Report on Constituting Democracy

“Our democracy would look like a creeping, crypto-oligarchy to the ancient Greeks – and many today may be coming to a similar conclusion.” Paul Cartledge, Professor of Greek Culture, Cambridge.

Reconstituting British democracy, a personal account by Dr Chris Forman, of the “Constituting Democracy” event organised by Assemblies for Democracy.


On Saturday, July 16, a diverse group of British citizens gathered to discuss how the entire population of the UK could contribute to, and legitimize, a new constitution for the UK. The event, held at Southbank University in London, was organised by Assemblies for Democracy in response to the growing corpus of individuals in the UK who are deeply unsatisfied with the fundamental relationship between citizens and the state in the UK. Continue reading

Time for a citizens’ convention on the constitution – letter to the Guardian

The EU referendum has raised important questions about where power lies and where it should lie, which won’t be seriously addressed without creating an independent process for change. There is a widespread perception that our political system is broken. Many feel that key decisions are made in the interests of corporations, banks and the super wealthy. Increasing inequality and an antiquated voting system, which has produced a majority government with the support of fewer than one in four registered voters, add to a growing discontent.

At the heart of this social disquiet lies our uncodified and somewhat mysterious constitution, whose essential features date back to the end of the 18th century. We have to take democracy into the 21st century, tackle the underlying problems of trust in our political system and address the constitutional issues about how countries within the UK relate to each other.

That is why we are supporting the proposal for the creation of a citizens’ convention on the constitution. This has to be an open, transparent and independent process, because those who hold the levers of power have too much of a vested interest in preserving the status quo. A citizen-led process could refound the UK on the democratic principle of popular sovereignty, where power truly does rest with the people and decisions are made in the public interest.

Neal Lawson Chair of Compass
Anthony Barnett Founder, openDemocracy
Natalie Bennett Leader, Green Party of England and Wales
Alexandra Runswick Director, Unlock Democracy
Michael Mansfield QC
Michael Sheen Actor
Klina Jordan Facilitator, Make Votes Matter
Stuart White Fellow in politics, Jesus College, Oxford
Nick Dearden Director, Global Justice Now
Corinna Lotz, Assemblies for Democracy

Published 2 July 2016

Designing Democracy for 21st Century

An Assemblies for Democracy meeting 10th May 2016 at the House of Commons, Westminster

Report by Julie Timbrell/Peter Arkell; Photos Peter Arkell

Designing Democracy for the 21st Century was called by Assemblies for Democracy, to talk about why we need a constitutional convention, and to consider how we design one that will have the best outcome for citizens.  Energy has been building for a citizens-led convention that looks critically at the present broken UK constitution and comes forward with proposals for democratic change amongst democracy groups, social justice campaigners, citizens and progressive parties. The Green party has called for one, and Jon Trickett, the shadow minister for the constitutional convention, supports the idea. King’s College, University of London, is drafting a proposal to create and run a convention. This event was called to bring experts on designing conventions, democracy groups and citizens together to learn more about the process such a citizen-led convention could look like. Continue reading

A wide range of views on constitutional convention

The Purpose and Process of a Constitutional Convention – read the detailed results of a survey conducted by Assemblies for Democracy London. Those consulted included participants at the May 10 meeting at Parliament plus members of the Assemblies for Democracy planning group. It reveals a thought-provoking and wide range of views on what a convention should be about and how people might be consulted.

Here are the results which reveal both a common purpose and a wide range of ideas: Survey2016

Continue reading

Demfest 2016 – a festival of ideas

DemFest 2016 was a 2-day celebration and discussion of democratic ideas. A wide range of people and groups assembled in the Flintshire countryside, with workshops and speakers looking at the crisis of democracy, and the alternatives.

It was held in Gladstone’s Library, a unique residential library in Hawarden, and co-organised by the library, the Raymond Williams Foundation and The Democratic Society.

Assemblies for Democracy hosted a session looking at remaking democracy, exploring how citizens could create a democratic constitution. Julie Timbrell, from Assemblies for Democracy London, opened the session with a presentation about constitutional change initiatives from across the globe – from crowdsourcing conventions to randomly selected citizens deliberating. Currently both Greens and Labour support some kind of citizen-led constitutional process, while there is growing support from across the political spectrum for a constitutional convention and the involvement of citizens.

The challenge is to ensure the scope is broad enough to tackle our democratic deficit, inequality and the environmental crisis. The meeting debated if this meant devising a new written constitution and whether this is needed; how the American constitution had been devised by landowners and merchants and enshrines their interests; the need to allow flexibility and change; and how we might take inspiration from both Iceland and Bolivia who have championed Rights for Nature during recent citizen-led constitutional processes.

