UK Democracy Bulletin, 14th February

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 300+ 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

  • Boris Johnson clings on
  • Northern Ireland power sharing institutions saved from immediate collapse
  • Democracy Network hosting a development day next month
  • Elections Bill hundreds rally against the Bill
  • House of Lords demands political culture change
  • UK constitution institute for government and bennett institute launch joint review

Thanks to everyone who joined us for last week’s Democracy Meetup

Thanks to everyone who joined us last week for our Democracy Meetup. We were joined by Titus Alexander of Democracy Matters, Joe Mitchell — Programme Manager at Public Interest News Foundation & The Centre for Democracy, Jon Morter of The Progressive Alliance, Jessie Joe Jacobs — Coordinator at Democracy Network, Edward Saperia — Dean at Newspeak House, Frances Scott — Director at 50:50 Parliament, Ciaran Cummins — Researcher at Demos, Shima Langan — Communications Officer at Shout Out UK, Martha Mackenzie — Executive Director at the Civic Power Fund, Theodore Keloglou — Founder at the Chaitin School, Diane Sims — Co-organiser at Notwestminster and Trin Gong — Events Assistant at RADIX Big Tent Ideas.

If you’d like to share your updates or contribute to the next issue of this bulletin, visit next week’s Democracy Meetup document.

Democracy Sector

Big Changes at Democracy Club

With the new year, comes a new team, reports Peter Keeling, who oversees voting information at Democracy Club. Four new members are joining the DC team, including Eleesha Taylor-Barrett as their 2022 Elections Assistant and Mevan Babakar — who is stepping into the role of interim CEO, having been a member of the Democracy Club board since 2018. But if two new core members wasn’t enough, they’re also onboarding two new board members — Ashley Hodges — Chief Executive of Young Citizens and formerly of Speakers for Schools, and Susan Simmonds — a strategic communications and capacity building consultant.

Massive turnout for Elections Bill protests

From London to Manchester, Make Votes Matter and democracy organisations across the UK came out on Saturday 5th Feb in a show of support for a fairer voting system, against the provisions of the Elections Bill. Take a look at the photos from the day over on the Democracy Defence Coalition’s Twitter.

Democracy Network hiring, readying a Development Day

Democracy Network Coordinator Jessie Joe Jacobs is preparing a day of ideation to draw out some key themes and ideas for the new network. The workshop will aim to understand what the sector’s vision is for a better democracy and how to better coordinate and resource activities within the sector. Jessie also highlights they’re currently recruiting a Communications and Advocacy Officer to assist in the delivery of the Democracy Network.

Notwestminster asks: What’s your one best hope for local democracy?

With Notwestminster just around the corner on February 26th, they want answers to the question: What’s your one best hope for local democracy. They’re collecting responses to this question across this month to share with the wider network. Register now and join Diane Sims and the team for a day of participant-led workshops and lightning talks on local democracy in Huddersfield.

Civic Power Fund wants to hear from community organisers

Civic Power Fund (CPF) is the UK’s first pooled donor fund dedicated to community organising (CO). They’re investing in CO directly, building the infrastructure and leadership that CO needs to thrive. Are you involved in community organising? Do you know of brilliant projects or people that Civic Power Fund should be speaking to? Get in touch with Martha Mackenzie, Executive Director of the CPF.

Grab your early bird ticket now for RADIX Big Tent Ideas Festival, Bristol June 11th

Big Tent Ideas are back! Well known for their annual festivals composed of rich discussions and workshops involving those from across the UK political spectrum, they’ve been on pause since the pandemic hit and have now teamed up with think tank Radix. For a taster of their events, they’ve got an event on the Northern Ireland Protocol coming up later this month. Register now for your Big Tent Ideas Festival early bird ticket.

House of Lords once again try to abolish Hereditary Peer By-Elections

Lord Bruce Grocott has put another bill before Parliament to abolish the by-elections through which hereditary peers are replaced. Despite widespread support on both sides of the Lords, the current bill, and Lord Grocott’s previous bills introduced in 2016 and 2017, will not and have not so far been able to proceed through the Commons. For more information, see David Beamish’s Constitution Unit blog post.

