Posts Tagged Conservative

Co-operatives, Consultations and Lambeth

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Back in February, The Guardian ran a front page story on Lambeth Council’s proposals to create a “co-operative council”.  Following much speculation and some additional explanation from @LambethLabour, tomorrow will see the publication of the Council’s detailed proposals for this new LG co-operative AND the establishment of a “Citizens Commission” made up of local people to consult on said proposals.

For anyone interested in participative democracy or indeed the “Big Society” this is all rather mouth watering.

There has been more than enough coverage on the merits of the “co-operative approach” proposed by Lambeth Labour and the “no frills” approach to Local Government to be trialled by the Conservatives in Barnet (including by me on this blog: here) so I’ll leave that for now and instead offer some humble suggestions on the “Citizens Commission” consultation which will – one trusts – guide Lambeth Council on it’s journey toward mutualisation.

Jason Cobb over at ONIONBAGBLOG asked the perinent question of Cllr Steve Reed when the date for proposals to be published and the associated consultation was announced: “How will citizens for this commission be selected?” The response from Cllr Reed:


 This is potentially exciting stuff – proper democratic engagement on proposals to change the very nature of Local Government service provision in our area. But it also has the potential to go the way of so many previous public consultations between Government and citizen. Errrm, nowhere.

So some humble suggestions for the team @Lambethabour to make this consultation count:

  • Be prepared – technically and operationally

If I am invited to consult on tomorrow’s proposals either Online, via wiki or in some other format, please be ready to process my comments. The internet in particular is littered with instances of failure to anticipate and handle the taffic that comes with an invitation to participate….and once bitten; twice shy. Make the channels for comentary available and accessible from Day 1 and be ready to respond to early technical or operational glitches to ensure immediate authority/integrity of the process.

  • Ensure a there is a representative sample of citizens consulted

It will not be enough to simply open a passive set of feedback channels to the general public in Lambeth on these areas. The matters at stake are too important. At least in part, the Council must ensure that a representative sample have been consulted and their views recorded. This is particularly important in the case of those members of our society (the elderly and the socially disadvantaged) who are least likely to either be online or informed of such a consultation but yet are often more likely to depend on local government services under debate

  • Is a Wiki the best approach to online consultation?

Wiki’s are useful but when badly set up they require excessive moderation to ensure focus and they can become unwieldy. It can also be resource intensive to draw out natural conclusions from contributions made – particularly important here. It is a true shame that does not have a mobile app plug-in that could be used to better facilitate an online conversation but maybe next time….for now, as a half-way house, why not simply use the model adopted today by the Government Coalition and its (eventually) comment enabled “Programme for Government” document: The interface is simple and comments are focussed on a particular area of Government, it also helps a little to mitigate against the “free-styling” that an open wiki can sometimes result in. However – and most importantly – neither exisiting wiki/online polling tools as yet support the ability to engage a ‘deliberate democratic discussion’…

  • How to ensure a deliberate discussion?

Successful public consultations typically rely on the participants having a shared and clear understanding of the context of the debate and are fully briefed on the various proposals being presented for their commentary – so they can make a more reasoned/informed contribution. How will those consulted be informed? Have you considered adopting the “deliberative democracy” model for this consultation? It might lead to a more considered, less populist outcome. This may be an additional overhead on the process but empirical evidence suggests that it could result in increased savings, improved service provision and higher voter satisfaction with their local councils.

  • Consistency across channels

Linked to the point above – without a broadly consistent set of questions across channels it will be very difficult to usefully collate and compare commentary/contribution. This is an important consideration to avoid complicating what is already likely to be a lengthy process of data analysis.

  • Be clear on how the consultation will work and keep your promises:

How long will it last? what channels are available to comment? who will moderate contributions and should they be moderated at all? how will comments be considered/actioned? what happens to ideas that are not actioned in this round of a consultation? The list of questions goes on. Crowd-sourcingis not an easy business – have you thought through how to identify and manage special interest groups? How will you ensure transparency even when commentary may be critical? And once you have asked for opinions – are you actually going to do something with them? A quick search on the recent ‘Your Ireland; Your Call’ crowd-sourcing initiative provides an insight into the challenges of running a consultation like this (albeit YIYC was on a national scale). The old Number Ten Downing Street petition site became something of a poster child for the failure of online feedback to generate online action (although interesting to note that the new coalition guarantee a formal debate on any isse attracting 100k signatures…interested to see how that works out)


I really don’t mean to be obstructive or negative – all these points are made in the spirit of someone who welcomes this attempt at public consultation. But I am also wary. For what we are being consulted on is in fact a strategy that will require individuals and groups across Lambeth’s civic society to take on responsibility for the delivery of public services. And that is a construct that requires an engaged population who trust in their elected officials to support them in their endeavors. How this consultation runs might well influence how engaged we are in the ‘co-operative Lambeth’ and certainly the trust we can place in our elected officials as part of a mutualised local government.

