Citizens' Assembly

The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit: Public to debate UK’s exit terms

27th April 2017
27 Apr 2017
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Citizens' Assembly
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The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit: Public to debate UK’s exit terms

  • Statement from UCL’s Constitution Unit, the University of Westminster's Centre for the Study of Democracy, the University of Southampton, and the Electoral Reform Society
  • Embargoed for 10am, 27th April 2017
  • ERS Chief Executive Katie Ghose is available for interview. Contact Josiah Mortimer, ERS Communications Officer - josiah.mortimer@electoral-reform.org.uk / 07717211630.

Leading academics and democracy campaigners are to hold a ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ on Brexit [1] this September, in a bid to ensure the public’s voices are heard in the process of Britain leaving the EU.

The project will bring together a diverse sample of citizens to contribute to the Brexit process – and provide the first example of meaningful public deliberation on what form Brexit should take.

Citizens will engage in detailed and informed discussions to reach well thought-out conclusions, in a process organised by leading academics at UCL’s Constitution Unit, in partnership with the University of Westminster's Centre for the Study of Democracy, the University of Southampton and the Electoral Reform Society.

Over two weekends in September – just ahead of pivotal elections in Germany which could shape the negotiations – a diverse group of voters will learn about the options for Brexit, hearing from a wide range of experts and campaigners from all sides of the debate, and deliberate on what they have heard.

Crucially, the Assembly will then agree recommendations that will be written up in a final report and presented to key decision makers at a high-profile Westminster event. 

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“This is the first real opportunity for the public to have their say on Theresa May’s Brexit plans.

“There is widespread agreement that the Brexit plans should respect and respond to public opinion – as demanded by both democratic principle and the need for broad public legitimacy. This Assembly provides a unique and innovative approach to gauging the opinions of citizens on the most pressing constitutional issue we face as a country.

“As we noted before polling day last year, public engagement in Brexit shouldn’t end on June 23rd. This project is an exciting way of continuing the public engagement we saw last year – and letting voters influence the debate.”

Principal Investigator, Dr Alan Renwick, said:

“The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit is a chance to help to bridge the gap between the ‘52 per cent’ and the ‘48 per cent’ in the Brexit debate – and explore how deliberative democratic approaches can make that happen.

“The Brexit referendum last June was a clear example of citizen involvement in the determining the course of Britain’s constitution. This Citizens’ Assembly will provide a powerful mechanism to continue that vital involvement, giving the government a clear signal of where public opinion now sits on the form Brexit should take.”

The project team already has a great deal of expertise in running similar assemblies – having conducted the UK’s first ever assemblies on local devolution in Sheffield and Southampton in late 2015 [2].

ENDS

For more information, quotes or to arrange an interview, contact Josiah Mortimer, ERS Communications Officer - josiah.mortimer@electoral-reform.org.uk / 07717211630.

Notes to Editors

[1] Citizens’ Assemblies have been increasingly used across Europe and North America to settle key policy and constitutional issues ahead of or following referendums – with Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly recently leading to the legalisation of equal marriage.

The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit will have around 45 members who will be selected by a survey company to reflect the diversity of the UK’s population in terms of gender, age, place of residence, social class, and attitudes to Brexit. The Assembly’s ideas will enrich public debates over the form that Brexit should take, just at the time when key choices and trade-offs are likely to be crystallising.

As well as being a major democratic project, the Citizens' Assembly on Brexit will lead to a range of academic outputs, alongside comment pieces, blogs and social media work – offering new insights into how democratic decision-making is best organised. The Citizens' Assembly on Brexit aims to help build the case for deliberative democratic approaches for other major political and constitutional issues, from the nature of local democracy to the future of the Union.

The project team aims to collaborate closely with others in developing the Assembly plans, including government ministers and officials, parliamentarians, experts, journalists, and campaigners on both sides –as well as appointing a diverse Advisory Board with to consult on the proposed overall direction.

The process will be scrupulously even-handed, working with the ‘UK in a Changing Europe’ programme – which has provided widely respected impartial guidance during and since the referendum campaign – in developing the Assembly’s learning programme. Supporters of both Leave and Remain will be asked to comment on drafts of all briefing materials and will be directly involved in the Assembly sessions.

[2] For more information see: www.citizensassembly.co.uk.

Electoral Reform Society win ‘Westminster’s Oscar’ for democratising devolution debate

30th November 2016
30 Nov 2016
Tags: 
PSA Awards
citizens' assemblies
Citizens' Assembly
Democracy Matters
PSA
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For immediate release, 30th November 2016

Statement from Electoral Reform Society. For more information, quotes or comment, contact Josiah Mortimer, ERS Communications Officer, on 07717211630, josiah.mortimer@electoral-reform.org.uk


The Electoral Reform Society and leading academics picked up the Democratic Innovation Award for their Citizens’ Assembly project at last night's (29th November) Political Studies Association Annual Awards in Westminster.

The project brought together politicians, regional leaders and the public to debate the government’s English devolution plans at a local level, with the Democracy Matters’ citizens’ assemblies aiming to address the gap that has emerged between the public and formal politics.