House of Lords demands culture change

The House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution publishes major new report following its inquiry into future UK governance. The report, Respect and Co-operation: Building a Stronger Union for the 21st century, draws on evidence from the Yorkshire Devolution Movement, the Electoral Reform Society and the APPG on Deliberative Democracy, amongst others. The Committee says there is a ‘clear opportunity to reset relationships and achieve a better functioning union’, calling on the Government to ‘articulate a compelling vision and narrative for the UK in the 21st century — and an end to the top down Whitehall mindset.

Joe Mitchell ponders a Democracy Observatory

Last week Joe Mitchell, Programme Manager at Public Interest News Foundation, had a chat with Migration Observatory (MO) about the prospects for a Democracy Observatory. According to Joe, they felt it wasn’t a bad idea, but that for the MO they built upon an existing need — people were talking about migration. The problem according to Migration Observatory is that not many people talk about democracy! This isn’t the first time Joe’s considered a Democracy Observatory. Sound like a good idea to you? Get in touch with Joe.

Institute for Government and the Bennett Institute for Public Policy launch joint review of the UK constitution

With Brexit and COVID-19 placing strain on the already beleaguered British system, the new review will look at what works, what doesn’t and how we can improve the situation. Their first paper looks at three key relationships, between citizens and the state, the different tiers of government across the UK and the government, parliament and the judiciary. IfG and the Bennett Institute will explore these problems over the next 18 months, making recommendations for reform where necessary. For a complete picture of the review, see Maddy Thimont Jack’s recent Twitter thread on the review.

New Commission on Political Power announced

The Commission aims to generate a national debate on legislative and structural form of the UK political system. The Commission on Political Power are expecting to publish a White Paper in Spring 2022. The commission has received funding from Julian Richer of Richer Sounds.

Democratic wellbeing under threat, Carnegie UK

The new report argues we should aim to measure ‘collective wellbeing’ based on social, economic, environmental and democratic outcomes — contrasted to the ONS’ which focuses on the social and economic. Carnegie found 41% of people in England say ‘democracy is not working’ and that the biggest threats to democracy are a ‘loss of trust and corruption’.

Responses to the Levelling Up White Paper

Involve and Demos have published responses to the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper. The two responses lauded the ambition of the new policy, to bring about a more ‘united society’, but highlighted the absence or lack of emphasis in certain areas, including the absence of plans for large scale fiscal transfers between rich and poor areas, the lack of proposals to strengthen relationships between communities and institutions, and in short — a lot of talk about the importance of local leadership, but limited practical policy that will make the vision a reality.

50:50 preparing for International Women’s Day

Frances Scott, Founder of 50:50, is working with UN Women, the Fawcett Society and the Women in Parliament APPG for a special International Women’s Day event in Parliament. The event is being supported by Lloyds Banking Group.

Biden’s Democracy Summit — Next Steps

The December 2021 Summit called for a year of action by participant countries to make democracies more responsive and resilient, and to build a broader community of partners committed to global democratic renewal. A follow up event is planned for December 2022.

Newspeak House hosting event on product development in collective decision making

Run by the Chaitin School of Software Engineering, the event at Newspeak House will see attendees working together to ideate and design a new piece of software for collective decision making. Could this event birth a new Pol.is or Consul? Find out and register for the event via Meetup.

People Powered’s new Guide to Digital Participation Platforms

With so many digital participation platforms to choose from the team over at People Powered have produced a full guide to their use and execution, including a set of comparisons for ‘complex’, ‘simple’ and ‘speciality’ platforms from across the globe. View the full guide and platform ratings.

Centre for Democracy mulling a special local elections event

It’s early days but we’re currently planning a special elections event at Newspeak House. Stay tuned.

Integrity & Transparency

Keir Starmer subject to intimidation following Jimmy Savile smears

The Labour leader was bundled into a police car to escape an angry group of protesters. The incident followed spurious comments made by the Prime Minister last week that Keir Starmer failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile in his former role as the head of the Crown Prosecution Service. Starmer has now laid blame on the PM’s comment for inciting the group that harassed him.

