What does a deliberative democracy look like?

Britain's new deliberative parliament
Well, I reckon it’ll probably look a bit like the last ten days of Celebrity Big Brother. Why? Well, look at what happened: an ugly incident of racist bullying took place on national TV (the kind of incident, by the way, that probably happens all the the time but usually without the cameras) and the incident produced a huge and inclusive public debate about racism and a wave of support for the abused party.

No organised debate or formal consultative process could have come close to the number and variety of contributions from all corners of society that we’ve seen in the last ten days. Channel 4’s entirely spontaneous ‘big conversation’ has been more useful and more productive than anything organised by a politician for decades. Friday’s big Shilpa vs Jade vote was a proper referendum on racism in Britain – and one that went better than almost anyone could have hoped.

The opportunistic politicians calling for Channel 4 to be censured, managers sacked and shows cancelled are either confused (they don’t seem to be able to tell the difference between the medium and the message) or venal (they see political advantage in looking tough on racism). I think Andy Duncan, his commissioners and producers (and his board) have done Britain a great service and, in the future, the whole episode will be remembered as a case study in the value of a second public service broadcaster.

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