Sure, they’re just words, but even so: Nice words. From UK prime minister Gordon Brown, via the civic-minded Peter Levine:
At this point, Brown begins to outline practical ideas for increasing citizen voice in policy. “We have already taken the step of publishing the legislative programme in draft, inviting comments and views, and for the last six months I have been discussing and working through how to do in a more consultative way that involves people in debating the issues that matter — drugs, crime, antisocial behaviour, housing development or even foreign policy issues like Iraq where there are public discussions.”
The first step will be to “hold Citizens Juries round the country. The members of these juries will be chosen independently. Participants will be given facts and figures that are independently verified, they can look at real issues and solutions, just as a jury examines a case. And where these citizens juries are held the intention is to bring people together to explore where common ground exists.”
Brown explains that “Citizens Juries are not a substitute for representative democracy, they are an enrichment of it. The challenge of reviving local democracy can only be met if we build new forms of citizen involvement to encourage them in our local services and in new ways of holding people who run our services to account. So we will expand opportunities for deliberation, we will extend democratic participation in our local communities.”
The Citizen Juries sound similar to deliberative polling, an idea I’ve always liked. Honestly though, we don’t even need anything as formal and involved as all that to get better at democracy. A little more openness would go a long way, along with a corps of legislators more interested in communicating than… whatever it is they’re interested in now.
It’s totally possible, especially if the internet keeps sort of reformatting social assumptions at the same rate it has been, but it is a project on the scale of a generation. Things won’t magically get better in 2008. (Well: No, actually they will. But that’s only because things are so bad right now. There will still be lots of work to do. Insert analogy about a house with leaky plumbing and bad insulation, but also, the roof’s on fire, etc.)