Labour Party plans to consult the country about issues and problems it would like the government to address have received a frosty initial reception.
Launching the "Big Conversation" initiative in a visit to Newport, South Wales last Friday, Tony Blair said he wanted to engage the British public in shaping Labour Party policy going into the next election.
Britons can express their opinions after registering on the Big ConversationWeb site or by texting their top priority to 84402 (each text costs 25p in addition to normal text charges). Voters can also have their say by email, via post or in face to face meetings with local politicians.
The results of the initiative will be taken into account in developing Labour's manifesto and in defining policy priorities both locally or nationally. Whatever the results of the consultation, politicians will still have the final say on policy formation.
Tony Blair said the Labour Party was launching the consultation now because after six years in power the government has reached a "fork in the road".
Critics have wasted no time dismissing the scheme as a gimmick or proof that the government have run out of ideas.
National newspapers are deeply sceptical about the whole idea. The Conservative leaning Daily Telegraph describes the idea as a political fix with party officials "handpicking contributors and editing out their negative comments".
Labour grandee Roy Hattersley, writing in The Guardian describes the idea as a "confidence trick in a good cause". The Guardian's line, reflected in Hattersley's column, and in other editorials is that the whole exercise is not really a conversation but more a monologue designed to persuade voters that New Labour is taking the country in the correct direction.
The Independent concurs.
Only the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror comes close to praising the latest policy initiative from a listening Prime Minister.
Opposition politicians describe the whole exercise as bogus.
Matthew Taylor MP, Liberal Democrat Party Chair, said: "Labour have been ignoring people for years now. This simply makes it official. Email your views, but everyone knows that from foundation hospitals to war in Iraq and tuition fees, Labour doesn't listen.
"Tony Blair has already said there's no reverse gear, so how can he respond to what he hears?"
Co-chairman of the Conservative Party, Dr Liam Fox MP, said, "Voters don't want a conversation with Tony Blair they want an explanation from him, they want to know why their taxes have gone up and why they have not had the delivery on health, education, pensions or transport that they were promised."
"This is another example of the Government trying to detract attention from their failures," he added.
Anticipating these criticisms, Tony Blair predicted that even though "cynics will sneer" the Big Conversation provides a way for voters to take part in an "honest, serious debate about the future" of Britain. ®
13 questions in the Big Conversation
How do we build on economic stability?
How do we do more to tackle poverty and inequality?
How do we lead healthier lives?
How do we make our communities safe?
How do we give every child an excellent education?
How do we balance work and family life?
How do we ensure security and well-being in older age?
How do we provide a modern transport network?
How do we create a fair asylum and immigration system that benefits Britain?
How do we safeguard our environment for future generations?
How do we do more to connect politics and people?
How do we make Britain stronger in Europe?
How do we develop our concept of international community?