Andreas Whittam Smith: Ségolène, Hillary, and their big conversations

Might not Mme Royal's willingness to consult be read as a sign that she hasn't many ideas of her own?

Share

The methods by which Ségolène Royal is campaigning to become the next president of France are an example of a new internet based, participative way of mounting an election campaign. She is hacking out a path to power that many political parties around the world are considering.

Mme Royal will delay setting out her detailed policies until she has completed a very large consultation with voters. By the time this is finished, the electoral contest will have been under way for some weeks. But she says that she must first listen. French voters are at once supportive and impatient. Some 52 per cent of voters think that holding such debates is a good thing but, at the same time, 55 per cent think she is wrong to wait so long before describing her programme.

Mme Royal is not alone is making a great show of consulting voters before announcing policies. Hillary Clinton is doing something similar. When she announced last week that she was forming a "presidential exploratory committee", she did so by means of a webcast.

In her very accomplished video, she told visitors to her website (www.hillaryclinton.com): "I'm not just starting a campaign, though, I'm beginning a conversation -- with you, with America. Because we all need to be part of the discussion if we're all going to be part of the solution. And all of us have to be part of the solution."

And as she signed off, she said this: "So let's talk. Let's chat. Let's start a dialogue about your ideas and mine. Because the conversation in Washington has been just just a little one-sided lately, don't you think? And we can all see how well that works. And while I can't visit everyone's living room, I can try. And with a little help from modern technology, I'll be holding live online video chats this week, starting Monday. So let the conversation begin. I have a feeling it's going to be very interesting."

I quote Mrs Clinton's words at length because I found her presentation impressive. On the day of her announcement, she first emailed a large number of influential people, including bloggers, to tell them she was going to make her intentions clear in a few hours time. This really was reaching out via the internet.

In Britain the political parties are cautiously following this line. But Labour's method has a restricted, enclosed feel to it, as if New Labour were a sect - which perhaps it is. On its website, the Labour party announces that policy is made through a process called Partnership in Power which is designed to involve "all party stake holders (including members, local parties, trade unions, socialist societies and Labour representatives) as well as the wider community" - in other words, a coven of militants with the "wider community" outside the magic circle. Compared with Mrs Clinton's warmth, how old-fashioned New Labour now sounds.

Political parties in the Western democracies are inviting voters to join policy debates because they think that by these means they will reverse the growing distrust that conventional political processes engender. They have seen the surveys that measure this phenomenon. A recent poll on electoral reform in California, undertaken by the New America Institute, found that "70 per cent of voters are more likely to support recommendations made by a panel of average citizens than they are to support the ideas of a government committee or even a panel of independent experts". In this country an ICM poll for the Power Inquiry found that 70 percent of people have more trust in a jury of citizens rather than politicians or officials to come to fairer decisions regarding the House of Lords or party funding.

What cannot yet be ascertained is how sincere politicians are in their use of participative techniques. However, if the effort involved is some guide, then Mme Royal's exercise is genuine enough. Her website has been receiving 20,000 messages per month. Contributors also evaluate each other's ideas by awarding stars - five for the most interesting. Then 45 staff undertake the difficult but engaging work of reading and analysing this material and of preparing a synthesis, subject by subject, of the views expressed. Finally Mme Royal will base her proposals on the results.

On 11 February the candidate will make known the answers and begin to spell out the policies she is putting before the electorate. This will be a difficult moment. Will the participative syntheses be consistent with each other or will there be contradictions? Will it matter if the website recommendations haven't been costed?

In any case, whatever the conclusions of the consultative exercise, Mme Royal is the official socialist candidate and the Socialist Party has already painfully prepared a programme upon which its various factions can agree. Will the participative exercise trump the official party line?

Then let us suppose that Mme Royal goes forward into battle with a programme based at least in part on the consultation. Might she have difficulty is articulating policies that she has not thought through for herself? Might not her willingness to consult be read as a sign that she hasn't many ideas of her own?

Worse still, might not voters come to feel that their president should be capable of making up her own mind? All this is to play for in this most fascinating of French elections. If Mme Royal wins, she will have opened up a new road to the top.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Insight Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k – North London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum plus 23 days holiday and pension scheme: Clearwater ...

People Change Manager

£260 - £325 per day: Progressive Recruitment: IT Trainer: E-Commerce Experienc...

Associate Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 business...

Test Lead - London - Investment Banking

£475 - £525 per day: Orgtel: Test Lead, London, Investment Banking, Technical ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

We need to talk about homophobia in the police

George Gillett
 

i Editor's letter: Summer holidays are here... so what to do with the children?

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn