[Please sign the petition if you live, work or study in Manchester. Then ask everyone you know who lives, works or studies in Manchester to sign-and-ask.]
It is democratic
Whose city is this? Who decides? Why should such an important decision be made by just 8 people (6 men and 2 women, if that matters to you)?
It is clever
If you want better decisions, ask more people. Yes, not every answer you get will be a Nobel-contender. That’s not the point; there is a “wisdom of the crowd.”
It opens up space for cooperation, (collective) engagement, trust. The ‘normal channels’ demonstrably don’t work for people and community groups. Decisions made behind closed doors risk being dumb decisions, while decisions made in public, after proper consultation, have a strong public backing and a better chance of succeeding.
It gets people’s “democracy muscles” working
Democracy involves (in theory) citizens using their democracy muscles. One tick in a box every four or five years (or even slightly more often) is not democracy. So why don’t people vote? Lots of reasons, but one of them is that a lot of people are – understandably – very cynical.
The Labour MP Angela Eagle said in a recent speech
“A crisis of trust across all of our major institutions: parliament, police, the press – and, an ongoing decline in political engagement. People are hurting but no longer believe that politics is the answer to their problems. If we are not careful that will be the epitaph of our time – that people stopped believing that politics could change their lives for the better. We’ve not just got a flat-lining economy, but a flat-lining democracy too.”
Well, what does Manchester Labour intend to do about that?
In fact, it’s worth quoting Ms Eagle a bit more –
“In the Labour Party, we are taking important steps towards changing our own culture and the way we debate. I chair Labour’s National Policy Forum. We’ve recently transformed how we make policy so that we let go at the top and empower conversations at the grass roots. We’ve opened up our structures so that members of the public can tell us what they think too. We are determined that our next manifesto will be built on real conversations in real communities informed by real lived experience.”
Yes, well… talk is cheap, isn’t it?
It reconnects Manchester City Council with its citizens
There is real doubt about the quality of Manchester City Council’s ears. The consultation process is regarded as a sham by many, a rubber-stamping exercise for decisions already made (see the minutes of the June 2013 Finance Scrutiny Committee meeting for a small sample of this).
Manchester City Council has a chance to say “Hey, we’ve got 14.5million quid to spend! Rather than make the decision about what the priorities are behind closed doors among the 8 of us, and then have it rubber-stamped by a bunch of people most of you have never heard of and didn’t vote for, we thought we would THROW IT OPEN. Now, this isn’t a bottomless pit of money. Not everyone can have everything. But through the course of the discussion you will get to understand some of the constraints that decision-makers face, and we will get to reconnect with you and start to rebuild some of the trust that has been lost over the years.”
A public consultation will show the Council’s faith and confidence in the people of Manchester, but also help the Council learn new ways of consulting, and get the old ones up-to-speed.
It sets an amazing example to the rest of the country, the rest of the world
Manchester’s politicians always bang on about how innovative and forward-looking the city is, why not try something truly innovative and democratic? A public consultation on how to spend £14.5 million would make Manchester stand out 100 times more than any city centre face-lift.
Jo Campbell and Marc Hudson, who founded the “Ask the People of Manchester” campaign are not members of any political party.
Oh, and before you comment
It won’t cost a lot of money.
It won’t take a lot of time.
It may open old wounds (libraries, day care centres, parks) just ahead of local and European elections in May 22nd, but surely no-one is going to come out and cite that as a reason not to have a public consultation?