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Citizens' Convention could be 'democratic evolution' for UK

Plans for ‘democratic evolution’ in the UK were discussed as part of a webinar hosted by King’s College London.

Is deliberative democracy the way forward for the UK?
Is deliberative democracy the way forward for the UK?

Deliberative Democracy – A Way Forward for the UK? saw the principles, aims, and advantages of citizens’ conventions - as well as the merits of wider constitutional change - discussed by a group of academics, experts and prominent campaigners.

The event, held on 23 October, followed the submission to Prime Minister Boris Johnson of a new report - A Citizens’ Convention on UK Democracy – which, it is hoped, could pave the way for further work in introducing citizens’ conventions in the UK.

(You can read the report in full here. A summary is available here)

The idea of a citizens’ convention is to bring together a randomly-selected group of people and ask them to produce a solution to a particular issue. The process involves providing the group with a range of evidence and support and giving them the tools to deliberate and arrive at a consensus solution.

Speaking at the event were former MP Graham Allen, convenor of the Citizens Convention on UK Democracy; Dr Ceri Davies, director of the Centre for Deliberative Research; and Dr Marta Wojciechowkska, ESRC Research Fellow in the Department of Political Economy at King’s.

The event was chaired by Dr Rod Dacombe, from the Centre for British Politics and Government.

Mr Allen told the audience: “We’re trying to achieve a revitalisation of democracy, a democracy that’s under pressure. We need to evolve our democracy so it’s fit for purpose for the decades ahead.”

Mr Allen said elected representatives had to treat citizens as partners, and vice-versa, in order for results to be achieved, adding: “Getting a political endgame means ensuring that your partners and you work together”.

He added: “The next great battle is to give our democracy back to our citizens.”

Dr Davies spoke about the areas she thought the principle of citizens’ convention might address, including tackling the increasing polarisation of views, as well as adding a different route to policy-making, and bringing people with different views and backgrounds together in a way that was not normally possible.

The citizens’ conventions, Dr Davies said, would bring the discussion into different places and spaces and reach people who might not otherwise be reached.

She added: “Being open to different views is an essential opportunity which deliberative democracy provides.”

Dr Wojciechowska spoke about the need to change the democratic system in the UK and what could be done better.

She spoke about the challenges facing the system in the near future in the shape of COVID, Brexit, devolution and inequality. She then spoke about how deliberative democracy could address these problems by involving all the people who are affected, encouraging a move to common as opposed to self-interest, and reinforcing that the process was not simply ‘winner takes all’.

She said: “Democratic innovations are not a solution to all problems. The connections with other pillars [legislature, judiciary, state institutions, and society] are essential.”

In 2016, the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust commissioned Dr Andrew Blick, head of the Department of Political Economy at King’s, to write a report on how a Citizens' Convention on UK Democracy could function, at the request of the parliamentary leadership of four of the main Westminster parties. Dr Blick is now director of this project with support from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, and Open Society Foundation.

In this story

Rod  Dacombe

Rod Dacombe

Reader in Politics

Andrew  Blick

Andrew Blick

Head of the Department of Political Economy and Professor of Politics and Contemporary History

Graham Allen

Graham Allen

Visiting Professor