"Give the people what they want"
Consultation of the people has returned!
Before New Labour was elected in 1997, the party's electoral machine pioneered the "focus group". At the time, it was an exciting new idea of the marketing industry. You sit people down in a group, get them talking, guide them gently from subject to subject, and find out what they think and want.
Focus groups aren't about political debate or discussion; they teach politicians to respond to the unspoken feelings of the public and package their ideas for sale. They are not about reason. They tap into unspoken, unexamined prejudices that intelligent citizens wish to conquer - and re-inforce them. Policies marketed according to focus group reports often take irrational fear as their starting point.
No wonder so many New Labour policy statements are rooted in people's fear of difference. No wonder so many New Labour pronouncements encourage fear and build hatred. Jack Straw's article on the niqab tapped into fear, fanned mistrust - and turned both into hatred. Less than three months later, a bishop wants to criminalise women who cover nose and mouth with a small piece of cloth.
There's another use of focus groups that's popular
New Labour treats focus groups as though they were part of democratic procedure. Today they announce that "people panels" will be consulted on controversial areas of policy.
It sounds good at first. But it's not consultation. It's another series of focus groups.
The Guardian website makes the role of the "people" clear. Panels will be asked "how the Government should try to influence people's lifestyle choices". The real aim is to "push forward key public service reforms" but we'll be told reforms are made in response to public concern.
Focus groups and people's panels are not democracy. They work against rational and thoughtful debate.
The advertiser wants you to believe - really believe - in this soap powder.
The fading star wants to gratify your every whim - please (above all) don't be bored.
The tyrant wants to know and satisfy all your desires - lest you begin to question and rebel.