In a way then, this consultation is the first test of the Lambeth ‘co-operative model’ and so the stakes are high. I wish them well.

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A very Modern Devolution of Government?

Following their reasonably clever crowdsourced alternative to the Government’s 2010 ICT Strategy earlier this year, the Conservative Party this morning are once again seeking the wisdom of crowds by launching a project to crowdsource the analysis/scrutiny of the latest budget from Chancellor Alistair Darling.

Irrespective of whether this yields much political fruit in the form of new votes, it is undoubtedly clever from a party that actually does seem to be grasping the potential benefits of drawing upon the collective wisdom of the nation – even as an exercise in public consultation. Whether anything useful comes from the analysis or not (the site itself is rather basic – reflecting I guess the need to rush to get something out there) you can be sure that it will garner news headlines, those with an interest will feel engaged and it offers real efficiencies for Conservative HQ and their effort to respond to yesterday’s announcements by The Chancellor.  It’s hard to see how they can lose on this. I see Liam Byrne has suggested that it reflects the fact that the Conservatives “need help” with their response. I think that’s a potentially dangerous line to take on this one but we’ll see…..

Their recent “Cash Gordon” campaign online via Twitter was undoubtedly a disaster – be wary of trying to manipulate the web dwelling public into becoming a conduit for something they haven’t initiated or truly believe in – but on this one (for now) I doff my social(ist) media flat cap.

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Six degrees of separation (and breakfast)


In the course of finishing my previous post in which I commented on the recent furore surrounding the resignation and re-instatement of Joanne Cash as the Conservative Party’s candidate for Westminster North, I realised I have, in the past shared a breakfast table with her husband, Octavius Black.

Joanne Cash and Octavius Black

Joanne Cash with her husband – and friend of David Cameron – Octavius Black. Photograph: Alan Davidson

As founder of The Mind Gym, Octavius was kind enough to treat me and the one and only Rob Gibbs to a breakfast meeting as we discussed doing some business with the Mind Gym on a (to remain unnamed) Government account on which we were working.

A very nice man, charismatic in the extreme, intellectually engaging and founder of a very interesting and entrepreneurial company. And the breakfast was good too.

Small world indeed.


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What it meant…

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Someone actually asked me for an opinion the other day. Its been a while since I actually had to think so it took me a little by surprise but nonetheless it was flattering.

What did I make of David Cameron‘s rather unexpected and I have to say, slightly uncharacteristic, attack on Gordon Brown the man/politician than Gordon Brown the leader of the Labour Party, calling him a “secretive, power-hoarding, controlling” character.
I think it simply meant two things.

First, the ideological dividing lines in this election are so fine to be almost entirely non-existent. When some of the bigger bones of contention include how many years we should take to cut the national deficit (and even then itsa debate separated by 2 years!) and the recognition of marriage within the tax system, we can say for certain that there’s been a whole lot of political cross dressing going on down in Whitehall and some-one’s going to get injured in the trample for centre ground.

Twenty years on from “there is no such thing as Society”, the party of Margaret Thatcher are positioning themselves as the party of social inclusion, ready to pull out the band aids and mend our ‘Broken Britain’ while Red Gordon skirts around the edges of financial reform, hankering still, one suspects, for the maintenance of a loosely regulated free market economy (and not just in the City) but across Government service provision. Stange times indeed.

In short, if Labour lose this election it won’t be on the basis of policy or ideology, it will be because voters will simply have grown tired of the personalities implementing these policies. Same game, new faces. Anyone watching Nick Robinson on his recent travelling ballot box series will recognise what I mean….not once have I heard anyone identify an issue of policy which distinguishes Conservative from Labour. But I do hear a lot of…well, “Labour have had their chance, it’s time for a change”. (As an aside – worryingly for Labour that’s a harder tide to turn than one based on a consiered and informed policy debate ironically).

I don’t think this homogenisation of politics is necessarily a bad thing however. The fate of an entire nation or nations(s) and their people shouldn’t be a hostage to a political system of two extremes for the sake of maintaining tradition.  A considered, centralist approach to our problems is a good thing – whether that be in hues of Red or Blue. But it is making for a dull pre-election campaign and so Cameron went personal. He said very little really, but it spoke volumes for our politics today.

