Popular Participation

Popular Participation in Constitutional Reform - Can Citizen Involvement Work?

Constitutional Reform Webinar

On Thursday 21st February we jointly hosted a Constitutional Reform Webinar with Mishcon de Reya, Unlock Democracy and Open Democracy which was streamed live on the web.

The lively seminar looked at why constitutional reform is important and real life examples from industry leading speakers from Canada and Northern Ireland who have experienced the results of democratic reforms first hand. 2 representatives from the UK Government were also on hand to fuel the debate for citizen engagement and answer some very heart-felt questions in the Q & A session at the end.

Click here to view Constitutional Reform Webinar 

Why is constitutional reform important?

There has been concern for some time about the growing disconnect between people and politics.  Turnout is consistently low - hovering around the 60% mark, increasingly a democracy is seen as somewhere you live not a process you participate in.

None of this is particularly new.  What has changed however, is the political will to engage with democratic renewal issues.  One of the first things that Gordon Brown did as Prime Minister was to launch the Governance of Britain green paper and seek to start a national conversation about the way that we are governed. David Cameron established the Conservative Party's Democracy task force shortly after he became leader and Nick Clegg has called for a UK Constitutional Convention.

Constitutional reform in the UK has traditionally only involved the elite, more recently this has then been ratified by a referendum.  This is the first time, at a UK level, that there has been an attempt to engage citizens in a deliberative event to explore a constitutional issue.

There is now a real chance of change but one of the key questions remains how this should be achieved?  Given that there is widespread mistrust of politics and politicians how can public cynicism - the sense that this is just another consultation - be challenged? The Government has proposed a Citizens Summit on a British statement of values but how should this be run? 

Just because we haven't done it doesn't mean it hasn't been done! South Africa and Canada have both successfully involved citizens in constitutional reform. In South Africa citizens were involved in writing the constitution when the post-Apartheid state was formed and in Canada a number of provinces including British Columbia and Ontario have run Citizens Assemblies to determine of the electoral system should be changed and if so what the new system should be.  What lessons can we learn in the UK?

Unlock Democracy set the agenda for the discussion and here is what Peter Facey, their Director, had to say before the seminar:

'Creating a consensus for democratic reform is challenging but not impossible and there are a number of examples worldwide that have got the balance correct.  All of these involve governments letting go of the process.

The UK government can learn important lessons from these examples with a view to reinvigorating its own Governance of Britain agenda.  We hope this seminar will prove inspiring.'

To watch the webinar or forward to colleagues you can go straight to the following link:

Click here to view Constitutional Reform Webinar 

Or for more information please go to the following microsite: