Call to form citizens’ convention alliance

Assemblies for Democracy in London has called for the creation of an alliance for a citizens’ convention on the constitution. It has invited a number of organisations, political parties and campaigns to meet in Parliament in October.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell at an Assemblies for Democracy meeting in Parliament

We have already had a positive response from the signatories of our letter published in the Guardian last year, Time for a new UK Citizen’s Constitution.

The purpose of this meeting is twofold:

i) to share the extensive work our group has accomplished through regular meetings since 2014 in scoping out strategies and processes for the creation of a citizens’ constitutional convention.

ii) to begin explorations towards the creation of a broad alliance of equal partners that would be sufficiently strong to instigate a movement for a new constitution developed and drafted by the citizens of the UK themselves.

With constitutional issues relating to Brexit, questions over the future of Scotland and Northern Ireland, the legitimacy of our electoral systems and the feelings of powerlessness highlighted by events such as the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the time is right for a deeply inclusive conversation on how the people of these isles wish to constitute themselves.

Planning Democracy – by Clare Symmonds

The referendum and now the general election have brought greater scrutiny of one of the most historical and influential political systems in the world. In a certain sense, the referendum is holding the Scottish political system to account.  Furthermore, the debates generated have gone into very meaty issues: economics, currency, taxation, nuclear issues, among many others. Continue reading

Democracy in Britain is under siege – by Damien Quigg, London Planning Group

Only 24% of the electorate or 11.3 million people voted Conservative, yet we have a majority Conservative government. UKIP got 3.8 million votes, while the Green party got 1.1 million votes, but both ended up with only one MP each. Compare that with SNP who received 1.5 million votes and have 56 MPs. The Liberal Democrats received 2.4 million votes, yet returned eight MPs.

Then we have the roughly 35% of the electorate who did not cast a vote. Are they really apathetic about what way they are governed, or is it they feel disillusioned with British politics and that none of the parties represent what they stand for or believe in? I suggest it is the latter and they in fact did cast a vote on 7th May not to endorse the policies of any of the political parties. Surely all of these facts tell us that our first past the post voting system is unfit for a 21st century democracy. 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

A re-invigorated democracy

I want to share with others one approach to re-imagining democracy which may or may not work. It is small scale, experimental  and with no certainty of success but even its shortcomings and failures  will, I hope, afford some useful learning lessons for all of us.

It attempts to tackle two issues relating to representative democracy. The first is the absence of any clear, independent record of what candidates actually say and commit to. Cast your mind back to the last election and try Googling an issue of concern – can you find anything?  There may be scattered references in local newspapers or on defunct blogs  but the most important content has likely been deleted or removed, probably soon after the 2010 election ended.  What your MP said then might be a  source of some embarrassment now – or worse! But it is too late, the information has been deleted. Continue reading