Keywords sessions revisited the work of 20th Century socialist thinker Raymond Williams, whose work was based on what he called the long revolution, a process of democratising through education and that would transform society. In his Keywords essays, Williams examined the history of more than a hundred words that are familiar and yet confusing: art, bureaucracy, culture, nature, radical, society, welfare, work and many others.

For example, the session Keyword: Democracy, examined the multiple and changing meanings of a word which has been claimed and reclaimed by all classes in modern society.

In Democracy and the media, Dan Hind, Daisy Cooper, Jonathan Heawood and Leah Borromeo looked at new media that might hold the promise of greater citizen control, and asked what needs to happen to democratise the media in general. One suggestion was to have a general levy on the population, the money from which could be spent on media projects, and the subjects for which would be chosen democratically by citizens. The people need to be involved with the decision-making and the production process of the input and subjects for investigation.

In State of Emergency: War, Terror and Democracy, human rights lawyer Margaret Owen looked at how democracy can be re-made in states emerging from conflict and war. She described the situation in Rojava, in north east Syria, home to about 5 million Kurds, “the only safe place in Syria”, where a new anti-state, anti-capitalist society is being built, with co-operative principles, sustainability, gender equality, and the re-education of the people at its core. She described it as a revolutionary attempt to build participatory democracy.

There was a screening and discussion of the film The Citizens Network, about how Bolivia is asserting its political and economic independence with a homemade Internet network, taking control of technology instead of just using it and providing free software to the people. The film follows a young working class woman senator, Nelida Sifuentes, who is leading the project with the support of president Evo Morales. The film’s director, Leah Borromeo, said the new network was being created in the name of technological sovereignty.

A talk by Green Party leader Natalie Bennet focused on the impossibility of separating environmental from economic democracy. “You can’t start telling people who are switching off their heat in winter to save money, to worry about global warming. You can’t talk about food waste to people who are struggling to put food on the table.” Before you can ask people to cut consumption, you need to ensure everyone has enough, she said.

Progress and Poverty: Understanding Capital and Inequality looked at Henry George’s famous book Progress and Poverty, which has remained in print since it was first published in 1879. William Gladstone’s annotated copy indicates that he was sympathetic to its socialist idea. The central proposal was a land value tax, as it is the community who create most property value and the community should share the rewards. Land Value Tax was nearly adopted in the early 20th Century and is an idea many economic justice campaigners still advocate. The Tax Justice Network is a strong supporter, as part of comprehensive tax reform. It is a kind of wealth tax and is a key recommendation in Thomas Pickety’s excellent Capital in the 21st Century.

The session on Democracy, Culture and Art looked at participatory theatre in Wales, and the National Theatre of Wales’ “Big Democracy Project” (which Assemblies for Democracy Swansea took part in). The NT Wales is an idea, not a place, which frees it to approach theatre in a way that breaks out of the performer/audience structure, to create participatory, political and citizens’ theatre. The Live Art agency supports artists who want to challenge the status quo, and the Liberate Tate project was given as an example of an artist-led intervention. They have recently succeeded in ending the sponsorship deal between Tate and BP.

Digital Tools for Democracy (Beyond Boaty McBoatface) was a practical session looking at how the Democratic Society has helped government to involve citizens. Some inspiring examples included a game looking at solutions to climate change and platforms to facilitate participatory budgeting. The facilitators said that to get a good outcome it is important that people are able to contribute meaningfully to the debate.

On the Friday evening, participants were welcomed into the library itself, lit by the glowing twilight outside, for “Radical Readings” by some of the DemFest participants. They ranged from Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” to Captain Rainsborourgh’s speech from the Putney Debates to a powerful extract from the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. This part of the event was Gladstone Library’s contribution to the national Night at the Museum programme.

DemFest 2016 achieved its aim of encouraging people “with a shared interest in democratic change, to convene in a single site for a short period of intensive and convivial interaction, exchange and cooperation”.

Writing in Open Democracy, co-organisers Nick Mahony and Derek Tatton explained: “Democratic and political changes could be fomented from a well-designed constitutional convention, but this would be more likely if such a convention was twinned with an exciting national programme of rolling public events and festivals oriented around the pluralisation of democracy and the democratization of everyday life…”


Towards a citizens’ constitutional convention

Calls for a convention on the constitution, which emerged strongly in 2014 around the time of Scotland’s independence referendum, have taken on a new lease of life since last year’s general election. They are driven by a growing recognition that system-level change is needed if we are to tackle the pile-up of policies that are attacking the citizenry from every conceivable angle. And there is a clear recognition that the process should be citizen-led if the outcomes of a convention are to have real significance. Jon Trickett, Labour’s shadow communities minister, whose brief includes the constitutional convention, put forward a bold proposal for an independent process at a Democracy Day event organised by Compass earlier this year.