Between October and November 2015, two pilot assemblies were run in Southampton (Assembly South) and Sheffield (Assembly North) and to ask how new regional powers can be established in a form that is supported by the people who live locally.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

"This prize means a great deal - especially to those who believe involving citizens in political processes is central to building a healthy democracy. At a time of growing disillusionment in mainstream politics, it's vital that politicians at all levels recognise the need to close the democratic gap and give voters a real say over their communities.” 

The pilot assemblies compared and contrasted different assembly design types and revealed how to ‘do’ politics differently and the long-term benefits of such an approach in an era that appears defined by anti-politics.

Ghose added:

"Democracy Matters was a truly collaborative and innovative effort between universities and the Electoral Reform Society, and offers a framework for promoting positive, evidence-based change in our democracy. It's an honour to receive this award on behalf of all the academics and individuals who organised it - but more importantly, for the local citizens who put in so much of their time and energy to deliberate about devolution.”  

Now in its 15th year, the PSA Awards pays tribute to those that have made outstanding contributions to the study and conduct of politics in the past year. The Citizens’ Assembly project achieved both, by bringing together an alliance of university researchers and civil society organisations to pilot new ways of promoting informed public engagement around the English devolution agenda.

Professor Will Jennings, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of Southampton, said:

“The citizens’ assemblies in Southampton and Sheffield challenged the myth that people are disengaged from politics. When citizens are given the chance to assess a range of positions and possibilities they do it with gusto – people are more than capable of grappling with complex questions about the way we are governed.

“This marks an important contribution to the conversation about politics and democracy in this country. We have shown there is a real potential for a new way of doing things.”

On receiving the award, Katie Ghose said:

"At a time of huge constitutional upheaval, involving citizens is not only desirable – it’s essential. The EU referendum was the start, not the end, of public involvement in constitutional issues, and it’s time to put words about ‘building a democracy that works for everyone’ into action.”

The Democracy Matters team consisted of Katie Ghose (Electoral Reform Society), Matt Flinders (University of Sheffield), Will Jennings (University of Southampton), Edward Molloy (Electoral Reform Society), Brenton Prosser (University of Sheffield), Alan Renwick (University College London), Graham Smith (University of Westminster), Paulo Spada (University of Southampton) and Gerry Stoker (University of Southampton).

As an ESRC-funded ‘rapid response’ project, Democracy Matters demonstrates the capacity of the social sciences to undertake rigorous, risky and high-impact research in an agile and highly responsive manner.

The master of ceremonies on the evening was Jon Snow (Channel 4 News), and the award was presented by the First Minister for Wales, Carwyn Jones. Other winners include Grayson Perry (Contribution to the Arts and Culture), Michael Ignatieff (International Recognition Award), Gordon Brown (Lifetime Achievement in Politics) and Ruth Davidson (Best Use of Social Media).

ENDS

Read more about the Citizens’ Assemblies project here: http://citizensassembly.co.uk/ and here http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/katie-ghose/citizens-assemblies-_b_9719200.html

  • The 15th Annual PSA Awards was held at Church House, Westminster, London on 29 November 2016 to celebrate noteworthy academics, journalists, politicians, political campaigners and policy-makers who have made significant contributions to the conduct and study of politics.Notes to editors
  • This year’s Awards Jury included Robert Barrington (Executive Director, Transparency International), Stephen Khan (Editor, The Conversation), Marjorie Wallace (CEO, SANE) and Professor Matthew Flinders (Chair, PSA).
  • The 2016 PSA Awards were sponsored by The Alliance for Useful Evidence, Elsevier, Routledge, SAGE Publications and YouGov.
  • Photos from the event will be available from Wednesday 30 November via the PSA Flickr account.
  • The Awards ceremony will be broadcast by BBC Parliament and available to view on BBC iPlayer after the event
  • Follow social media coverage of the awards at @PolStudiesAssoc and #PSAAwards.

Politicians from seven parties call for citizens’ say over Britain’s constitution

12th April 2016
12 Apr 2016
Tags: 
Democracy Matters
Citizens' Assembly
report
launch
Parliament

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For immediate release, 12th April 2016

Statement from the Electoral Reform Society on behalf of Democracy Matters

For more information, quotes or to arrange an interview, contact Josiah Mortimer, ERS Communications Officer, on 07717211630 or Josiah.Mortimer@electoral-reform.org.uk


Senior figures from all the main parties are coming together to call for citizens to have a greater say over the constitutional changes sweeping the UK.

The high-profile politicians - including Dominic Grieve MP, Suzanne Evans and Caroline Lucas MP - will be speaking together on Wednesday at the Parliamentary launch of the final report [1] of Democracy Matters, the UK’s first ever ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ on local democracy and devolution [2], funded by the Economic & Social Research Council [3].

The report, Democracy Matters: Lessons from the 2015 Citizens’ Assemblies on English Devolution(link live at 14:00, 12th April) shows a growing appetite among the public to be involved in shaping Britain’s changing democratic make-up – particularly local devolution, which the Electoral Reform Society have criticised for ‘excluding the very people it will affect – local citizens themselves’.

