The art of Consultation may be severely tested by the new Government’s attempt to engage everyone on cuts in public expenditure. Or not! It all depends how well it’s done.
If the Government asks the right questions in the right way and focuses debate on those areas where there is still room for manoeuvre, it may receive useful input ... and retain the goodwill of those who take the trouble to contribute.
On the other hand, if it uses consultation as an occasion to bang on (or ‘educate the public’) about the need for drastic cuts, and then proceeds with decisions that have already been taken, it will be seen as nothing more than a PR exercise.
Experience has shown that the public is unconvinced that decision-makers genuinely want to listen. It is rightly wary of politicians pretending to listen, and in The Art of Consultation we catalogue much of what goes wrong in public engagement.
Happily, many public bodies, from local authorities to the police – and even the NHS –have increasingly been getting it right, though there is evidence that the bigger the consultation, the greater the scope for mistakes. It is the sheer size of the Treasury’s plan that is scary, and we see three classic pitfalls that the Government must avoid:
1. Identifying no-go areas. If the public wishes to argue about issues where the Government is already committed, such as manifesto commitments, it will inevitably be disappointed.
2. Access to the debate. There will apparently be face-to-face discussions with ‘experts’. But who is an expert? Who chooses them? And what do they know anyway? In theory anyone can email George Osborne or use the website. But not everyone feels comfortable online.
3. The time factor. The deficit problem has to be solved quickly and some of the savings that the Government is seeking must be found this financial year. It may be difficult to believe that some of its proposals will not be activated until people have had their say about them. Is the Government trying to conduct an exercise for which it may not have the time?
There may be effective workarounds for these problems, and the detailed plans are still to be finalised. But without them, the Government may be storing for itself a bundle of difficulties it would do well to avoid.
On a lighter note, a lot of ministers, civil servants and MPs will now need to become really clued up about the intricacies of public consultation.
How fortunate we’ve written a book about it!
Buy The Art of Consultation here.
Biteback Managing Director Iain Dale comments on the story behind Rooney's Gold. To read the blog, click HERE.
WAYNE ROONEY ATTACK FURY
The Daily Star, 6th June 2010
By Vaz Sayed
A BOOK about Wayne Rooney is threatening to derail England’s World Cup dreams.
The controversial biography, called Rooney’s Gold, has been released ahead of England’s campaign in South Africa. Rooney, 24, is said to be furious about the publication. And fans say the release could not have been more badly timed. The book, which Rooney’s representatives tried but failed to ban, details embarrassing material on the England hero. Summing up the book in sneering style, the book’s publishers say: “Rough, working class, surrounded by an unlikely crew – including a dodgy agent, a crooked lawyer, tarts and gangsters – Rooney’s Gold looks at the characters who have been attracted to the fabulous money Rooney gets for kicking a pig’s bladder around a field.”
Lifelong England supporter Darren Law, 39, of Blackburn, Lancs, said: “This is appalling timing to release a book which is bound to be so controversial. It is the last thing that Wayne Rooney and the England team needs.
“We can’t afford for our best player to be distracted by negative headlines and his private life being exposed to public ridicule.
“The publishers should have at least waited until after the World Cup for its release.” Another fan, Alan Gavan, who lives in Rooney’s village of Prestbury, Cheshire, fumed: “This is ridiculous.
“This is a great chance for England to finally lift the World Cup again and having Rooney in the right frame of mind is essential for any success.
“Printing gossip about his private life and his wealth is counter-productive.”
A source close to Rooney revealed: “He is absolutely livid. His people wanted to get the book banned but they failed.
“This book was due to be published years ago but the publishers got cold feet because they feared they could be sued because of the highly-controversial content.
“But it has had a re-write and a new publisher has taken it on. To say that Wayne is upset and angry is an understatement.
“He is even more furious about the timing of the release, which has come in the build-up to England’s campaign.
“It is a distraction that he could do without but he has to try to concentrate on his football. It is very regrettable.”
The 256-page hardback book is being published by Biteback, owned by political blogger Iain Dale. It has been written by the BBC’s investigative journalist John Sweeney. The no-holds-barred story was due to be published three years ago by Random House as their response to missing out on the official £5million five-book deal Rooney signed with Harper Collins. But Rooney’s advisers hired law firm Schillings and their legal warnings ¬persuaded Random House to shelve the project. Sweeney, who retained the copyright, persuaded Biteback to go ahead with a rewritten manuscript. Schillings has scared off WH Smith from stocking the book with further threats of legal action. But rivals Waterstone’s are believed to be putting it on sale this week.
To buy Rooney's Gold click here
Nicholas Jones, author of the forthcoming Campaign 2010, features at a public discussion “The UK Election and the People’s Verdict: A Vote Against Spin?”
The general election delivered many surprises and confounded pundits. The vote resulted in the first coalition government in the UK since the Second World War. Apart from traditional media, tweeters, bloggers and social networking sites went into overdrive. We had Cleggmania, Bigot-gate and furious spinning in the media. But what did the election result say about the public’s view of media coverage? A panel of influential politicians and commentators will share their views. Chaired by Robin Lustig, BBC Presenter, Nicholas Jones together with Michael Dobbs, Lord Dholakia, Stephen Pound and Sunny Hundal offer their thoughts.
Date: Monday 7 June 2010
Venue: Commonwelath Parliamentary Association Room, Palace of Westminster
Time: 6-8.30 pm.
CAMPAIGN 2010 by Nicholas Jones is due out the end of June 2010.
Gordon Brown’s three years at No.10 were the most turbulent of any premiership in the postwar history of Downing Street. In Brown at 10, Professor Anthony Seldon - Britain’s leading writer on contemporary premiership and on No.10 and best-selling biographer of John Major and Tony Blair - tells for the first time the full, compelling story, bitter but true, of the astonishing end of Gordon Brown’s tenure, and with it the demise of the New Labour project.
Publication date: late September 2010.