In which I reflect on how public debate works these days …

I mentioned the resurrection of the Winterval myth over the weekend. It’s a seasonal favourite (among everyone not implicated in it). Two of the best blog sites out there have tackled these theme this morning.

We Love Local Government and Flip Chart Fairy Tales both deconstruct the myths repeated in the ‘story’ which appeared over the weekend. And both express bewilderment about why a government committed to localism would be putting out this sort of nonsense.

For me, I’m not that surprised. There’s plenty of evidence that beneath the gaudy garb of localism in which the government has wrapped itself there lurks an intolerance to debate, to difference and to disagreement.

This manifests itself in several ways but the Winterval story is as good an illustration as any of how public debate now works.

A government department gets into a bit of bother with some of its key stakeholders – the Local Government Association say – over a key plank of its policy ambitions. The first response is ad hominem : ‘scaremongerers’. The second subtler approach is to appeal to the voter over the heads of the troublesome stakeholders.

How do you do that? Easy. You pick up an old untrue story about the people giving you grief but one so embedded in people’s consciousness that everyone thinks it’s true. In this case it’s a ‘local government is so politically correct that it’s trampling on the rights of all reasonable people everywhere’ story. Whisk a news release out to your chums in the media. Abaracadabara. Outrage coupled with a warm glow of pleasure that there’s a politician who’s sticking up for normal people.

Quick grab your flaming brand and pitchfork and join us on a march to the Town Hall now!

It’s an effective approach once or twice as any implicated in the various ‘-gates’ will tell you. I explored the impact of this on the people involved in Patrick Butler’s Cuts Blog. But I wonder how much life there is in this dead horse of an approach.

Once the immediate fuss has settled down you find yourself (as a Secretary of State) back with the same problems you had before the story. As a bonus you have also alienated a whole set of people who you need to deliver the things you’ve set your heart on.

But what you might have done is to make anyone with a dissenting view think twice before offering it. Is that likely to lead to better or worse policy making?

Let me see …


About redundantpublicservant

A redundant UK public servant looking for work, sharing his experiences and providing a space for others to do the same.
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2 Responses to In which I reflect on how public debate works these days …

  1. Mean Mr Mustard says:

    But, RPS, the role of a Civil Servant is to do the bidding and follow the direction of the Government of the Day? Which is a problem in this case, as the Secretary of State has now clearly directed that he requires local authorities to adopt a religious overtone to Christmas street decorations. That might be a slight issue with all that separation of Church and State stuff.

    And Pickles also wants everyone to somehow go spend lots in the shops, presumably maxing out or exceeding any lines of credit on useless unwanted plastic tat, and then queuing up for debt advice in their nearest CAB come February, when the scary statement arrives.

    And all you remaining Public Sector Workers – remember, no jollity at public expense will be tolerated. I fondly remember the annual two sides of A4 joyless policy reiterations to that effect that percolated from Upon High in my Dept.

    I won’t be buying anything myself. Not because I’m currently an Idle Benefit Scrounger, but simply because I bloody hate corporatised Christmas.

    Bah Humbug!


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