A major conclusion of the report is that ‘citizens are ready, willing and able to take part in participatory and deliberative forms of democracy’.

The report also concludes that ‘Citizens want stronger devolution with more public involvement. They want to feel part of ‘the revolution in devolution’ and not simply to have change imposed upon them.’

The final report being launched is available here from 14:00, 12th April

Event: Wednesday 13th April, 3.30-5pm, Committee Room 2, Palace of Westminster

Journalists are invited to attend the report launch event in Parliament – contact Edward Molloy on Edward.molloy@electoral-reform.org.uk or 02037144071

The speakers on the panel are:

  • Dominic Grieve MP (Conservative)
  • Graham Allen MP (Labour)
  • Tommy Sheppard MP (Scottish National Party)
  • Lord (Paul) Tyler (Liberal Democrat)
  • Jonathan Edwards MP (Plaid Cymru)
  • Suzanne Evans (UKIP)
  • Caroline Lucas MP (Green Party)

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “It is fantastic to see politicians from all the major parties come together to address urgent need to involve the public in the huge democratic changes taking place in the UK.

“English devolution is the biggest shakeup to local democracy for decades – yet voters have been left out of the conversation, unable to shape how their areas are changing. A top-down model for devolution simply won’t last, so this report and event will be central to changing the debate and finally letting the public in.”

Professor Matthew Flinders, Principal Investigator for the Democracy Matters project and Founding Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre at the University of Sheffield, said: “Forget the pessimism that usually surrounds public attitudes to politics. What the Democracy Matters project really revealed was a public appetite for opportunities to learn about public policy and to engage with politics. It also revealed the capacity of the internet to deepen and broader democratic engagement and also how 'doing politics differently' can actually be quite fun!”

Dominic Grieve QC, MP for Beaconsfield, said: “I am pleased to be able to take part in the Democracy Matters event. If we are to create a country that responds to the needs of its inhabitants, then we have to listen to what they are saying about the constitutional framework that would best suit them.  The responsibility still lies with politicians to try to craft appropriate solutions, but it is pointless attempting it without an understanding of the breadth of public opinion.” 

Graham Allen, Labour MP for Nottingham North, said: “The people of Britain are crying out for a constitutional convention with people of every party and none participating. Democracy Matters shows that we need millions of founding mothers and fathers to write a democratic settlement ahead of the 2020 Parliament. Let’s get on with it.”

Tommy Sheppard MP, SNP Shadow Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, said: “An 84.6% turnout in Scotland for our Independence Referendum proved that there is an appetite for political engagement if people feel their vote can actually change things. Citizens’ Assemblies could dramatically improve our democracy if they give people a stake in shaping our society.”

Lord Paul Tyler, Liberal Democrat Lords Principal Spokesperson for Constitutional and Political Reform, said: "For two centuries all political reform has required both popular pressure and national leadership.  A Citizens' Assembly brings them together. And with the present Government supported by less than a quarter of the eligible electorate the need is urgent."

Jonathan Edwards, Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, said: “We are living in a time of rapid political change as direct two party Westminster political control over the territory of the UK loosens.  Any political system experiencing rapid change needs to respond to reflect the wishes of the people it serves if it is to survive. I welcome this report as a major step forward in increasing public engagement in how the peoples of the UK are governed.”

Suzanne Evans, UKIP Parliamentary Spokesperson, said: "We need fundamental change to reconnect politics with the public and UKIP in Parliament is fully committed to making that happen. Citizens' Assemblies are a great first step towards embedding new forms of political engagement at both a local and a national level: cutting through the understandable apathy of those who feel their voices aren't being heard is crucial, and when we achieve that, politics can only benefit." 

Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, said: “People are increasingly fed up with Britain’s archaic and undemocratic political system. It’s clear that our constitution needs updating - but that process must not be the sole responsibility of people in power. This project is hugely exciting because it aims to devolve power to local communities, and allow people a real say on the issues which affect their lives.”

ENDS

For more information, quotes or to arrange an interview, contact Josiah Mortimer, ERS Communications Officer, on 07717211630 or Josiah.Mortimer@electoral-reform.org.uk

Notes

[1] The report, Democracy Matters: Lessons from the 2015 Citizens’ Assemblies on English Devolution’, is available from 14:00, 12th April here

[2] Democracy Matters is an Economic and Social Research Council-funded project to hold the UK’s first ever ‘Citizens’ Assemblies’ on local democracy at the end of 2015, in Southampton and Sheffield. Professor Matthew Flinders was the Principal Investigator and led a project team of academics from the University of Sheffield, the University of Southampton, University College London and the University of Westminster and Electoral Reform Society staff who designed and delivered the pilot studies in order to promote renewed civic engagement on crucial constitutional questions such as devolution.

For a full list of academics and organisations involved, see here: http://citizensassembly.co.uk/staff/

Find out more about the Democracy Matters project: http://citizensassembly.co.uk/home-page/about/

[3] To find out more about the ESRC see here: http://www.esrc.ac.uk/