I'd heard of them, of course - apparently Tony Blair was running a government which hung on their every conclusion at the time (a bit like an old school Mumsnet) - but I'd never been involved personally.
I've always been a busy person, especially when shopping. If I need a pair of jeans, I park, go straight to the shop, buy some, come home. A life led slowly ambling around a pedestrianised high street, stopping for the odd leisurely coffee, chatting to the clipboard wavers and generally hanging around in the most irritating of places, like shop fucking doorways, has always struck me as a waste of precious life experience.
However, my curiosity tweaked by Labour's reported strict adherence to opinions given in such groups, one day I actually stopped when approached by an insanely large woman looking for candidates.
Sadly, it turned out not to be anything to do with politics but an opinion-seeking drive by Sainsbury following then recent news that they were falling well behind Tesco in market share.
I was offered a £30 fee for an hour and a half, they'd take me there and back, and refreshments were provided. Well, why not, thought I? It was worth a look at this much discussed world.
The event was held in plush offices overlooking the Thames, with a two way mirror behind which, one presumes, executives were looking for ideas on how to claw back their customers.
The tasty young girl hosting proceedings for the dozen of us was firing ideas around which we were supposed to talk about. Was the presentation wrong? Could the uniforms be a more friendly colour? Would more parking, or a bigger choice of trolleys help? How about offering a coffee shop? A crèche? Shopping advisers? The other participants gave their views positively or not, but nothing achieved much of a consensus.
I hadn't said a lot up till then because, to be frank, not a bit of it interested me at all. It must have been noticed as, just past the hour mark, the girl singled me out and asked my views on the subject matter. I still remember my exact words.
"Well, I haven't said much because nothing you mentioned is going to make any difference. People go to supermarkets to get inexpensive food. Sainsbury's is not as cheap as Tesco's and that's why customers are going elsewhere"At which, I looked around the room and it was as if a light bulb had switched on, lit up to an unsustainable brightness, then exploded. The rest of the group were unanimous, and enthusiastically vocal, in pointing out that if Sainsbo's dropped prices, they'd be there like a shot.
After about 5 minutes of this, our host, visibly irritated or stressed, shifted the conversation back to her previous topics by stating that prices were not what we were meant to be discussing. Her brief was merely the cosmetic items previously proffered.
The group tried their best for the last 20 minutes or so, but price kept cropping up, and almost with a sigh, we were eventually let out early. I got the distinct impression that our group wasn't a success for those behind the mirror.
Sainsbury didn't want to change their prices, they wanted to get customers back by any other means possible. They were ignoring the problem.
I was reminded of this yesterday as politicians fell over each other to explain what they were going to do to 'reform parliament'.
Fixed term parliaments, recall of naughty MPs, lobbying bans, bans on second homes, tougher regulations on troughing, and the Lib Dems decrying the other two for not doing anything which they knew about a long time ago ... but said nothing about at the time.
It's all bollocks, and avoids the real problem, much as the Sainsbury execs did.
The expenses scandal wasn't about a million quid. The waste from government and public sector dwarfs such a paltry sum much as the Millenium Dome dwarfs a fucking ant. No-one particularly gives much of a shit.
It's the people who were taking the money which turned a minor abuse into an excuse for mass vitriol and hatred. Not because they pinched a few bob, but because these people were already despised.
Despised for ignoring their electorate in favour of politically manipulated studies, public consultations which exclude the public and even, yes, focus groups guided to reach the conclusion governments wish to see.
Despised for stripping away civil liberties, personal freedoms, property rights, self autonomy, and the right to live a life unencumbered by bureaucracy.
Despised for inflicting their own morals, prejudices, life choices, ideology, fears and opinions on those who would rather choose our own.
Despised for every fine, restriction, ban, tax, regulation, clampdown, crusade and dogmatic war they have declared on voters who may have a different outlook on life.
They were held in contempt well before the expenses scandal. It was just a handy hat on which to hang all the frustration and hate stored up by years of government abuse.
RIPA, health and safety, risk-aversion, the assault on motorists, bastardisation of the justice system, quite extraordinarily imaginative new taxes, politicisation of schooling, bin taxes, surveillance, collective punishment, smoking bans, released criminals, jailed law-abiders, DNA databases, illegal wars, class-led politics, adherence to fake charities, quangoes, bent enquiries, broken manifesto promises, lying, hectoring, lecturing, disdain and a refusal to listen. All have taken their toll.
Every voter ignored or targeted is another enemy of this political class and another individual who must be subjugated into 'compliance'. They can talk about putting right the corruption, but it don't matter a jot. It was never relevant, just a quite glorious excuse for all of us to give them one hell of a kick in the balls.
Fixing their excesses won't cure the root cause of the problem. Only a declared undertaking to listen to their employers - that is, us - will do that. And not just the majority, either. All of us.
But, as Kevin B wrote earlier on the subject of taxation, there is little chance that such a thing will happen, their mentality is too ingrained.
When The Sun said in 1992 'Will the last person to leave Britain please turn of the lights' they were right. Problem is they were also wrong, it didn't matter who won that election. It doesn't matter who wins any election any more.Indeed.
Tinkering with the machinations of parliament doesn't even touch on the symptoms of the political disease. That of a class of person who causes division on a whim, places obsession-based obstacles in front of a public who simply wish to live a decent life, and creates stress, anger, and ire amongst everyone who comes into contact with authority.
We could care less about the upcoming election, but not much, as Charlotte Gore expresses in her much-missed style.
In the choice between the Conservatives or Labour, the only real loser is everyone else. A different bunch of vested interests calling the shots, different types of interference with people’s normal day to day lives and I’ve no doubt that the State will be bigger and more expensive by the time they’re through, no matter what. Taxes are going to go up, the Private Sector will continue to shrink and there’s only one direction that Civil Liberties are going in. “I’m not a libertarian” boasts Cameron. He loses my vote and the people he’s trying to impress tell him to pull the other one.There are many subjects which will be talked about in the coming weeks, but every one will be chosen by the parties.
The only difference it makes is how many years of each party we’re going to have in Government over the next 20 years or so. Labour gets in and we’ll have a couple of decades of the Tories after that. The Tories get in and they’ll probably be swapping power between them a lot more often… is that better or worse? Who knows?
They will nibble at the edges of the problem, but none will properly address it.
What will be very obvious is the avoidance of issues which are held dear by the public whose vote they purport to chase. Because they don't really want to talk about such things.
They'll get by, and that's it. Just as Sainsbury didn't want to reduce their prices in the 90s, so politicians are desperately clinging on to their right to make us their bitches. We're a great big focus group, full of ideas, all with desires and dreams, but with conveners who refuse to tackle the concerns we all hold in a multitude of areas.
They don't want to talk of their true deficiencies, just the superficial ones like expenses.
And all the while they skirt the issue, while they continue to divide and conquer, we'll just wait for the next unifying light bulb to shatter so we can kick them again.
One day, the light bulb may flicker into action on their side and they will regain our respect, but there's no sign of much mental electricity to power it in this election thus far.
Best they just ignore the painful truth and carry on with their charade, then. Until such time as they recognise that fundamental change in the way government currently operates is required, there isn't much for us to do except carry on with our disgust at their arrogant practices.