George Monbiot is not a writer I normally have much time for (on most days I skim quickly past his over-long, windbaggy articles in The Guardian) but today he has some useful things to say about Gordon Brown's 'new politics', including this:
His proposals for a new participatory democracy carry grave democratic dangers. Citizens' juries are an excellent tool for direct decision-making: when a small group of people needs to make a decision that affects only that group. If everybody joined one and the results were collated on a national scale, they could also be an excellent tool for democratising national decision-making. But this is not what Brown proposes. He speaks of a "citizens' summit, composed of a representative sample of the British people", which will be asked to formulate a British statement of values; and "a nationwide set of citizens' juries", in which "representatives assembled from every constituency" will help to shape policies on crime, immigration, education, health, transport and public services. In what sense will these samples be representative? Will we be allowed to vote for these people? It looks like an opaque amalgam of representative and participatory processes, selecting the most dangerous aspects of both.
I agree with Monbiot that 'grassroots mobilisation' can't be created from on high and that instead Brown's aim should be 'redemocratisation of the representative system'. See my own thoughts on this issue here , here and here.