

    Alexander intervenes on Gaza escalation that “shames our shared humanity”

    Douglas Alexander, Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary, has made another intervention on the Gaza conflict as the crisis in the Middle East continues to escalate. Alexander condemns the attack on a UN school in Gaza, describing the deaths of children there as “[shaming] our shared humanity”. His latest comments seem to be aimed largely at lobbying Israel to stand down the level of the force, and to recognise that as a democracy with “vastly superior technological and military capabilities, comes particular responsibilities”. […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Labour changes track – and now it can win

    Labour changes track – and now it can win

    Labour has not generated many headlines this week. There haven’t been game-changers. David Cameron wasn’t trounced in Prime Minister’s Questions. The polls haven’t shifted. The meeting with a post-stardust Obama passed by without significant benefit or incident. Yet, this has been Labour’s best week for some considerable time – certainly in this Parliament. Heading into the final furlong of the election race, Labour has three strategic weaknesses: its perceived weaknesses on leadership, an absence of a strong governing story and a […]

    Read more →
  • News This is just one of the reasons why the Tories will never do well in the North East

    This is just one of the reasons why the Tories will never do well in the North East

    David Cameron has been on BBC Radio Tees – that’s the radio station for the Middlesbrough area, and the Tees is the name of the river there. Except this happened (via Buzzfeed): Presenter: “You keep mentioning the River Tyne. That’s not our region prime minister. I’m sorry, we are the River Tees.” Cameron: “I’m sorry, I thought I was doing….” Tyneside is of course around 50 miles North of Middlesbrough – it’s home to Newcastle, and Gateshead, and those of us who are […]

    Read more →