Column June 9, 2010: Democracy in action. Government inaction

I DON’T like vox pops – where ordinary members of the public are asked their opinion on a topic so that there are some ‘real’ people in the first 10 minutes of the TV news.

This is partly because I always hated having to do them as a reporter. If you want to feel loathed by strangers, without actually being Jedward, then stand in a busy high street with a tape recorder and camera and ask passers-by what they think about education policy.

But it’s mostly because they usually contribute nothing to a story. If I want to hear an ill-informed nutter with no access to the relevant facts ranting on about something, I’ll record myself.

Which is why I’m deeply sceptical of our coalition leaders’ plan to get ordinary members of the public to help them decide where the axe will fall in the economic winter ahead. 

It’s not a hopeless attachment to the over-mighty nanny state to expect an incoming government after many years of opposition to have at least a bit of an idea what they might actually do when back in office, is it?

I don’t think we elect politicians so that they can walk into government then turn around and say, “I say, having a bit of difficulty distinguishing elbow from bottom. Could you possibly…?”

But maybe I’m off the pace here. Maybe this is what the country needs. Perhaps it’s time to say goodbye to experts who’ve spent years studying problems from all the angles before coming up with well-considered plans.

Yes, it’s time for people with no idea of the consequences of a policy to have the whip hand.

I can imagine how this big idea could be applied to other situations. And here I am, imagining it…

A GARAGE. TED THE MECHANIC IS HAVING A LOVELY MUG OF TEA WHILE LISTENING TO THE RADIO. 

ENTER MRS HARTLEY. 

MRS HARTLEY: Excuse me. I’m having a spot of trouble with my car.

TED: You’ve come to the right place. We’re always fixing cars here. Just get it onto the blocks. Lovely. OK, let’s have a look. Hmmm…

MRS HARTLEY: What’s wrong with it?

TED: Looks to me as if the big end has gone.

MRS HARTLEY: Gosh, that sounds fairly major. What are you going to do?

TED: I literally have no idea. Hang on a second. Oi, love!

TED STOPS A PASSER-BY, ELDERLY MRS GRIMSHAW. 

TED: How do I fix this?

ELDERLY MRS GRIMSHAW: Ooo, that looks bad. Is there any of that stuff in it?

MRS HARTLEY: What stuff?

ELDERLY MRS GRIMSHAW: The magic brum-brum fire-water.

TED: Petrol.

MRS HARTLEY: Yes.

ELDERLY MRS GRIMSHAW: It needs more of that magic brum-brum fire-water. Cars need it to go. Just pour it over the engine.

TED POURS SOME PETROL OVER THE ENGINE. 

TED: Still nothing.

ELDERLY MRS GRIMSHAW: If it’s fire-water, it needs fire. Chuck a lighted match in.

MRS HARTLEY: Are you sure about this?

TED: No, it’s bound to make an explosion and kill us all, but Elderly Mrs Grimshaw is a member of the public so I am not responsible for the inevitable carnage.

TED STRIKES MATCH. 

ENDS.

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