Democracy Bulletin, 23rd June

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Fortnightly news, jobs, grants and gossip from the democracy sector, brought to you by James Moulding and Molly Hudson of The Centre for Democracy. Read by 270+ democracy organisations. We read everyone’s newsletters & research so you don’t have to. If you want us to cover yours, let us know: hello@centrefordemocracy.org.uk

Highlights

  • Involve hiring new Democracy Network coordinator

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Democracy Sector

Involve hiring new Democracy Network Coordinator
Tim Hughes and the team have drafted a job description for the new role and are requesting feedback. You can comment directly into the Google Doc or send your feedback directly via DemocracyNetwork@involve.org.uk.

Launch of the Local Democracy Research Centre
A new initiative by the Local Government Intelligence Unit (LGIU) launched last week. The centre brings together academics and local government practitioners to generate insight, research and collaboration.

Electoral Reform Society begin implementing their new strategy
Josiah Mortimer, Head of Comms at the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), reports they are finalising a new report due out next month celebrating two decades of PR in Scotland, Wales and London. ERS is arrayed on many fronts, working on a Voter ID coalition with Fair Vote, tracking plans to impose FPTP on Mayors and PCCs, responding to the Government’s Electoral Commission plans and implementing a new strategy for the organisation.

Labour’s National Policy Forum consultation launches
The consultation precedes the primary work of the NPF through its policy commissions. Are you trying to influence the Labour Party and its policy? Have your say by Monday 19th July 2021.

ConservativeHome acts to balance partisanship of public appointments
Tax Payers’ Alliance reports half of appointees to public bodies were Labour aligned, with less than a third for the Conservatives. ConservativeHome now reserve a space each week in their newsletter for links to new public appointment vacancies to better advertise these positions.

Elect Her rolling out new workshops & hiring freelancer
Hannah Stevens, Director at Elect Her, is running 8 online workshops over the next few weeks to motivate, support and equip women to stand for elected office across the UK. Do you know a freelancer who’d like to help develop Elect Her’s downloadable resources? Reach out to Hannah to find out more.

Co-producing policy platforms through legislative theatre
A specialist in Legislative Theatre (LT), Katy Rubin, is currently leading LT projects in Greater Manchester, Glasgow, Coventry and Islington, on a range of issues including homelessness and climate policy. Working with local and combined authorities, youth groups and participatory democracy partners such as Shared Future CIC, these projects aim to co-produce policy platforms.

Vote for Policies need volunteer developer to help improve their surveys
They’re rebuilding their survey so it’s faster, cheaper to run and easier to update at election time. They have a small team working on the upgrade, but could use an extra hand or two. If you have experience with React, Typescript, Node.js or CSS, email Matt Chocqueel-Mangan.

Talk Shop are looking for volunteers in Bristol and Liverpool for their ‘Win-Win Workout’
Perry Walker is currently running trials of Talk Shop’s Win-Win deliberative process on the fate of the Colston Statue in Bristol.

George Bolton keen to reach out to democracy practitioners for PhD research
George aims to collaborate with Young Citizens, Shout Out UK and the Political Literacy APPG on the design, evaluation and trialling of a new intervention aimed at 16–18yr olds.

NEON offers free trainings on polling and focus groups
The two free workshops, led by ICM and Survation, will be capped at 20 people, so please only commit if you are sure you can make it. Book here for polling and focus groups.

Democratic Reform

Government announces plans to strip Electoral Commission of prosecution powers
Outlined as part of a new elections bill, the plans remove the commission’s ability to prosecute criminal offences under electoral law on the basis that this “wastes public money”. Proposals announced so far include a move to allow politicians — rather than the Electoral Commission’s board — to set the priorities of the independent watchdog. The commission responded, remarking that these changes will place a ‘fetter’ on their work.

Curbs on protest in policing bill breach human rights law, warn JCHR
The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) says clauses which allow restrictions to be imposed on protests because of the noise they generate, create powers to limit one-person demonstrations and increase penalties on people who breach conditions placed on protests should all be scrapped. They say the policing bill contains provisions that are unnecessary and disproportionate and confer unacceptably wide and vague powers to curb demonstrations on the Home Secretary and police.

