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Saturday, 21 February 2009

Radio Sausage

A few ounces of reconstituted tree, shaped into a local freesheet, thump to the floor. The crisp metal edge of the letterbox snaps back into place, briefly trapping a small fleshy obstruction. The pain-numbed child continues its paper round.

This is what passes for effective communication in 21st century Kent.

But things are looking up: I read in that very freesheet that one of our elected representatives (Cllr Perkins) seems to have 'the vision thing' (article). He has proposed that Council meetings be recorded and broadcast on the internet, arguing this would encourage greater engagement in local politics - I approve. Anyone who actually gives a toss could listen live, or any time later that suits them. They wouldn't have to get themselves to whichever Council meeting place at whatever (more or less inconvenient) time of day.

Cllr Perkins accurately predicted that other Councillors would oppose the idea. Cllr Gilbey is quoted as saying "My personal view is that I wouldn't want to give the opportunity for grandstanding in front of cameras or recorders."

I may be warming to Cllr Gilbey's sense of humour: the idea that the mere presence of a microphone or webcam would transform Council into a casting session for Chicago! just makes me chuckle. On my one exposure to Council I observed:
  • very little excessive or unnecessary expenditure of effort
  • peer and group pressure to conform
  • many conventions and procedures to curtail or restrict Councillor participation
  • only about 5% egomania
This is not an ideal nursery for 'grandstanding' prima donnas. And they're limited to three minutes each, anyway.

The dark voices in my head tell me that some Councillors oppose this move towards greater transparency for bad reasons: embarrassed by what they say, or by how little they say; wanting to lay claim to non-existent protests and challenges; not wanting their words to be remembered too precisely; not wanting to be seen as a low-budget part-time imitation of Parliament at its braying worst; and so on.

The saying goes that law-making and sausage-making are not pleasant to witness. The proposed internet broadcast would be like listening to sausages being made (every one a sizzling banger, hopefully). It might set your teeth on edge. It might send you to sleep. It might play havoc with your blood pressure. But if it gets more people more involved, and makes more Councillors more responsive, it will be worth every penny.

If CCC 'doesn't have the money for this sort of thing' as Cllr Gilbey is reported as saying, I am more than happy to discuss digging into my own pocket to help make it happen. Any Councillors wanting to take me up on this kind offer can contact me via the Comments below.

1 comment:

  1. It seems that Canterbury CC is populated by the same breed of Councillor as Thanet DC. Before Labour were removed from office in 2003 we had spent a lot of money in having webcams installed along with an electronic voting system. Despite pressure from members of the public and Councillors we still havnt got round to broadcasting our Council meetings. As for the electronic voting system it was used once after the 2003 election for the budget vote, that was a complete disaster as the vote to adopt the budget had to be decided by the Chairmans casting vote.
    And dont even mention how long it took for us to get an email facillity, even now over 50% of Thanet Councillors dont use it!
    The word Luddite comes to mind.