The popular will of the masses

The popular will of the masses

Starmer was glitter bombed at conference, the person that did this is part of the people demand democracy campaign who are campaigning for both proportional representation and a sortition based 2nd house, which they call a people’s house. They seem very proud of the impact their demo had, although I have to ask, why only at Labour conference. The rest of this article looks at citizen’s assemblies and Labour’s proposals for change, which last reviewed in an article, “New Britian, New Britcon” [or on Medium].

My work with CTOE has introduced me to several campaigning academics who have studied these citizen’s assemblies and developed a great belief in them. Such assemblies have been successful in numerous places such as Ireland, Iceland and Chile where they have been used to shape the debate and decisions on the constitution. The London Borough of Newham has implemented one and there are a number of others developed in the UK, and reported by the Constitution Unit whereas a more global view is taken at Bürgerrat who reference the OECD’s catalogue. Newham are to be congratulated because as we explore below, politicians are loathe to share either power or democratic legitimacy and in the UK, proposals such as this, for example the neighbourhood assemblies are often about putting barriers in the way of political party’s manifestos, enabling the the super-active and NIMBYism. Any representative body can and probably should convene Citizen’s Assemblies and the Ost Belgien model shows how even the agenda i.e. topic selection of citizen’s assemblies can also be devolved and a rolling programme implemented without creating a new class of unelected politician.

The citizens’ assembly that has preoccupied me is the EU’s Conference on the Future of Europe, which made numerous recommendations, including that the experiment be continued, however, there is a growing opposition within particularly the European Parliament to proposals for powerful citizens assemblies. This would seem natural where people argue about a superior democratic legitimacy of citizens assemblies, even as is the case of CoFoE the agenda was tightly controlled by the institutions and the membership of the assembly stuffed with politicians from those institutions. At a  more cynical level, those that have power rarely want to share it and often mythologise the role of the institutions to which they belong; from wikipedia’s article on parliamentary cretinism, in the words of Friedrich Engels:

‘Parliamentary cretinism’ is an incurable disease, an ailment whose unfortunate victims are permeated by the lofty conviction that the whole world, its history and its future are directed and determined by a majority of votes of just that very representative institution that has the honour of having them in the capacity of its members.

this is a cropped copy of an image on “people demand democracy’s web site”

I argue that the legitimacy of citizens’ assemblies is based on their expertise. The role of citizens’ assemblies is that people’s lived conditions and experience is directed towards solving a problem not on portfolio governance. This local expertise is then applied to specific problem solving and solutions development. The ‘lived experience’, the closeness to the problem, local expertise all lead to an enhanced solution development process and the focus on solution design is enforced by term limits. All of this makes sortition or random selection an effective, useful, and enhancing selection technique; it eliminates manifestos and prejudgement and weakens the personal networks of leading politicians. Citizen’s assemblies are also best when given a project or task & finish framework. Merely creating a new group of politicians chosen by random lot is not a democratic advance.

I ask myself, if there a dichotomy in political decision making between polarising decisions and decisions better taken by consensus, if so then sortition assemblies maybe better at developing consensual solutions. Pendulum i.e. polarising decisions might be better taken by representative assemblies. If this is right, then the role of referendums needs to be considered carefully. It seems to me that they have no role in either type of decision, certainly not if there is no super majority threshold.

Labour’s proposals are for an elected 2nd chamber with a renewed mandate. They also conceive of a treaty/constitution which the new 2nd chamber would enforce by having the power to reject Commons’ laws that breached the treaty thus ending Parliamentary Sovereignty. Again Labour’s proposals, have little room for the role of a revising chamber which study of the Commons over the last 10 years shows is badly needed. I have little doubt that the power of scrutiny and quality of legislation could be improved and that for some legislation there should be a means by which expert opinion can be sought.

There’s lots of room to do democracy better, but replacing representative democracy with juries is not really one of them. The advocates of Citizens’ Assemblies should not be suggesting they are an alternative, but they are a democratic supplement. …

Rejoining EU, what’ll it take?

Rejoining EU, what’ll it take?

I attended the EU’s citizens panel on virtual worlds over the weekend. One of the most inspirational aspects of this event was the ability to meet so many people from across the European Union. I took the opportunity, to talk to some about how they felt about British re-entry. One Dutchman felt we hadn’t suffered enough, and that we needed to wait. One German was anxious that we re-joined so as to reduce his tax burden. Another very well-informed Dutchman, said he felt that British public opinion under estimated what the EU would ask to allow us to rejoin and one Finn, said his condition on us re-joining was that we be forced to enter FIFA competitions as a single nation. I think this was a joke, but he seemed quite upset about Finland’s record against the UK nations’ football teams.