Joint Committee on Human Rights investigates voter ID plans
The committee urged the government to focus on the ‘real problems’ in British elections, such as non-voters and introducing automatic voter registration. Members of the panel concluded that without universal ID provision, voter ID plans here look similar to Republican voter suppression efforts in the US.

Constitution Unit Conference on Johnson’s Constitutional Reform Agenda
Last week’s conference featured gripping discussions on a range of topics, from devolution to digital campaigning. Highlights included John Pullinger, the new Chair of the Electoral Commission, signalling their interest in paying close attention to matters of digital campaigning in the future as a result of the discussions.

Adam Tomkins, Professor of Public Law at the University of Glasgow and a former Conservative MSP, remarked on his previous confidence in the survival of the Union but that this is now in question with the UK government’s policy to combat Scottish nationalism with English nationalism, or ‘muscular unionism’.

Though the frankest remarks came during the concluding session from Peter Riddell, Commissioner for Public Appointments, Tim Bale, Professor of politics at Queen Mary University, and Dominic Grieve, former Attorney General, highlighting serial rule breaking by the current government and the severely diminished role of parliament, warning that the UK’s democratic system is not inherently self-correcting.

Policy Exchange host Chloe Smith MP, Minister of State for the Constitution and Devolution
During the talk, entitled Defending Democracy, Chloe reaffirmed their commitment to the Electoral Integrity Bill. Questions to the minister included the issue of foreign interference in elections, ongoing challenges for returning officers and lack of representation and engagement in the work of the Lords. You can watch the session recording here.

Lords call for immediate action to slim down second chamber
Five years ago the Burns Report on the size of the House of Lords recommended non-legislative reform to reduce the size of the House, capping members at 600, a two out, one in system, 15-year non-renewable fixed term limits with appointments linked to election results. Earlier this year the House reached 800 members. The Lord Speaker’s Committee on the Size of the House new report considers that piecemeal voluntary non-legislative approach no longer viable.

ERS Scotland and Sortition Foundation ramp up calls for a ‘House of Citizens’
The push follows recent revelations of a Conservative Party donor funding the party £500,000, just after being made a peer. 22 former donors to political parties have been given peerages in the past 12 years, with donations totalling £50.4m. In Scotland, pressure is growing for a ‘House of Citizens’ — similar to the recent Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland.

Nesta join three year collective intelligence research project, COLDIGIT
Collective Intelligence through Digital Tools (COLDIGIT) will be running three participatory budget pilots in Trondheim, Gothenburg and Helsinki. Oli Whittington and the Nesta team will be leading investigations into blockers and enablers for scaling and adoption of collective intelligence methods, tools and advice.

Are voters influenced by the results of citizens’ assemblies?
Steve Sloman, Daniella Kupor and David Yokum’s study sees a shift in opinion for a range of policies when participants are told about the results of an assembly. Their work concludes that citizens’ assemblies and other deliberative events can be more impactful by simply telling an electorate about its results.

Democratic backsliding: could it happen here?
Stephan Haggard of the School of Global Policy and Strategy & Robert R Kaufman at Rutgers University launch a new book on their study of democratic backsliding across 16 countries, with an accompanying summary for the Constitution Unit blog.

House of Commons Library boundary review briefings
Elise Uberoi and Neil Johnston at the House of Commons Library publish a pair of briefings on the rules and procedures for boundary changes, and how the public can have a say in the changes.

Integrity & Transparency

openDemocracy wins transparency court case against secretive government FOI unit
The judgement marks a significant legal victory against the UK government, forcing transparency on Michael Gove’s ‘Orwellian’ Clearing House unit.

UK Parliament opens investigation into Michael Gove’s FOI unit
Following the openDemocracy legal victory, both openDemocracy and the Campaign for Freedom of Information had written to PACAC asking the committee to investigate. The public administration and constitutional affairs committee (PACAC) is now to launch an inquiry probe into the Cabinet Office’s controversial ‘Clearing House’. The exact terms of the probe have yet to be confirmed. It is expected that a short, targeted inquiry will be held either directly before or after the summer recess. Michael Gove is expected to be called to give evidence.

