THE air of unreality in No 10 Downing Street grows by the day.
Yesterday it was reported that Mr Blair intends to set up panels of members of the public to “step into the shoes” of ministers and advise them on controversial issues and difficult policy decisions. These panels, to be known as “deliberative forums”, will be drawn from a pool of 100 people representing a cross-section of the general public and asked to comment on such issues as the proposal to use supermarket loyalty card technology to gather data on citizen's contacts with public services and on how the government should try to influence people's lifestyle choices. If this project had been reported on 1 April everyone would have had a good laugh and forgotten about it. But apparently Mr Blair sees is as providing a “crucial routemap to the future” by developing a series of “radical and progressive solutions” for public services. Gordon Brown will probably see it as yet another of the prime minister's attempts to control Labour's policies in government even after he is long gone. From the start New Labour has used so-called focus groups to advise it on public attitudes to policies. Its extensive use of these techniques has been criticised but at least they were handled by professionals in the field, not one of whom would ever agree that a sample of 100 citizens can speak for the nation.