Read the full article on openDemocracy




Designing Democracy for the 21st century

Tuesday May 10, 6-9pm
Committee Room 5
House of Commons 

Register at Eventbrite.

“Why do we need a constitutional convention?”
“How do we design one that will have the best outcome for citizens?”

Energy is building for a citizens-led convention that looks critically at the present broken UK constitution and comes forward with proposals for democratic change. Jon Trickett, the shadow minister for the constitutional convention, supports the idea. King’s College, University of London, is drafting a proposal to create and run a convention. Could a convention draft an entirely new constitution or should it recommend reforms? Should Parliament have the final say on a convention’s proposals?

Come to this Assemblies for Democracy event and debate these and other issues with our panel and help build the pressure for substantial change.

  • Aisha Dodwell, Global Justice Now!
  • Frances Foley, Unlock Democracy
  • Alan Renwick, Constitution Unit, University College London
  • Julie Timbrell, Occupy Democracy
  • Paul Feldman, Assemblies for Democracy
  • Eddie Molloy, Electoral Reform Society

Space is limited so register asap. Allow yourself enough time to pass through the security arrangements at Westminster.

Swansea A4D visits Big Democracy @ Cardiff’s Senedd

Four members of Swansea’s A4D planning group travelled on Saturday 19th March to Cardiff’s Senedd – the home of the National Assembly for Wales. They’d been invited to take part in a special day of events celebrating the end of the first phase of the National Theatre of Wales’ 3-year long Big Democracy Project.

In a programme including performances by theatre groups, poets and musicians, A4D’s invitation to a half-hour slot attracted around 60 people:

Democracy, if ever alive is now ‘more dead’ than living; its semblance just a sham. The little life left in it is being stealthily stifled by the greed and manipulative grip of the corporations controlling people’s freedom and gravely endangering this planet.

So join us in designing, building and operating a richer, deeper form of direct democracy.

This half-hour introductory session shares a snapshot of what has already begun.

We’ll be using all the means available to explore a fairer future based on people powered free expression and collaborative actions for sustainable living.



Helen Johns, from the teachers union NASUWT, gave a passionate account of the battle with Swansea Council to prevent the termination, without any consultation of parents and children, of an Education Service in Trehafod clinic, for some of Swansea’s most vulnerable children – Child and Adolescent Mental Health pupils, that led her to A4D after she realised that local democracy is broken.


A4D convenor Gerry Gold widened the focus from the local to the national and global explaining that we were re-imagining democracy in response to the rapid growth of inequality, showing how the system of corporations had merged with parliamentary democracy transferring wealth from the 99% to the 1%.


With the majority of the audience waving mobile phones in the air, Peter Anderson invited them to sign-on there and then to the Wales country group on digital democracy platform Vocaleyes and respond to the question ‘How can we bring democracy to life in Wales?

First up was a seven year-old, showing everyone the way, with a proposal for a free Legoland in Cardiff!!


A4D’s performance evoked a lively participation – vocally, digitally and on paper, with the local Women’s Equality Party candidate Ruth Williams sharing a photo-opportunity on facebook and twitter.


Convention planning group January 30

Here are the decisions of the Citizens Convention on the Constitution planning group held on January 30.

1) Following the Democracy Day organised by Compass, which five members of our planning group attended, we will take up Compass’ invitation to be part of a group to work with Jon Trickett MP on proposals for a constitutional convention.

2) We will pursue the possibility of a separate meeting with Jon Trickett.

We are attending both meetings with Trickett in our capacity as an independent, autonomous  group.

3) We will plan “Fun Days” in different parts of the UK as exercises in working towards citizens constitutional convention.

Next meeting: 12.30-4pm Saturday, 27 February
Arlington Conference Centre
220 Arlington Road
Camden Town NW1 7HE

Citizens Convention on the Constitution planning group

Following our Assembly in London on November 14, a planning group was created to continue work on plans for a Citizens Convention on the Constitution. The first meeting was held on December 12. A second meeting on January 9 agreed the following principle and aims:

Principle: “We affirm the democratic principle that power should rest with the people”


i) campaign for a Citizens Convention on the Constitution
ii) work with other campaigns, organisations & individuals on practical steps that lead to the holding of a Convention
iii) launch a citizen/people-led constitutional democratic process

Here are the notes from our the January 9 meeting which was facilitated by Julie and Andy.
17 people attended. Apologies from Martha, Malcolm, Susan, Frances, Fiona, Adnan, Gloria. Continue reading