Assemblies for Democracy: A Theoretical Framework – by Richard Gunn, R.C. Smith and Adrian Wilding


Note: the following article is based on ongoing research activity at Heathwood Press. For more information and to view Heathwood’s series on democracy, emancipatory politics and societal transformation, see here.

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General elections are top-down events: attention focuses on political parties and their leaders. Personalities and success or failure move centre-stage. Policies get a mention, but are assessed like moves in a game of chess. Can this top-down perspective be reversed? Can a form of politics be found which retains a grassroots or ‘bottom-up’ emphasis?

In these notes, we attempt to do two things. We explain why, in our view, this question is important. And we explore challenges that a grassroots politics must face. Continue reading

Visions of a democratic reality – by Rashid Mhar for openDemocracy & NatCAN

Do you have things in your life that you truly love? I am sure you do, I am sure that the very question conjures their image into your mind. Though I can’t guarantee it, I truly believe that those images would all be the faces of the people close to you. Do you have ideas, principles and ideals you truly love? Does that question conjure something into your mind, or does it give pause for reflection?

For myself I have to say, unlike my first question where I would confidently imagine what the question would conjure in your mind, to my second question I don’t know. Many years ago, I would have said freedom, equality, friendship, civilisation, community and perhaps most certainly I would have thought one of the ideas that would be dear to your heart would be democracy. As you already know this is no comment about how I see you, it is something that causes me to reflect upon myself. I have to ask myself what has changed to change me. Read more

Assembling for democracy: part 1, learning from the Blanketeers – by Dr Peter Evans for OpenDemocracy

Throughout Britain’s history her people have had to organise and assemble to fight for meaningful democracy. Blanketeers, Chartists, and Radicals; trade unions and the labour movement; suffragists and suffragettes – all of these movements over the past 200 years emerged as the people of this country recognised that they were being denied a political voice, and excluded from exercising meaningful political power.

In 1793 a Convention was organised at Edinburgh called ‘The British Convention of the Delegates of the People associated to obtain Universal Suffrage and Annual Parliaments’ – an assembly for democracy. As its title declared, its purpose was to discuss how best to achieve Universal Suffrage in this country (albeit to be exercised by males on behalf of family units). It was quickly shut down by the government, and the participants were arrested and put on trial for sedition (seeking to overthrow the government). They were show trials. In the case of Joseph Gerrald, for example, the case was presided over by a judge candid in expressing his belief that calling for universal male suffrage constituted sedition, or worse. The jury was hand-picked: each one a member of a group that had already publicly denounced Gerrald for his political views. Needless to say he was found guilty, and sentenced to 15 years ‘transportation’, i.e. exile, to New South Wales, where he died from tuberculosis. Along with the other ‘Scottish martyrs’ became the example the government wanted – evidence of the consequences of seeking democratic reform for political empowerment. Read more

Wanted: A Magna Carta for the 21st century

The attacks on the rule of law and access to justice – two key principles of the Magna Carta – by successive governments should lead us to rethink the existing relationship between the state and citizens and then to reimagine democracy.

Eventually, everyone came to enjoy the rights enshrined in the constitutional settlement between King John and powerful barons signed at Runnymede 800 years ago. This was no smooth process, however. The mass of the people had to struggle over many centuries for the rule of law – as opposed to the unbridled power of the state – to apply to them and their activities. Continue reading