The ‘Public Jury’ initiative…the ghost of McCarthy stalks

The ‘Public Jury’ initiative by Neal Lawson, Philip Pullman, Greg Dyke and others to expose the power of what is described as a ‘feral elite’ which has ‘bankrupted and corrupted the public realm’, sounds almost too good to be true. The mere thought of the curtain being pulled back on this loathsome bunch has the nation salivating. But is it all that it seems? How ‘independent’ will it be? Apparently it’s going to be ‘funded out of the public purse with a paid secretariat with the resources to commission research and call witnesses’. Those of a cynical disposition may already have sniffed the whiff of a passing rat. We need to be reassured and to know more.

For instance, will the jury address the need for  fundamental political reform?  Are our political elite to be included in this feral band? A self-serving, disconnected, re-active (as opposed to ‘pro’) feckless bunch who willingly allow political decisions to be influenced money and favor, they surely qualify? At the very least their connivance in allowing a feral elite to thrive and prosper needs to be exposed.

How and in what order the ‘public jury’ sets about its business will be fundamental to the ultimate success or failure of the project. Get it wrong and it could easily turn into a McCarthy type witch hunt, which would only strengthen the position of the ‘feral elites’ they say they wish to expose.

What people will really want to know is whether this initiative will lead to fundamental change or has it another purpose – a bid to keep the lid on public anger maybe? There is some convincing to be done.

Here’s what the initiative is all about:

Something is unraveling before our eyes. From bankers to media-barons, private interests have bankrupted and corrupted the public realm. Power, for so long hidden in the pockets of a cosy elite, has been exposed. Those who wield it have been found wanting – in scruples, in morals and in decency.

Things are now in flux, but will not stay so for long.

Without decisive and sustained action, power will fall back into the hands of a small elite who have their own, and not the public’s interest at heart.

They want to prevent public revulsion turning into public action. But, it’s time for real change. Things cannot be allowed to turn back to business as usual.

Britain can no longer be just the plaything of a handful of powerful, remote interest groups treating the wider public with contempt.

The current press and political scandal is not an isolated event.

It’s the third crisis in quick succession.

First, the bankers and their bonuses, then some politicians and their expenses and now there is the press, profiting from peoples’ pain, grief and private lives.

These crises share common origins.

Left to their own devices politicians, bankers and media moguls could not regulate themselves.

They share a common culture in which greed is good, everyone takes their turn at the trough, and private interest takes precedence over the public good. They have protected each other and left the British people with a financial and political crisis.

They do what they can get away with, not seeming to care for the common life of our country. And, they are scared of only one thing. Us. The public. If public organisations and citizens are vigilant, that elite won’t be able to get away with it again. With the right checks and balances we can put the public interest back into the heart of the system.

Only we, the public, can hold power truly to account by testing whether what happens is in the public interest.

To work out how to do it we call for a new Public Jury for the British public interest to propose reforms of banking, politics, media and the police.

The Jury would be made up of 1,000 citizens drawn as a random sample of the electorate. It will be a jury of our peers. We do not need yet another inquiry in which one elite asks another elite to tell them what cannot be done.

The Jury will be funded out of the public purse, with a paid secretariat with the resources to commission research and call witnesses.

It will have the power to require attendance where persons will be asked by the public to explain themselves.

Reporting within a year of its launch the convention will study and report on:

• Media ownership and the public interest

• The role of the financial sector in the crash

• MP selections and accountability

• Policing and public interest

• How to apply a ‘public interest first’ test more generally to British political and corporate life

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