Consultations by public bodies have long been used as a rather obvious device to pretend that they are acting democratically. “Well, we did ask you,” they protest indignantly when questioned.
But of course we know the truth: consultations are presented in such a convoluted way that anyone wanting to protest just gives up trying, leaving the on-message working-from-home gangs – with time to kill and knowledge of the system – to pretend that they represent the majority.
Sometimes this blows up in the faces of the faceless bureaucrats (not easy, you have to admit). Recently low-emission zone schemes have provoked so much public anger and frustration that direct action has been taken – or plans have been reversed in the face of last-ditch anger from the normally silent majority.
The Alliance of British Drivers is commendably alert to twisted bureaucratic behaviour. It points out that many CONsultations (get it?) are designed to produce the answers that councils want, citing a recent example, when people were asked for their views on a council’s Climate Action Strategy.
“Each question had four options to be rated in order of importance. Therefore anybody filling out the consultation had to rate one measure as the most important. If the participant thought all measures proposed were a waste of time and money (as many of our members would), they could not proceed to the next item. Therefore all completed surveys guaranteed full support for ‘climate action plans’.”
Councils are prominent in their use of such tricks of the trade, but “charity” pressure groups are similarly proficient and get very tetchy when they themselves are not consulted by the Government. But why should such single-issue groups get special treatment? We all know what they’re going to say. We also know that it may not be true, because they tend to confuse views with facts. In just the last few days it has been revealed that many of the “facts” presented to Parliament on wildlife trophy hunting were quite wrong; one prominent environmental group has been accused of twisting facts over the years, particularly over nuclear energy but also in other areas. Well, that’s all right. I’m sure we all do, because we have individual views, and facts are notoriously hard to establish. As individuals, though, we simply have a vote, and no special access to Government.
When the RSPB tweeted a particularly rabid rant at the Government, they attributed it to a junior employee “going rogue”. I’m not sure age is a factor, but Michael Deacon was right in the Daily Telegraph to zero in on the “insufferably self-righteous opinions” and “sanctimonious delusions” of many activists.
Most of us tolerate such things – but only up to a point. The point being roughly when the Government starts to believe them. Sadly, that point is reached more and more often.