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Utterly unscientific first impressions

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About the author

A freelance writer and editor based in London, J Clive Matthews is Managing Editor of openDemocracy's EU and deliberative democracy blog, dLiberation.

In the real world he has co-authored two books and edited numerous others (ranging in subject-matter from movies to modern Russian politics), been acting editor on a glossy history and travel magazine, editorial consultant for a big name women's magazine, a freelance news editor for AOL UK, worked in both the House of Commons and the European Commission, and contributed to publications as diverse as Starburst and the Times Literary Supplement.

Best known as Nosemonkey online, he has been blogging about British and European politics daily for several years both at his own blog and sites like The Sharpener, General Election 2005 (now defunct), AgoraVox, France 24 and the Washington Post / Newsweek's Postglobal, as well as about movies for the BBC, and has been shortlisted for blog awards by the likes of the Guardian, Deutsche Welle International and the Weblog Awards, amongst others.

(Hastily scribbled from the bowels of the European Parliament building...)

The launch of the poll, European Parliament, 12th October 2007

The main parliament chamber is surprisingly bright - especially for anyone used to the ancient gloom of the House of Commons. Also unsurprisingly rather larger than the Commons, with 780-odd seats for MEPs.

I also have a lot more respect for MEPs now - the headphones necessary for the simultaneous interpreting (most of this event = conducted in French). Incredibly uncomfortable... No padding and far too tight, even after adjustment... To sit through lengthy political debates in any parliament can be mind-numbingly tedious - to have to do it while your head's being squashed would be a nightmare. A form of torture by multilingualism.

My first impression of the participants in this deliberative poll was that there didn't appear to be a single black / asian face amongst the participants. Admittedly, after the expansion to 27 member states, the percentage of the European population that is non-white has dropped considerably (many of the eastern European, ex-communist states containing very few non-caucasians) - but even so. The lack of racial representation in the European Parliament is even more acute than in Westminster - it would have been nice to have rectified this via this sample.

I did eventually spot someone - looked early 20s and of far eastern origin. A bit later the camera zoomed in on another - looked 60+ and probably Indian/Pakistani heritage. I later spotted a few more ethnic minority faces - but out of those six or seven, at least five turned out to be members of the press or part of the organisational team. So far, I'd estimate a grand total of four non-white faces out of c.400 participants.

To continue with my utterly unscientific first impressions, there appear to be significantly more people in the c.18-40 agerange than 40+. - would be interesting to see the demographic break-down. The gender split looked pretty even, however - but the demographic breakdown of the participants won't be released until Sunday. They've been stressing the representativeness repeatedly, so I doubt they've got this wrong, but even so...

Another possible cause for concern - the Moderators all look like they're in their twenties. What's their background? Researchers at the European Parliament? Will they have the authority to prevent overbearing older participants from dominating the deliberations? Are they employees of EU institutions, and therefore liaible to bring their own bias to the deliberation? Are they sufficiently trained to ensure a free and fair debate of the kind essential for the poll's success and credibility?

I'm now about to head off to observe some of the discussions - perhaps I'll be able to find out...


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