We had no sooner posted our last blog entry than we read official confirmation of everything we said about governments not listening to people.
Britain’s new Coalition Government made a great show of asking for public “input” on a range of issues. Almost ten thousand people took the time and trouble to send in their thoughts, but there have been no substantial changes to government policy as a result of them.
The whole thing was a public relations exercise.
We should not pretend to be outraged or even surprised by this. In any organisation, from a government to a small business, power belongs to those who control policy. No one in their right mind is going to give up that control or their own power.
Even ideas can be instruments of power. An idea has no value unless it is owned by someone with authority within the organisation. If he can call it “his” idea, then it increases his own power and he will promote it. If he cannot call it “his”, then it is in his personal interest to block it in favour of some idea of his own. Whether the idea in question is good or bad is of secondary importance.
In the case of the Coalition Government, power lies with those who agreed its programme. It is absurd to imagine that some suggestion off the street would ever be allowed to alter that programme.
In the case of a small business, power lies with the entrepreneur. Requests for customer feedback and suggestion boxes are never going to take the place of the entrepreneur’s own vision for the business.
If the entrepreneur has no such vision, so that he actually depends on customer feedback and suggestion boxes because he has nothing else, he will not be an entrepreneur for long. The same is true of a government.
So the whole point of any consultation process is not to generate ideas, and certainly not to make policy, but to make the consulted feel happy and important because they have been allowed to have their say.
As the Nobel Laureate novelist John Steinbeck put it, “You do not want advice – only agreement”.