Open democracy

19 Jul

Copyright: Image by jsawkins on Flickr. Some rights reserved

On July 15th Newham council voted to amend its constitution to allow the public to film and record proceedings at future meetings. The decision was inspired by Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for local government, basically telling councils that if they didn’t let this happen he’d change the law to force them.

The Newham Recorder invited our mayor and Lutfur Rahman, his Tower Hamlets counterpart, to ‘debate’ the matter. Mike Law has blogged about this and I’d recommend reading his post and the comments on it, as well as the Recorder piece.

What follows is the comment I added to Mike’s blog, which points at what I think is Sir Robin’s staggering hypocrisy on this issue:

Sir Robin, with Eric Pickles’ gun pressed to his head, says

what does it do to build public trust in politics more widely when a clique seeks to shut the public out from decisions made on their behalf?… In the 21st century it is not enough for democracy to simply happen. It has to be seen to happen.

Despite appearances, the age of satire is not yet dead.

As Birdman [one of the commenters on Mike’s blog] correctly observes,

decisions are largely taken in Labour Group meetings, after the Labour Councillors have been told which way to vote, and no genuine debate is ever seen or heard by the public attending meetings… what is there to film?

Monday’s council meeting, at which this “historic decision” was taken, lasted just 14 minutes. And that included a set-piece speech by councillor Ellie Robinson on ‘Newham’s Wonderful Women’.

May’s annual general meeting took a massive 39 minutes; February’s was 31 minutes. The ‘extraordinary’ meeting in January occupied councillors for a mere 10 minutes. I could go on, but you get the drift.

If Sir Robin were truly serious about open and transparent decision-making Labour group meetings would be the ones that took 10 minutes and the real debates would happen in council, where the public could see and hear them.

We all know that won’t happen though.

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