Concern rising over patient data handover plans say Big Brother Watch
Senior GPs have called on colleagues to refuse to hand over patients’ personal data to NHS Digital. The automatic transfer of medical records to the NHS Digital central database has been fraught with oversight concerns. These include the sole independent advisory group on collecting GP data, GPES IAG, the group that first raised concerns about the data plan being abolished without replacement.

mySociety explores the effectiveness of Freedom of Information
Alex Parsons, Researcher at mySociety, shows off their new FOI minisite, presenting up-to-date statistics on FOI requests across Government.

COVID contract winners go on to donate £615,000 to Conservatives
More than £600,000 has been donated to the Conservative Party by firms and individuals that have been awarded some £400 million in public contracts during the Coronavirus pandemic, reveals the Byline Times.

Calls for peers to bring new research agency within scope of FOI
The Advanced Research and Invention Agency, as it stands, will have a budget of more than £800m for “high risk, high reward” projects, but will be exempt from FOI. The Campaign for Freedom of Information are now calling for peers to act and bring ARIA within the scope of FOI.

NetPol and rights groups report concern over aggressive police tactics at G7
Netpol highlighted police confusion over their duty to protect the right to peaceful protest in the run up to the event. Police designated protest sites 23 miles from the G7 area and reportedly engaged in heavy surveillance and house raids on members of non-violent activist groups prior to the event. During the event the protest camp of climate group Animal Rebellion was raided, arresting 29 activists on conspiracy charges, including the owner of the farm the camp was sited on. Many were later released more than 100 miles from their arrest location and bailed out of the entirety of Cornwall.

Election candidates are copying Trump election disinformation tactics, First Draft reports
Leading Peruvian political scientist, Adriana Urrutia, criticises Keiko Fujimori’s attempts to derail (Spanish) the Peruvian presidential election with unfounded claims of election fraud. Netanyahu likewise claimed his election loss was the result of “the greatest election fraud in the history of the country, in my opinion in the history of any democracy.” Netanyahu failed to provide evidence for his claims.

Elections

Batley and Spen by-election vote next week
All eyes are on Batley and Spen over the next few days as the contest, widely seen as a key test for Keir Starmer’s leadership, plays out. The election to replace the new Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, will be held on July 1st.

Public confidence in elections at record high
The Electoral Commission’s annual public attitude research focuses on how people feel about the process of voting and democracy. This year’s report found record public confidence in the running of elections and with the process of voting and registering to vote — though just 14% felt that political financing was transparent, down from 37% in 2011. 7 out of 10 people think online political ads should be transparent and two thirds say voter ID would increase their confidence in the security of the voting system.

Government response to consultation on digital imprints for online campaigning material
Last week the government published their response to the consultation on how digital imprints should be implemented. Minister of state for the Constitution and Devolution, Chloe Smith MP, made an accompanying written statement.

Democracy Club write to the new Chair of the Electoral Commission, John Pullinger
The letter petitions the EC to deliver more digital services and provide a trustworthy source of good information for elections, that the Commission should bring DC’s services in-house and appoint a new Chief Digital Officer. Peter Keeling is preparing Democracy Club’s report on the 2021 elections.

House of Commons Library briefing on recall elections
The briefing explores the Recall process and its history since introduction in 2015. A recall special election has been triggered just once, to recall Peterborough Labour MP Fiona Onasanya after their 2018 conviction and prison sentence.

TheProgAlliance working to boost awareness of the upcoming Batley and Spen by-election
Jon Morter and the team spent the last month building awareness of the Chesham & Amersham by-election, which is becoming markedly more difficult they report, now that Twitter is “coming down much harder on those with ‘additional’ Twitter accounts.”

Devolved Democracy & Local Government

Cabinet Office ordered to disclose polling on the Union and spend
Tommy Sheppard MP, the SNP constitutional affairs spokesperson, sent an FOI request seeking information on government polling on public perceptions of the Union since January 2018 and how much the UK government has spent on it. The Cabinet Office refused the request, but has now been ordered to disclose the information requested.

Launch of cross-border campaign for Scottish independence
Campaign for Scottish independence, the People United, launches. Bringing together founders of the former Radical Independence Campaign, Catalonian movement organisers and figures from across the British left, the project aims to internationalise the cause for Scottish independence and contest the SNP’s leadership of the independence cause.

The Local Authority Podcast
FutureGov have teamed up with Local Government Chronicle to produce a new monthly podcast bringing together leaders from the sector to explore the most pressing topics and challenges to LAs. The first episode covers the topic of democracy and remote meetings with guest star Jackie Weaver.

