Do we really live in “this grumpy democracy where everyone has a voice”?

Recently, I was a speaker at a breakfast seminar organised by the Westbourne Communications agency in central London. The title of the session was “Stakeholder Challenge And Influence: Lessons For The Utilities Industry”. I was invited in my capacity as the Chair of the Customer Challenge Group at South East Water to talk about different consumer models in the regulated utilities.

In the courses of the discussion, someone refried to “this grumpy democracy where everyone has a voice”. In fact, I’m in favour of people expressing their views as citizens and consumers. I would like to see more people voting and more people complaining about poor service. But politicians don’t like voters to ask too many questions and companies don’t appreciate consumers challenging poor service.

But there are always communications agencies like Westbourne prepared to advise them. As the agency puts it:

“We believe that the democratisation of knowledge, the break-down of hierarchies, the empowerment of consumers/voters, the supremacy of peer-to-peer communications and table-top publishing have roots that go back centuries.

In fact, the sheer power of the modern state, the influence of media monopolies, the incredible reach of simultaneous broadcasts to millions of homes and the vulnerability of citizens to over-powering legislation are all relatively modern phenomenons that have their roots in the break-down of civil society and the industrialisation of our cities that culminated, awfully, in World War One.”


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