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

For immediate release, 12th April 2016

Statement from the Electoral Reform Society on behalf of Democracy Matters

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 [email protected] 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.”



An online version of this press release is available here.

[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/

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