Civic empowerment needs good information

Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political editor, really ‘gets’ blogging. His ‘Newslog’, reactivated upon his return to the BBC last year, is a great read. You definitely sense it’s cathartic for him. He writes things in ways you know he probably wouldn’t dare say them on TV. And he once gave me an exclusive interview about his opposition to Arsenal’s new stadium.

He’s done a very interesting piece today about the rise of David Miliband, and the concept of ‘power to the people’: ‘Not a call to revolution but a call to give citizens the power that people now take for granted as consumers… They want instead to present the choice as between “an enabling state” and a Tory government that abandons those in most need.’

It may be a cliché – but knowledge is power, and if the balance has shifted to the consumer, it’s thanks in no small part to the internet. We go out consuming, armed with much better knowledge than we ever had before. ‘Shopping around’ takes seconds, and can be done from the comfort of your home. Think Easyjet. Think Amazon. Think eBay. Think Kelkoo.

Miliband is right to highlight the disparity in empowerment. As consumers, we feel in control. As citizens, we feel disconnected, disenfranchised. Anything to give control to the consumers of public services is to be welcomed. But more than ever before, we will need effective sources of government information, freely available on the web, to help people make informed decisions.

PS: My favourite line from the Ricky Gervais podcast series was one which slipped by unnoticed. Mr Karl Pilkington puts the case for the opposition: ‘knowledge is hassle.’ I’ll have more to say about Gervais later.