SIFTING through my computer’s memory in an attempt to prune its contents, I came upon a letter of mine that I had long forgotten: a relic from the days when the thriving letters pages of big provincial newspapers still encouraged individuals to express their views on more than parochial issues, without requiring the cachet of personal status or some umbrella group or institution to give them authority. It appeared in the Newcastle Journal in 2004, just after the referendum on whether or not we should have an elected regional assembly in the north-east of England: seventeen years ago, but already the techniques deployed by the great and the good in pursuit of the correct ‘outcome’ raised red flags among the wary. The government-backed regionalisers peppered their speeches and admonitions with terms unknown to traditional democratic discourse, terms which suggested we were being ‘tweaked’ in directions far beyond the reach of such inconvenient rituals as elections. My letter noted some of those terms, as follows.
Centres of excellence: establishment-approved set-ups;
Best practice: establishment-approved ways of doing things;
Stakeholders: carefully chosen special-interest groups courted and flattered into the belief that they are helping the powerful to shape policy;
Civil society: members of any special interest groups considered important/amenable enough to be ‘stakeholders’;
Governance: the replacement of representative government with techniques that steer tame ‘stakeholders’ along pre-determined paths towards a desired outcome;
Consultation: the process by which ‘stakeholders’ are fooled into believing that they actually wanted to go down those paths anyway;
Facilitator: the stooge trained in group dynamics who makes sure the ‘consultation process’ doesn’t go astray;
Consensus: the apparent unanimity resulting from the elimination of opposition by a skilled ‘facilitator’;
Participatory democracy: the side-lining and ostracism of dissenting majorities and minorities by systematically excluding them from participation in ‘civil society’ and the ‘consultation process’;
Networking: collusion among ‘stakeholders’ in pursuit of their own interests, without regard for those excluded from participation in ‘participatory democracy’;
Opinion-formers: the supra-national political and academic establishment, plus influential ‘stakeholders’ who have achieved ‘consensus’ via corruption or the ‘consultation process’;
Law-makers: an up-and-coming term, increasingly used as a synonym for parliamentary representatives, heaven help us.
In the event, the proposal for a regional assembly received an overwhelming thumbs-down from the electorate. Much good that did us. After all, it was only an elected assembly that we rejected. We now have thrust upon us, no questions asked, something called the North of Tyne Combined Authority, in which the elected mayors of Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland join a handful of privileged councillors and an abundance of unelected place-persons to prance on a higher stage, colluding with Westminster to enforce policies handed down from a supranational level over the heads of elected local governments, whose role, like that of parliament, is simply to nod pre-decided conclusions through. Other ‘regions’ of the country have something similar. It’s all a manifestation of the arrangements foreshadowed in the weasel words we were already being treated to in 2004.