I attended the packed out Recasting Power event last night in Birmingham. Featuring the Rt Hon Tony Benn (his granddaughter Emily Benn stood in his place), Charlie Elphicke (Conservative Prospective MP for Dover), Councillor Paul Tilsley (Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council), Charlie Beckett and members of Birmingham’s political and digital community discussing how online tools are transforming politics. To quote:

‘Recasting the Net aimed to be a prestigious new series of live and online debates, curated by LSE think-tank POLIS and Channel 4’s 4iP team, designed to explore and discuss the next phase of the web.

Facebook, YouTube and blogging are having a major impact on how we do politics. But how well are our democratic institutions responding? Are online tools more effective than more traditional ways of holding power to account? Join us as we explore the implications of a public newly empowered with 21st century tools.’

Well that was the aim of the event …. the outcome was some what muted (an ironic term for me to say as a Deaf person if there ever was one). There were British Sign Language interpreters present as requested (three in fact – the organisers over booked).

Charlie Beckett introduced Councillor Tilsley BCC’s website as a ‘sparkling new council website’ immediately I wondered if he’d even looked at it. That set the tone to follow – we were all too polite to heckle and I wish I had. Reading some of the comments online this morning including Charlie Beckett’s blog wonder if I was at the same event!

The debate from the panel felt tame. I question were they really the right people to be up there. More experienced politicians using social networking to engage with their constituents would have made a difference and there were great people in the audience who I think would have done better. But hey what do I know I’m new to this digital and social networking stuff.

The whole discussion from the panel about holding power to account fell flat with little substance to the debate. Where was the where was the detail and examples of the effects of social networking on democracy? How do we reach those unable to participate digitally and are socially excluded? We didn’t even touch on these.

This despite the great presentations from Stoke citizen journalism news site ‘Pits n Pots‘ Nick Booth aka @podnosh on twitter (Help Me Investigate) and veteran campaigner Audrey Miller from Jubilee Debt Campaign

Charlie Elphicke presented himself as only an aspiring Tory politician could – with an impersonation of David Cameron. He failed to address the questions presented avoidance tactics being the state of play. Even his summing up Audrey’s work in response to a question. Audrey showed us what for by retorting that ‘we’d be here all night … and you got it all wrong’. Don’t politicians wonder why we don’t engage with them?

Charlie Ephicke used the phase ‘love that dare not speak it’s name’ during the course of the debate and he wasn’t talking about lesbian and gay rights – yup this from the political party that brought in Section 28!

Councillor Tilsley, Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council needs to take on board the major disquiet that has arisen out of the BCC website fiasco and engage with its constituents properly and directly himself – that also includes the ‘twitterati’. He told the audience ‘email me direct’ Take him up on it!

I’ve already written to Chris Price Director of Digital Development and Communities this morning in response to my comments about the inaccessibility of BCC’s website and call for them to talk to everyone not just Pesky People.

The quiet anger radiating from the audience about BCC’s site was hot against my back as I sat in the front row.

To top it off I couldn’t see people’s reactions to the discussions and missed out on knowing who was speaking from the floor. I was too busy negotiating the bad positioning of the BSL interpreters to the right out of frame of the panellists sitting on the left side of the stage along with bad lighting. I was having to squint to follow what the interpreters were signing. All because the film crew wanted the interpreters out of frame whilst filming the event – a missed opportunity if there ever was one.

The debate will be put online I’ve been told and the screen size online too small to incorporate the signers (why isn’t it bigger?). In the name of digital democracy Pesky People asks 4iP and Channel 4 make all your filming content accessible with subtitling/audio descriptio/BSL interpretation. You missed the opportunity to include BSL interpretation in your filming last night.

What’s the point of discussing digital democracy if not everyone can engage in the discussion? I hope that the debate around social exclusion that takes place in Glasgow fairs better.