Politicians must find solutions for the climate crisis. Not outsource it to us

(The Guardian, 21 Jun 2019) A citizens’ assembly on this grave matter might sound like a democratic idea, but politicians are just outsourcing their job.

“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard,” said the American journalist HL Mencken, who died 60 years before the EU referendum but nonetheless seems to have known how things might play out.

The British people have spoken and said … what, exactly? Last week’s BritainThinks survey of today’s attitudes found rampant pessimism, anxiety and gloom. “I cannot recall a time when the national mood was more despairing,” said the research firm’s boss Deborah Mattinson. Now we learn that the government is going to give this participatory democracy idea another go, launching a citizens’ assembly on the climate emergency later in the year.

The catch is that, while a group of informed and motivated people will meet several times this autumn, its recommendations will be merely advisory and not binding. A spokeswoman for Greenpeace worried that the assembly might simply be a “glorified public consultation”.

We have lived through a succession of outsourcing scandals and disasters in recent times. Carillion, Interserve, G4S, Capita, Kier Group and Serco have all made headlines for the wrong reasons. But what we are experiencing today may the biggest scandal of the lot – the outsourcing of the destiny of the nation to a confused, disgruntled and disillusioned population. Asking citizens to settle the complicated matter of our continued membership of the EU with a simple yes/no question was not one of David Cameron’s better ideas. It bought him an extra year in office after the 2015 election, but has left his political reputation in tatters. He outsourced the government’s responsibility for governing to the rest of us.

Most sensible people probably aren’t all that interested in politics much of the time. In the past Jim Messina, the US elections strategist, has argued that the average person may spend only four minutes a week really engaging with political issues. That was then. Since the referendum it has been impossible to hide from endless, noisy talk about hard and soft Brexits, the customs union, the single market, Norway plus, super-Canada, and all the rest of the joyous vocabulary of despair. And normal people’s reaction to all this? I refer you to the findings of the BritainThinks survey. We’ve had enough of it. We’ve been forced to try to engage with obscure technocratic chat and the result is the gloom, anxiety and confusion which has shocked seasoned researchers.

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The Guardian, 21 Jun 2019: Politicians must find solutions for the climate crisis. Not outsource it to us