How can we make the government listen?
Author: Zoe Stavri
Published on Aug 31, 2012
Squatting a residential property will become a criminal act from tomorrow. When the government consulted the public on this law, 96% of respondents--from squatters to members of the judiciary--said that the law should not be changed.
We’ve been embroiled with a row with the Cabinet Office regarding consultation as well, where more than a thousand individual responses were counted as just one.
It feels as though the government is not listening to us, that consultations only serve to keep up the appearance of democracy. What’s the point of a public consultation when the results will be ignored or dismissed if the government don’t like what they’re hearing? From these consultations to the controversy surrounding the so-called “listening exercise” regarding NHS reforms, it feels like if they don’t care what we have to say, why do they bother asking?
This is not to say that governments should always go along with the direction of the feedback they get from consultations. The politics of rigid conformity to the opinion poll or of whoever shouts the loudest is just as fraught with problems as opinion can be so easily manipulated by those in power. What is necessary is a politics of meaningful dialogue and agreement.
The 2007 Sustainable Communities Act explicitly shifts the way councils and central government should conduct consultations: councils are given a legal obligation to try to “reach agreement” with local people on proposals, and then the government needs to try to reach agreement with the local governments. This model is still in its early stages, it is a good place to start: it encourages discussion and engagement, and politicians cannot so easily dismiss the views of the people.
We need to see a change in how we communicate with government. It is not enough for the government to act like it is listening then ignore what we say. How can we make the shift so they must engage meaningfully?