The People’s Plan – an exercise in participative democracy: 15th November 2015
By Rashid Mihar
The People’s Plan for Manchester is an ambitious learning exercise in how to listen and understand the views, ideas and priorities of as many people as are willing to share them with a view towards changing what’s going on around us.
This is democracy in action, by contrast with the flawed version of devolution which was dressed up as an offer but has essentially been imposed on Greater Manchester by the government without even a semblance of consultation.
This is a region where the conversation of identity, destiny, autonomy and democratic vision had already begun before George Osborne stepped in with the so-called Northern Powerhouse, which local authority leaders fell over themselves in their unseemly haste to sign up to.
So campaign groups across Greater Manchester decided to draw up a “People’s Plan”. Its objectives are to increase democratic control over the new mega-authority and to broaden the strategy beyond economics to embrace the environment, housing, transport and how to build a citizen-led democracy.
The People’s Plan is as natural a response as can be imagined because it expresses the desire for genuine democracy. It is this aspiration across thousands of communities to engage in a hard task and difficult learning path to move from wanting democracy to doing democracy that is the foundation of the People’s Plan.
We have to ask why hasn’t the government made genuine efforts to deliver a democratic society? Perhaps it is because of the closed minded and tunnel vision view of party political careerists? Perhaps it’s a bureaucratic fear that motivates our current system to maintain itself as unchanged, unyielding and unimaginative?
Or is simply the case that other interests – property, financial, corporate – have to prevail over those of the people, who therefore have to be kept away from the levers of power in case their diverse opinions unsettle the status quo?
Instead of accepting this shocking state of affairs, things have changed and the sense of that is tangible; recognition is coming from all corners, and most importantly emerging from the grassroots.
The value of the People’s Plan as a democratic exercise goes beyond the immense value of the information collected, it is also lies in the learning and experience gained by participants. In communicating their views and the volunteering their efforts they learn how to collect, protect and process large amounts of the information and insights that all to commonly end up wilfully ignored.
The many events and opportunities to participate are all being organised by voluntary effort. People from every background are creating an opportunity to participate where there was none before.
People will take what they learn forward not only in the search for real democratic governance, but also into their community and working lives. Greater involvement and participation can lead to engagement, which in turn brings about motivation to address persistent problems.
With democratic success we can look for real improvement in new opportunities such as sustainable production, resilient local supply, green energy, community rebuilding, and many other areas where a revolution of open mindedness is needed is to open up the opportunity space for things to be explored and happen.
The Greater Manchester Devolution Agreement has shown the extent of democratic deficit of the region. The May 2017 Mayoral election will elect a ‘Super Mayor’. Few understand the powers or role the Mayor will have. It is important to create a new vision for devolution to bring real democracy into the decision making about the future of the region.
The People’s Plan is your chance to make a difference. Join us on Tuesday November 22 to tell us what kind of democracy we need in the region and beyond. Learn how to feed your ideas into the People’s Plan so that our demands come across loud and clear.
After a brief introduction, we will break into groups to give everyone a chance to have their say. Then we will bring your ideas about democracy together so they can have a real impact. Register for November 22 at Eventbrite. Hope to see you there!
The People’s Plan for Greater Manchester can be downloaded from the website (http://www.peoplesplangm.org.uk/ top right DOWNLOAD REPORT)