Is Brown shifting the ground?

By Simon Barrow
September 5, 2007

In headline terms Gordon Brown is continuing the Blair legacy - but there are signs of small but significant shifts in some areas.

In my latest Guardian Comment-is-Free article (The PM's dual messages ), I am suggesting that while there may not be much to separate Brown from Blair (measured in political inches), his attempts to move ground in Iraq and unlock domestic democracy are reasons to be hopeful - because they indicate which doors people should be pushing at.

The logic of this echoes back to Brown's message to anti-poverty campaigners a couple of years ago, when the NGO effort to target the G8 on global debt, better aid and fairer trade was really beginning to get going. He wanted to move on these issues but needed public pressure to help sustain the political momentum, the then chancellor said.

It is easy to be negative about the PM's "citizen's juries", of course. One repondent to my Guardian piece boldly announced: "This entire concept is utterly cynical and bankrupt and the suggestion that the average citizen will have any input whatsoever is about as likely as Elvis riding Shergar in a head to head race with Nessie and the Sasquatch."

Given the emaciation of local democracy and the modern habit of government by incorporation, I can understand such reactions. But I think Unlock Democracy's response is nearer the mark. Good small forward movements they said - but the real test is whether our rulers will allow participation to shape the agenda rather than just provide another means of validation. And that in turn depends on how much people are prepared to push.

It is foolish to think that governments give away or restructure power of their own volition, and this is no exception. On the other hand, the idea that nothing can or will change is the indulgent pessimism of those for whom it is merely a matter of armchair pontification.

Keywords:Prime | Gordon Prown
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