Boris Johnson survives

With the release of the Sue Gray update detailing twelve UK Government parties during the height of the pandemic, including one in the Prime Minister’s own residence, Boris Johnson faced a wave of senior letters of no confidence, including the resignation of five key advisors. The previous week saw the defection of Bury South Conservative MP, Christian Wakeford to the Labour Party.

Decline into illiberal democracy on the cards, former TI head warns

Professor Robert Barrington warns that the ongoing actions of the Johnson Government risk accelerating Britain’s democratic-backsliding even further, highlighting the Prime Minister’s co-option of the Metropolitan Police and failure to follow established codes of conduct. Robert Barrington is Professor of Anti-Corruption Practice at the Centre for the Study of Corruption in the University of Sussex and was formerly the head of Transparency International UK.

Labour leader cleared of lockdown rules breach

Durham Constabulary said they do not believe any offence was committed in April 2021 when Sir Keir was pictured with a bottle of beer in the office of City of Durham MP Mary Foy. The image of the Labour leader was brought to light last month as public focus on partygate intensified.

Disregard for integrity has become marked feature of Johnson’s premiership, claims Andrew Ryder

Author of Britain and Europe at a Crossroads: The Politics of Anxiety and Transformation, Andrew Ryder, argues that the Partygate scandal runs much deeper than the work culture at the heart of government or Johnson’s personal failings — it is emblematic of a decline in public standards that has sharply escalated since the 2016 referendum. Andrew Ryder is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Eötvös Lorànd University in Budapest.

Kill the Bill riot charges prompt alarm over civil liberties

Dozens of young people are currently facing serious charges of riot over the protests last year, in what amounts to the biggest use of the public order offence since the 1980s. The charges have given some the impression of ‘revenge policing’, similar to the actions of the officers involved in the protests allegedly using illegal tactics following several nights of violent clashes.

Devolved Democracy & Local Government

Northern Irish power-sharing institutions saved from collapse

Alan Whysall, Honorary Senior Research Associate at the Constitution Unit, argues that the foundations of the Good Friday Agreement are at serious risk of crumbling. Last week DUP First Minister Paul Givan resigned over the Northern Ireland Protocol, just hours after DUP Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots instructed border staff to halt NI Protocol checks on goods at Northern Irish ports. Alan remarks that it appears we are witnessing the making good of DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldon’s threats to collapse the institutions over the Protocol, in part at least to force London’s gaze to resolve the issue and seek a replacement of the Protocol. In recent days, a UK Parliamentary Bill encompassing elements of the New Deal, New Approach agreement, which aimed to prevent power sharing collapses, received Royal Assent last Thursday, allowing the NI Assembly to continue without an executive for at least six months, staving off immediate collapse.

Demos developing their vision for ‘relational local government’

Continuing from their recent landmark report The Social State, Demos have been setting out the detail of this vision. Ciaran Cummins, Researcher at Demos, argues that this relational local government has three key pillars: genuine power sharing, spaces for connection and consistent and open communication.

Democracy & Media

British Broadcasting Challenge

A new initiative backed by Sir David Attenborough to promote a public discussion on the future of UK public service broadcasting has launched. View or support the campaign.

The Bureau joined by new CEO and Editor-in-Chief, Rozina Breen

A champion of diversity and inclusion in newsrooms, Rozina has a wealth of experience to bring to the Bureau team, most recently heading up BBC News in the north of England.

Talking Politics are winding down

After 6 years and 300 episodes, Talking Politics are muting their mics. Whilst their archives will remain accessible, and they’ve still got a handful of episodes to go, they wanted to finish the project on a high note. If you missed Talking Politics, you’ve got a huge back catalogue of discussion and analysis to get through!

Don’t miss out on this great democracy podcast

Untelevised have put out a great little mini-series on all things democracy. We love their presentation style. Give it a listen now.

And Finally…

Daya Eseonu on Afrofuturism and deliberation on the PSA blog

Ciaran Cummins at Demos recommends this brilliant blog by Daya Eseonu’s on Afrofuturism and knowledge production in participatory and deliberative spaces published on the Political Studies Association’s blog.

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

We’ve been experimenting with the format of this email 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, add to your calendar

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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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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