Crowdsourcing Discussions in the UK Parliament
A senior politician in the UK crowdsources questions to ask the prime minister in a parliamentary session.
The Labour Party, United Kingdom
Every Wednesday at noon when the UK parliament is in session, the prime minister of the day takes questions from members of the House of Commons. This constitutional convention is known as Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQ’s) and is dismissed in some quarters as being nothing more than a theatrical spectacle that generates more heat than it does light.
For his debut as the leader of Labour, the UK’s main opposition party, Jeremy Corbyn decided to do things a little differently. He wanted to take the theater out of this opportunity to quiz the prime minister so that the focus could be on substantial issues.
So he decided to ask the crowd for help. In September 2015, Corbyn sent out an email to thousands of people and asked them what they would like to ask David Cameron, the prime minister and leader of the Conservative party. There was also a special webpage set up on the Labour party’s website.
Approximately 40,000 people replied to this crowdsourcing exercise and from them, six questions were selected on the most popular themes that emerged from the responses. Parliamentary rules limit the number of questions that the leader of the opposition can ask during PMQ’s to six.
While greatly welcomed by many members of the public, the reaction to this crowdsourcing exercise among other politicians and political commentators was mixed. Some praised Corbyn for bringing the voice of the ordinary person into the chamber, while others were delighted at this refreshing change from adversarial bear pit politics.
However, there was concern that asking questions on six different themes gave the prime minister an easy ride because it didn’t allow for Corbyn to continually press him on a single point. One commentator said that it really gave the prime minister a platform to explain his policies without too much of a challenge.
Nevertheless, the leader of the opposition viewed his first PMQ’s as a success, although at the time of writing this article he hasn’t said whether crowdsourcing questions was a one-off or if there will be more. But he has stated that he wants to get back to a grassroots approach to politics, increasing the public's involvement in the political process. His aim is to give them more of a say in decisions that affect them and how they are governed at local and national level. Crowdsourcing is a way of achieving this.
In this, he is not alone. There have been numerous crowdsourcing democracy projects over the years. They include Iceland’s experiment to crowdsource its constitution, and city authorities in several countries inviting citizens to make suggestions for what to do with public spaces and to help them with policy ideas.
While some of the results have not always been as good as hoped, the introduction of crowdsourcing in the democratic process is helping to close the gap between political elites and ordinary citizens.
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