Coffee House

How David Cameron can save money and boost interest in politics

11 January 2013

8:12 PM

11 January 2013

8:12 PM

David Cameron started his times as Prime Minister by saying that ‘the days of big government are over’. But he is still missing a major trick with the internet. The Times has highlighted(£) some of the ludicrous policy consultations undertaken by the coalition, many of which have received no responses at all:

‘Another consultation into Cornish wine received no responses at all. The owners of the Camel Valley Vineyard at Nanstallon, near Bodmin asked for protected status for their award-winning ‘Darnibole wine’. After consultation on the issue failed to stir the public or even rival growers, the wine is now being considered for submission to the EU Commission for protected status.

Although the government has started to build an online consultation database, only six departments have signed up for the system so far. Plus this new database requires interested parties to download a form or post a hand-written response to Whitehall. Instead of this compromise, we need something interactive and collaborative. For example, the ability to comment and rate policy suggestions, engage with other stakeholders and speak directly with the policymakers in Westminster.


Plus, the ability to open up the filtering and sorting of responses could significantly reduce administration costs, as the current online system is barely a step up from written responses. Tory MP Douglas Carswell offers a wider vision in his book The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy. Take his idea for increasing participation in policy making:

‘The Internet allows people to group together online and apply pressure directly. Voters are able to press their judgment upon individual Congressmen and women. But they are able to demand the right to make more choices directly.

‘We will see more direct democracy, where voters are able to imitate debates and vote on what matters to them. Just as they decide what is on their MP3 player, so too will they have a role in programming the legislative agenda.’

This is no simple task, as Westminster tends to react negatively when faced with outside interference. One quote in Carswell’s book highlights the hostility:

‘You might waste a lot of time on that Twitter-book thing, Carswell, but they are hardly going to change the world’

Those MPs opposed to the concept of ‘iDemocracy’ need to wake up and smell the huge opportunity. Opening up policy making online could increase the flow of opinions — the Mail was particularly annoyed about the lack of responses to some consultations — by widening the communications channel with voters as well as addressing the bill Fleet Street have taken umbrage at.

Although tentative steps with ePetitions have been met with mixed results, it is hard to see how the political bubble can remain immune from increased interference. Hopefully, Parliament will not plant itself in the past and instead will instigate the birth of a more involved political system.

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Show comments
  • FrankS

    The age of political pygmies does not, sadly, mean ‘the days of big government are over’.

  • d knight

    Here’s a thought

    Turn it on its head

    Make MPs do their business online and spend, say, 95% of their time in their constituency with compulsory public meetings every week, 6 hours of surgeries a day and a programme of visits to local schools, welfare centres, charities, residents groups, councils etc

    Save a fortune in travel, subsidised housing and food/bars

    Mind you it would make MPs closer to their voters…..

    • Rhoda Klapp

      The reason they hate us, for MPs at least, IS the amount of time spent in their surgeries. Meeting the most vocal whinging moaning set of ungrateful humanity you can imagine. The general public. Who would want that as a job, having to listen to all that complaining about stuff you can’t do a thing about and smile and nod and pretend you have any influence in the world. Then to go to parliament and get bored stiff in the chamber and find out you really are just lobby fodder and you can’t do anything. Still, the canteen is subsidised and the expenses deal is still fantastic.

  • Gavin Griffiths

    i mean you only have to look on the comments threads on here to see the sort of people who comment on this online – you get the reactionary types at both ends of the spectrum, trolls, wind up merchants, cretins who can’t spell, 6th formers who’s just discovered socialism, people who can’t be bothered to use capital letters. do you really want these people to have any kind of influence on policy? people have abandoned politics because they feel powerless. safe seats drop in political cronies, big business bribes its way to influence and the hard “working” people of this country feel like they’re being fed upon by a voracious machine that seems to think that the money they earn belongs to the state. what this country needs is a leader with courage. someone who doesn’t just tinker with the current set up, someone who strays from the safe centre ground and brings about a revolution in thinking and working. this is how you engage. by inspiring and leading not by letting idiots like me rant on in a comment thread. the public sees Milliband, Clegg and Cameron and the whole centre ground european project as one in the same and they shrug and wait.

    • Rhoda Klapp

      I see what you did there. Complain about people who can’t use capitals then start the next sentence in lower case. Do you think your own opinion doesn’t count becasue you can’t punctuate? Other than that, you are of course correct.

      • Rhoda Klapp

        Yes, I can spell. I just can’t tpye.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Ranting in comments threads is about the only way people can express dissent these days. The political system has been neatly stitched up to take as little account of public opinion as possible and even when we vote we get stitched up as badly as when we are not allowed to vote – as on the EU for example.

      We might be idiots but protest whether it is online or on the streets is almost the only outlet left and the wolves of the state are circling that ever closer too.