My informed Dutch correspondent started by talking about the euro. Some of what he said particularly on the Euro was a bit worrying, but it’s a price worth paying if that’s what it takes. I suggested that the Swedish precedent on the currency is important and that there may be dangers to the EU in attempting to subsume another global reserve currency too quickly. I also wonder if those nations hosting cities that have replaced London’s international financial trading capability, really want to see the London market makers able to trade in euro instruments so soon. To me more importantly on the currency and macro-economic convergence, are the limitations entrenched in the ‘stability and growth pact’. Debt levels and deficits should be the result of a democratic mandate and not embedded in an unchangeable treaty; the need to breach the stability and growth pact limits during the pandemic is a proof point to this truth. Perhaps the EU member states will take the opportunity to amend the requirement of Stability and Growth Pact. We agreed that the other opt outs are all gone; the UK will have to forgo its financial rebate, our charter of fundamental rights exemptions and comply with and join the Schengen treaty.  These terms are acceptable to me. We need to start talking about them. …

Virtual Worlds, the EU citizen’s assembly, session two, day three.

Virtual Worlds, the EU citizen’s assembly, session two, day three.

Here is my write up on Day 3; the meeting kicked off in working groups and then returned to plenary. The plenary video is indexed on their web page. This article is made from mainly contemporaneous notes, but I had to revisit the video for the final two speakers. The plenary had guest speakers and allowed some of the working groups to present their ideas. My article here does my best to tell the story of what happened. Most groups seem to have some difficulty in imagining what will change, and there is much inertia and fear on what we'll lose and whether it'll get worse and crime will grow. I am disappointed at the failure to emphasis privacy except for Renate Nikolay, from the Commission and there were some belated calls for free speech, universal access and a need to regulate and suppress fake news. There is an interesting but inconclusive discussion on how to catch up with the USA and China, and a need for education and information. Possibly the most important contribution came from Rehana Schwinninger-Ladak, one of the knowledge committee, again from the Commission who classified the problems and solutions as about people, industry and infrastructure.

The full article is overleaf, please use the "Read More" button. ...

Virtual Worlds, the EU citizen’s assembly, session two, day two.

Virtual Worlds, the EU citizen’s assembly, session two, day two.

On the second day of the EU’s citizens assembly on Virtual Worlds, I observed Working Group 6 which reconvened to further develop proposals aimed at informing the regulation and development of a digital Europe. The working group was directed to focus on the Commission’s digital principles, numbers four and five, “Fostering participation in the digital public space” & “Increasing safety, security and empowerment of individuals”. I wonder if the Commission’s short list of broad principles, is a better way of getting something on the table, rather than the detailed multi-point manifestoes that I have tried to build with others.

While the moderator tried to give the meeting some structure much of the meeting was very disjointed with citizen panel members saying what they wanted, which is their role, but rarely adding to what others say by improving or disagreeing. I believe the moderating team have created a summary to forward to the final plenary, if so they have done a better job than me.

This blog article is based on notes taken at the time, and while I have polished them and turned them into sentences, they do not tell really tell a coherent story but I hope that the combination of the wisdom of crowds and my comments, insights and lessons will be interesting

My notes and comments are below/overleaf; use the Read More button to see the full article.

Virtual Worlds, the EU citizen’s assembly, session two, day one.

Virtual Worlds, the EU citizen’s assembly, session two, day one.

The plenary sessions were set in a virtual world, which looked from the demo, very like 2nd life. Observers could not see or participate in this. I have a note but the ice breaker did not really work,, it was about engaging with virtual worlds, and my notes suggest that the delegates don't know how to answer the question asked. There were several technical problems on the video conference. This is a review of a plenary session, I review the speakers contributions. The post was made from contemporaneous notes. There's more overleaf ...

Virtual Worlds, Day 3.

On day three of the EU’s citizen’s assembly on Virtual Worlds, after a short meeting in groups, we reassembled in the plenary hall. We were introduced to a speaker panel, which they referred to as a knowledge committee which included three Belgian improv artists. The whole session is available at for review on the Commission’s streaming platform. In my article overleaf, I catalogue the EU’s definition of people’s rights and principles, briefly look at the regulatory aquis, and briefly introduce the key members of the panel of experts. I criticise the lack of emphasis on privacy & anti-fake news, and the absence of any talk of investment policies. I end by asking how the topic was chosen and if it is in fact of real relevance for tomorrow? to read the full article, please use the "Read More" button ...

Virtual Worlds, Day 2

Virtual Worlds, Day 2

This is based on my notes taken on Day 2 of the EU’s citizen’s assembly on Virtual Worlds. These have been polished, but are not easy to draw conclusions or a story from, partly because I have tried not to leave anything out, and the participants were not looking to bring their stories and thoughts together. These notes do not tell a story and this article is quite long for me. I hope it has something interesting for you; it talks of the technology, a little bit of economics, social engagement and control and even a little about the changing nature of personality.

This is an excerpt, the full blog is beyond the "Read More" button. ...

Virtual Worlds, an EU citizens assembly

I have been granted Observer status to the EU’s second 2nd Generation citizens’ assembly, this is on Virtual Worlds. I felt my expertise might be useful. The first day (half day), was a plenary session, the final exercise in the afternoon was a brainstorming session in which all the invited citizens joined in. They were asked to identify the three best things and the three worst things, they have observed since 1992, the year the world wide web was invented.

from NWN Beneath the Cobbles, made by me

I report and comment on my day below/overleaf … …