Sunday, 9 November 2008

The Web: can it change American policy? Yes it can! Maybe...

Sticking with matters American, it's hilarious how the powerful in politics like to use the web as a tool for open democracy and reform. 

So, we should not be surprised to see that Barack Obama, the President-elect, has launched a website called Change, to enable ordinary Americans keep up to date with what's happening in the new administration. Readers can apply for jobs (as yet unspecified) with the new government, submit ideas, and share their visions for a revived American future. It's a lovely idea, but does anyone really think it will change anything?

Being a normally positive person you might be wondering from where my cynicism on this matter stems? My answer to that is the efforts of Tony Blair's New Labour government to do something very similar, which left me feeling thoroughly underwhelmed. 

When in office Blair had a new Number 10 website created, where visitors could email the PM directly. Except of course, your emails disappeared deep within Whitehall, to be buried and ignored by some civil service apparatchik. I know this because I spent several years getting my students to email the PM and see if anything came out of it. Nothing ever did.

Having an open government that's transparent is a wonderful ideal and should be applauded, but I think we all know that the real decisions get made behind closed doors. After all, if we wanted a real democracy we'd go back to the Athenian model ( see the following video link for more) where everybody had an active say. However, most of us have better things to do and appreciate being able to vote for someone who we'll spend the next four years slating, when things go wrong. Passing the buck and handing out fault. Ah, the joys of living in a free and wired world.  

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