Labo(u)r Governments, Consultation and the New Social Democracy: Five case studies of consultation by Labo(u)r governments in Britain and Australia (1997-2008)

Author: Robert Peter Manwaring

Manwaring, Robert Peter, 2010 Labo(u)r Governments, Consultation and the New Social Democracy: Five case studies of consultation by Labo(u)r governments in Britain and Australia (1997-2008), Flinders University, School of Social and Policy Studies

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Labo(u)r governments in Britain and Australia have shown a renewed interest in democratic renewal. A confluence of agendas has triggered an attempt to reformulate the relationship between the state and civil society: the dominance of neo-liberalism, the influence of the New Public Management, declining political trust, and crucially, changing patterns of political participation. Yet, despite these factors, these Labo(u)r governments have been ambivalent about the value of democratic renewal. Their experiments in 'democratising democracy' have been limited to top-down 'big-picture' consultations. The consultation experiments have been underscored by a number of difficulties and contradictions, not least a tension between devolving responsibility but centralising power. Moreover, these 'new' attempts to reconnect with the public have done little to address the persistent inequalities of civic engagement. This thesis critically evaluates this agenda by examining five cases of attempts at innovative consultation. In all cases, the influence of the New Social Democracy (NSD) is evident. The NSD is a political project to 'modernise' social democracy. and it has evolved from the 'Third Way' paradigm most closely associated with the British New Labour government and the political thought of Anthony Giddens. The Australian and British Labo(u)r parties have been increasingly drawn together by the nexus of ideas that inform the NSD; as they attempt to transcend both neo-liberal and the 'old' Labo(u)r statist approaches to politics. Democratic renewal is a recurrent, but low priority and under-theorised, theme in the NSD. These tensions and difficulties are evident in the case studies reported in this thesis. The fives cases reported in this thesis are all either consultation 'firsts' or are large-scale examples of engagement undertaken by the Labo(u)r governments. There are two British cases: New Labour's 'People's Panel' (1998-2002) and the 'Big Conversation' (2002-04) initiatives. The People's Panel is the first time that a citizens' panel has ever been used by a national government. The Big Conversation is the largest consultation ever undertaken by a British political party. There are three Australian cases. The first is 'Growing Victoria Together' (GVT) agenda (1999 - Present) instigated by the Victorian State Labor government. This Victorian Labor government was the first Australian State government to develop a State-wide strategic plan. The second Australian case is the 2006 consultation on South Australia's Strategic Plan (SASP), and is the largest consultation ever undertaken in that State. The final case study examines the Federal Labor government's 'Australia 2020 Summit' (2008). The 2020 Summit was a unique elite exercise in political consultation with a 1000 prominent Australians invited to Parliament House to debate ideas for Australia's future. The five cases are evaluated in a comparative context using, as the two main evaluative principles, the notions of responsiveness and representativeness. This evaluation reveals the cases as bold experiments, albeit with significant flaws. Many of the tensions and contradictions associated with the NSD program for democratic renewal played out in the five reported cases. The thesis concludes that the consultation exercises can be seen as providing a 'glittering facade' to the anaemic and lacklustre response to democratic renewal exhibited by these Labo(u)r governments.

Keywords: Labour,social democracy,consultation,new labour

Subject: Politics thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2010
School: School of Social and Policy Studies
Supervisor: Professor Andrew Parkin