Friday, March 31, 2006

What we're good at

I don't think I'm alone in arguing that the blogosphere is not very good when it focuses on the court politics of Westminster, or on party-political bunfights. Invariably, its like being in a room full of tedious Rory Bremner impersonators.

But we are good when we campaign on, and try to develop an intelligent policy discussion. The achievements of Slugger O'Toole, for instance, speak for themselves. Slugger has created a serious and civil space for the discussion of policy in Northern Ireland. Anyone who can read without moving their lips in aar wee pravance is no longer discussing the next election solely in terms of the question "are there more Catholics than Protestants yet?"

If anywhere needs its democracy rescuing in this way, its Northern Ireland.

Now, while our democracy may not the the sick old man that we are often told it is, there are plenty of improvements that could be made. Take the question of Thames Gateway. The government are planning to build upwards of half-a-million new homes there over the next twenty years. These will not, by the way, be the palaces of the wealthy. Words like 'affordable' and 'key worker' are regularly used. The latter term may be replaced by 'sink' by 2025 unless we're careful.

If ever there was a case for consulting people, this is it. Hana has touched on this on her old blog and tells me she may return to it on her new one. But meanwhile, as the government chuck £Squillions at fruitless 'e-democracy' exercises and projects designed to get 'social entrepreneurs, 'community activists' and 'volunteers' to take on the role of the state, the lack of real belief in this kind of decentralisation is evident.

Because most people aren't in a position to comment on big policy issues - and certainly not in the terms that Government will ever discuss them in.

But they are very good at planning how their schools should be rebuilt, how their neighbourhoods should be designed and developed and so on. Cllr Brown's experience in Lewisham shows what can be acheived here:

We - the blogosphere - should be demanding that the planners should be obliged to develop a lively and constructive conversation with the millions of people that they are going to move in the new massive Thamesmead planned for the Thames Gateway. It is something that we - the blogosphere - would be good at fomenting.

This is what Civil Blogging and Citizen Journalism should really be about. And we should do it before its too late, because the consequences for millions of people could be terrible.

If anyone can get this kind of conversation going, it is the collective blogosphere.


Andrew Brown said...

To be fair about my experiences, in some ways I caught on the coat tails of a lot of hard work already being done by some excellent officers and very committed residents. I hope my involvement helped give residents (and officers) confidence in the process, but given that we were planning to blow up people's homes it would have been remiss to not have consulted residents.

That said your idea is an excellent one, the on-line community (I suspect you should include all those contributors to on-line forums as well as bloggers) can help planners and politicians understand issues in ways that traditional consultation sometimes misses. Take a look at this converstation I've been having with skaters about a local skate park and its perceived deficencies. Something that wouldn't have happened without my blog and their forum...

HL said...

Hey, thanks for the links...although one of them links myteriously to the BBC rather than to me!!

It is, IMO, just too late regarding the Thames Gateway. With the Olympics coming in 2012 there is an immovable deadline for delivery and democracy (in the consultative sense) goes out the window to be replaced with democracy (in the representative sense of our representatives taking decisions that they think are in our collecctive best interests.)

But in the wider sense of course I agree that the blogosphere (horrible word) can help allow different constituencies to have their voices heard. But the how and crucially, who to collaborate on this is of course the question...