Secondly, it told me that in the week he launched such a personal attack on Gordon Brown he probably needed to more be careful about interfering in local Conservative Party business to re-establish the CCHQ status quo i.e. this week’s rather shabby Conservative Party Westminster North candidate row where “DC” intervened quite clearly to ensure that his favored candidate Joanne Cash got what she felt she needed to run (at some cost to others long standing in the party BC (if you’ll indulge me) it is alleged) as the Party’s elected candidate for that seat. 

For if he wants to stand in front of some very bored (and I have to say – incongruously petitioned it seemed) students railing against Gordon Brown’s dark and stifling instinct for control, secrecy and omnipotence and have us believe that his leadership style – allegedly democratic, open, devolved – will in fact be that and as such, represent one of the few distinctions between his party and that of Her Majesty’s Government he will have to do better, for it smacked just a little too much of those characteristics he had just finished railing against – “secretive, power-hoarding, controlling”. Careful David, that was naughty naughty naughty.

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Will the real Gordon Brown and David Cameron please stand up?

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The last few weeks have left me still puzzled by both the leader of the Government and the leader of the opposition.

Yesterday I watched a large portion of the Prime Minister’s latest meeting with the Parliamentary liaison Committee. It was fascinating not just in the range of subject matters but also because it demonstrated the undeniable grasp Gordon Brown has on all aspects of Government. His performance was assured, informed and in parts both deferential and humorous.  He seemed more at ease then I’ve seen him for some time. It was a reassuring performance.  I wonder does he sense the tide turning with latest polls suggesting a rather meagre 7% gap between the parties?

He seems, if anything, to hve been emboldened by the abortive, potentially divisive and certainly irresponsible (speaking as a Labour voter) ‘leadership challenge’ of Hoon and Hewitt.

And yet still, so often, in Public he fails to project the same reassuring persona/political force as he did in front of fellow parliamentarians yesterday. And the Clare Short testimony has raised more questions about who Gordon Brown really is – the sulking, whispering, marginalised coffee drinker or a conscientious war objector whose Political loyalties took precedence over his personal instincts? The general sense coming out of the Chicott enquiry will be tat he left the Dept Defense vulnerable as a result of major cost cuttin in the months aftr the Iraq war. But is should be made clear that all those testifying – including John Reid – agreed that the actual needs of war in Iraq were met, the overall impact on the Armed Services was significant.  This is a subtle but to his opponents unimportant difference and at today’s PMQ David Cameron was back on top as he dished out a good od fashioned battering of the PM on this basis.

Meanwhile across the house, apart from todays PMQs,  it has not been a great few weeks for Mr Cameron or the Conservatives. Flip flopping first on recognising/rewarding marriage within the tax system (something I vehemently disagree with on a number of grounds – not just scientifically) and then on the extent of cuts in the first year of any Conservative Parliament…”not swingeing”?! And yest the Shadow Chancellor continues to sound slightly more bullish on the extent of savings that must be made immediately. I wonder how they felt in Davos when almost every other country in attendance was in the Brown/Darling camp of “its too early to stop spending and risk falling back into recession”.  Of course – the rest of the world – including the US could be wrong and Cameron and Osborne could be right…. I wonder.  The pressure continues to come for his party to reveal more specific details of their economic plan and the word “inconsistency” seems to be appearing more and more in headlines associated with the Conservatives. If the Labour Party is smart there is ground to be made up with that line if it is played well.

And then, with my Northern Irish hat on, his Political naivity in the role he played in the infamous “Hatfield House” Unionist Unity talks. Did he take a moment to think how these might appear to the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland? How on earth can he expect to play the role of independent peacekeeper and arbiter for NI politics in the ext Parliament is he was now to be elected?

The embarassment of the Lord Stern announcement and subsequent retraction might seem like small beans but it was embarassing and is just another suggestion of the naivity of a party who want the General Public to elect them to manage one of the most challenging periods of social and economic upheaval many of us have known.

Some of his sheen and confidence has clearly been knocked. The Prime Minister has been in the main resurgent at recent PMQs (today excepted) and it feels like, if not seismic, there has been a slight shift in the fortunes of these two leaders.

As Sir Alex Ferguson likes to say, this is now the business end of the football and Political seasons, what he likes to call “squeaky bum” time.  An interesting battle of style, personality and political nous is playing out between these two men who would be king.  I wonder who’s bum is squeaking most right now?


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