It may be painfully simplistic to make the point, but don’t recent events demonstrate that there should only be one national citizen’s assembly coming to a town near you soon?
I applaud Matthew Taylor for pushing the deliberative democracy agenda and thus giving a sharp focus to the paper-jam in our legislature and executive. Government can’t print or scan; only by downloading the latest version of democracy can we get things moving again. We might even need a factory reset to the constitution itself – this deserves deliberating at least.
The response to the RSA’s poll to gauge public opinion on a citizen’s assembly for Brexit was, most succinctly put, ‘meh’. It didn’t grab my imagination, mainly because (as hard as it might be to believe) the issues that have got us to this place go beyond our membership of the EU.
These issues are structural, historical and culturally deep seated. Democracy didn’t begin to fail the moment the word ‘Brexit’ entered our vocabulary. People have been pointing it out for decades; perhaps most eloquently in Jonathan Freedland’s 1998 polemic ‘Bring Home the Revolution’. Unfortunately, a revolution of sorts in our constitution by the then Blair government faltered. We have since been left with an even bigger hotchpotch of devolved democratic structures coalesced around a parliamentary democracy that is incoherent and unequal (for example: no one has ever answered the late Tam Dalyell’s West Lothian Question).
Dropping deliberative democratic methodologies into a hopelessly convoluted, outdated, inequitable and willfully uncollaborative machine won’t create the radical change to drag politics and government into the healthier place that I think we all crave. Those of us that don’t trust politicians, those of us that don’t vote, those of us that think ‘they’re all the same’, those of us who are fundamentally opposed to Brexiteers, Remainers, Centrists, Liberals, Neo-Conservatives, the Hard-Left, the Hard-Right (and so on) are all actually saying the same thing:
“THIS isn’t working.”
Even when placing existential issues like Brexit and the Climate Emergency to one side, in historical terms this is as good a time as any to begin to reset the constitution.
We have just passed the centenary of when the first women were given the vote and we are within ten years of the centenary of what was termed ‘universal suffrage’. Deliberating (and acting upon) a range of constitutional issues up to the centenary would give time and space to develop and deliver through bottom-up structures and push back top-down doctrines. Reflecting on the 1928 Universal Suffrage Act might be one of three ‘enquiry questions’ a citizen’s assembly might investigate.
Three questions worth knocking about might be:
- Is there actually universal suffrage? (for example: votes at 16 and for foreign nationals making a contribution to society.)
- Is democracy distributed equitably? (for example: demographically, geographically and so on.)
- Shouldn’t we have written down some values, rights and responsibilities to underpin our democracy and help prevent the situation in which we find ourselves?
Wouldn’t this be the most coherent, prescient, rational and yet radical place to start if we really want to embed deliberative democracy into our political decision-making processes?