Citizens’ Assembly

This topic is doomed to forever remain a stub for a more complete piece as it is continually added to by events.

Whatever we call it the Citizens’ / People’s Assembly (aka Standing Constitutional Convention) is an old idea whose time seems to have come.

Citizens’ Assembly is the term Rory Stewart is using in his latest high profile moves to highlight his credentials in bringing the country together as party leader (Tories that is, but it hardly matters.) He’s used it for both getting agreement on breaking the Brexit deadlock and to resolve resource priorities in Adult Social Care.

Previously any number of other topics have suggested the same idea: Lords Reform, Voting / PR reform, National & local devolution, Inter / Super-national federation, Lobbying rules, any number of constitutional changes. The point being with subjects that underlie our political processes, as opposed to the content of parliamentary business, it is easy to agree that something’s wrong and needs reform but almost always impossible to agree which solutions we should adopt. When the process is simply one of competing ideas criticising each other in a debating chamber until no single idea can “win” outright …. the status quo remains unchanged, and often the level of division, confusion and frustration has simply been increased.

We need a standing convention – and assembly that convenes on topics like these, but whose own constitution and make-up has been predefined independent of the particular topic. And it needs to be an assembly whose make-up is representative in ways different from partisan politics of Westminster and more importantly it delivers not legislation – that still the job of the legislature – but proposals framed as tractable motions to be put to the legislature. And whilst it would be a “parliament” – a talking shop – in a literal sense, it would not be a debating chamber. Debate is the too-limiting model that gives rise to deadlock in the meta-business underlying existing processes. It would be more like “committee” room business on a larger, publicly engaged scale. (Some have pointed out that set up this way the assembly itself would fulfill the original intended role of the second chamber and its own reform would be a natural outcome.)

The big risk in setting up the assembly is in getting its own constitution wrong too quickly and living to regret another broken piece of democracy. It must have limited immediate power and it must have values-based rules that permit their own evolution in specific mechanisms and procedures. Less is more when it comes to its constitutional definition.


[And within minutes, …

The partisan debating gets further polarised by social media sound-bites and memes reducing arguments to slogans and …. nothing gets done. We need the combined “committee” approach whose job is to produce a balanced proposal BEFORE it gets to the legislature.]


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