Everyone likes the idea of “consultation”, and the new coalition government seems to like it just as much as the last Labour one.
But if anyone expected the new government’s “consultation” process to have a different outcome to the last one, then they are either hopelessly naive, or terminally stupid.
OK, maybe I’m overreacting, but this time it’s sort of justified. After all, the government simply created a rod for its own back by opening up a consultation on its own programme for government. A programme that had been negotiated down to the placement of dots on the i’s between the two parties. A programme that both leaders believed they could sell to their own party, and then to the country.
So why consult on it?
Consultation should, obviously, only be used when the government is genuinely open to the prospect of new ideas. Conversely, there is no point consulting if you have no intention of listening. Indeed, to consult in such situations actually makes future genuine consultations much harder. It just increases cynicism and makes people thoroughly fed up of a government that appears not to be listening.
All so very simple. All so very Politics 101.
So why did this happen then?
I’ve been reading all the responses from each department on the coalition government’s programme. Apparently 9,500 comments got published, amongst which some posters will have posted several times. Which means even less actual people engaging.
But on top of that, the responses from the departments were pointless in the extreme. They responded to the ones they liked, by saying things like “It was encouraging to see that the most popular themes you welcomed are being taken forward in the programme for government.” (source) How marvellous for everyone! The government believes exactly what you believe! Bravo.
Then, where there was disagreement, they “noted” it, and continued with a restatement of their policy. This one from the Education Department is typical: “Firstly, we have noted your concerns about the introduction of free schools.” Then, following it, is a whole paragraph which ignores these concerns and explains the policy, as if people’s disagreement is as a result of misunderstanding. That, too, was also a very Labour thing to do.
But like I said, what really was the point of this exercise? It will come as no shock to anyone that the government would stand firm to its carefully negotiated programme. So why suffer the inevitable bad publicity? Assuming anyone is paying attention in the first place…
What hope for the Spending Challenge, then?