  • Tom Tom

    We really need to ban political parties and make it a criminal offence to fund any politician by more than £10,000 with a mandatory jail sentence for any form of bribery or influence peddling. There is so much that could be done to bring in the sunshine and cast out the dark corruption.

  • Williiam Blakes Ghost

    What is the point? Cameron opened it up for the policy review back in 2007. Hundreds if not thousands told him Minimum Alcohol Pricing was an exceptionally stupid policy. And what do we get? You cannot counter the ignorance stupidity and arrogance of our political classes.

    • MirthaTidville

      Ditto for Gay Marriage

  • Boudicca_Icenii

    Cameron ‘boosted interest in politics’ with the on-line petitions site.
    When 350,000 people voted for an In/Out Referendum on the EU, he triple-whipped his MPs to vote it down. So did Clegg and Miliplonker.
    Why should people be interested in politics when our political elite behave like that.

  • jazz6o6

    iDemocracy !!?? iDictatorship more like. 1984 with bells on.

    There is no substitute for the real world.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Oh, did I forget to mention they hate and despise us and don’t care what we think? Just cynical old Rhoda, you may think, but that is the way they act, time and time again.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Yes, you miss the point of consultation. In government terms, it is not to find out what the people want, it is to tick the box marked ‘consultation’ so that afterwards, when you do what you want, you can say people were consulted. If you did it properly nothing would ever get done. There is always a presure group of some sort wnating to stop anything happening. Sometimes it is actually composed of real people.

  • MirthaTidville

    Just read the headline………..Do you means he has resigned????????????????

  • Noa

    “…we need something interactive and
    collaborative. For example, the ability to comment and rate policy
    suggestions, engage with other stakeholders and speak directly with the
    policymakers in Westminster.”

    Indeed we do need it Sebastian. Democracy it’s called, as I remember. Can’t think why it hasn’t happened before. No doubt the Minister sent a memo to Twitmarsh about it, and it will be on circulation for comment, awiating reply, before a prelim brief is prepared and submitted to the PS for onward briefing. Meantime….

    • The Red Bladder

      “…we need something interactive and
      collaborative. For example, the ability to comment and rate policy
      suggestions, engage with other stakeholders and speak directly with the
      policymakers in Westminster.” Now there’s a grouping of weasel words that could send me running for the hills. Is gobbledygook on the syllabus of schools these days?

  • Daniel Maris

    This is a really stupid article I’m afraid. To have someone undertake a pre-examination of potential consultations and decide which weren’t important would (a) be hugely expensive because it would require a large bureaucracy to administer and (b) be hugely expensive when the decisions were struck down for lack of consultation following Judicial Review.

    The whole point of a consultation is to find out if people have important and salient objections. A zero response is NOT a failure.

    • Noa

      It’s very right that the question is asked.

      Just don’t expect anyone who might be adversely affected by it in the slightest to show anything other than indifference, at best, to complete hostility at worst.

  • ButcombeMan

    It is a very great mistake, indeed it is naive and plain silly , to believe such a system would necessarily improve our system of democracy.

    What it would certainly do, is increase the ability of one or more organised pressure group to influence events, what are, in some circles, called “Comment Warriors”.

    The majority is, almost by definition, largely silent, even though on highly contentious issues it often has a very strong view.

    Well financed and organised Comment Warriors can destroy democracy not improve it

    Ministers underestimate the silent majority at their peril, the most recent example being Cameron’s foolhardy & personal rush, to re-define the meaning of marriage.

    Hugely and probably irrecoverably, damaging to his party.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Absolutely. We are already plagued by the disproportionate influence of lobby groups, fakes charities and various emotive agendas and live in a society increasingly controlled and bullied by vociferous identity groups with a “burning cause”. This idea tends to pander to that whilst marginalising the amorphous silent majority and those with no axe to grind who just want to get on with life without political interference.

      • telemachus

        By and large the silent majority are those too supine to care or engage
        The punters gathered here are by definition coexistent with those who have a burning cause
        Problem is that the cause is usually the individual in the Thatcher sense rather than the good of Society
        We should all make our cause the poor folk of Tower Hamlets

        • Colonel Mustard

          More provocative and presumptive nonsense. “We should” is one of the greatest deceits known to man. Who are you to decide what others should do? By what measure?

          We should all make sure that people like you are kept as far away from government as possible. There!


    So what you mean is that David Cameron started his time as Prime Minister by lying, and has continued to do so in a wonderful display of consistency,

  • Archimedes

    And can we have an iPhone app for voting? Going to the polls is so yesterday. You’ve totally gotta reengage young people. And in case you’re wondering – yes, it can be designed with a random lag in the app so that David Dimbleby can still host the show all night.

  • alexsandr

    Oh god no. Another government IT project that will fail to deliver, be late and go massively over budget. Government and IT don’t mix.