House of Commons Library Briefing on the Northern Ireland Bill 2021–2022
The NI Bill implements aspects of the New Decade, New Approach agreement (NDNA). The NDNA restored the government of the Northern Ireland Executive after a three-year hiatus following the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal. Read the briefing.

Home Rule for Scotland?
Kenny MacAskill, former MSP, MP and Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice, puts forward the case of Home Rule for Scotland.

Democracy & Media

Carnegie evaluate the Online Safety Bill
The Carnegie Trust have been digging into the detail of the bill and have published their initial analysis. Other organisations have published their initial reactions in the past few weeks including Hope Not Hate, Hacked Off, Impress and legal firm Osborne Clarke. Just to recap, the House of Commons Library published an updated briefing note at the end of May, with helpful chronological detail marking the evolution of the bill.

Join Public Interest News Foundation for the launch of their 2021 UK Index
Launching July 8th, the Index is the first ever comprehensive survey of the independent news sector in the UK.

New analysis on electoral integrity from Technology and National Security APPG
The APPG for Technology and National Security has published an analysis of the impact of misinformation and disinformation on electoral integrity; and Darren Jones MP, the APPG’s Chair, wrote an op-ed for Red Box on the findings

Despite what they say, TikTok isn’t free from partisan ads — Mozilla report
TikTok have long claimed they’ve banned all political advertising. Mozilla’s investigation reveals how political influencers are flying under the radar on the platform.

Ofcom publishes their annual Online Nation research
The research is supplemented by two detailed reports on misinformation from LSE and consulting firm Yonder.

How to help civil society disinformation researchers flourish
Samantha Bradshaw and Lisa-Maria Neudert of the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies analyse how civil society organisations (CSOs) play a central role in addressing disinformation’s growing impact on democracy. The research highlights clear paths forward for enhancing capacity to combat disinformation, such as community building amongst CSOs, better access to social media data and an improved skills base.

Education

Votes for Schools polls school children
Lizzy Lewis, Head of Impact at Votes for Schools, reports they poll roughly 30,000+ children and young people every week. Results are in for last week’s vote on the refugee crisis. They also announced the winners of the Student Voice Awards.

New advanced course on post-legislative scrutiny at the University of London
Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies at the University of London (IALS-UoL) announce a new Advance Certified Course on Post-Legislative Scrutiny. The course is intended for MPs, senior parliamentary staff and academics, the course will run throughout July. Read the syllabus and sign up here.

And Finally…

The double edged sword of legislative change
Amy Gibbs at Sheila McKechnie Foundation blogs about the unintended consequences of success and legislative change.

TheyWorkForYou’s API can be used for a lot of things
Including generating Hansard Haiku.

Featured Upcoming Events

The Centre for Democracy maintains a full database of events from across the democracy sector.

View the database here — Have we missed something? Add it here!

Big Tent Ideas Festival returns next month
Trin Gong, Events Assistant at the Big Tent Foundation, reports that their in-person political festival will run on Saturday 10th July in Coventry. The theme of the festival is Healthier, Cleaner, Creative Growth to Build Back Better.

Learning from the 1997 Blair-Ashdown Tactical Voting Deal | Get PR Done!
Thursday 24 June, 7pm
Neal Lawson, Director at Compass, spills the beans on the largest and most productive tactical voting programme ever launched in the UK. Register for the event here.

Active Job Listings across the Democracy Sector

View the full database of upcoming job listings here — have we missed any? Add them via this form.

Apply ASAP

Jobs with upcoming deadlines

Unsalaried job listings

Other paid opportunities

  • Elect Her are hiring a freelancer to develop their library of downloadable resources. If you’re interested get in touch with Hannah Stevens.

We’ve been experimenting with the format of this bulletin and the accompanying meetup, if you have any feedback we’d be glad to hear it.

If you can’t make our weekly meetup, you can always drop in to the meetup document of the current fortnight and add to it by going to democracymeetup.org.uk.

See you next time,

James, Molly, and The Centre for Democracy team

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Strengthening the networks of people working for a better democracy — If we want things to change, we need to start talking to each other more. Start here.

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Centre for Democracy

Strengthening the networks of people working for a better democracy — If we want things to change, we need to start talking to each other more. Start here.