UK Democracy Bulletin, 6th April 2022

Fortnightly news, jobs, grants and gossip from the democracy sector, brought to you by James Moulding, Molly Hudson and Max Roche 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

  • Online Safety Bill new coalition forming
  • Ukraine global protests mark one month as humanitarian catastrophe laid bare
  • SOPN Day help Democracy Club collate all candidates standing this May
  • Democracy Network welcomes new team member and hosts development workshops
  • IMPRESS launch consultation on new Standards Code
  • Fixed Term Parliaments Act is no more

In case you missed it…

Sign the Centre for Democracy’s Ecosystem Pledge

With one year since we launched the Centre for Democracy, it is one year since we launched the Ecosystem Pledge, now backed by 69 signatory organisations, including Involve, Unlock Democracy, mySociety and 50:50 Parliament. Together, we pledge:

We are individuals and organisations working to improve democracy in the UK. We acknowledge that there are many other organisations working towards the same goal. We believe that, if we want things to change, we need to start talking to each other more.

If you would like to add you and your organisation’s name to the list of signatories, please email pledge@centrefordemocracy.org.uk.

Thanks to our contributors

Thanks to everyone who joined us last week for our Democracy Meetup. This week we were joined by Myf Nixon — Comms Manager at mySociety, James Clarke — Head of Outreach at True & Fair, Katy Rubin — Legislative Theatre Practitioner, Trin Gong — Events Assistant at Radix Big Tent, Matt Hawkins — Compassion in Politics, Roland Storti — Founder & CEO at Minfo UK, Jessie Joe Jacobs — Coordinator at Democracy Network, Josh Russell — Forward Democracy, Ciaran Cummins — Researcher at Demos, Will Snell — Chief Executive at Fairness Foundation, Grace Barnett — Unlock Democracy, Sam Welsh — Partnerships Coordinator at Votes For Schools, Joe Mitchell — Programme Manager at Public Interest News Foundation.

Upcoming Legislation

New coalition forms around the Online Safety Bill

Kyle Taylor, Matt Gallagher and the Fair Vote UK team are busy pulling together a new coalition on the Online Safety Bill (OSB). The OSB coalition will differ from previous work on the Elections Bill. By comparison the Elections Bill is relatively straightforward, whilst the OSB is a much broader and more nuanced piece of legislation, where organisations across the UK democracy space may agree or disagree on certain aspects. However, Kyle and the team suggest working on where collaboration is possible, developing a conceptual space to boost overall campaigning on the OSB and share collective resources. The Bill is due for Second Reading on 19 April, with Committee in mid-May, Lords in September and passage possibly as soon as December. If you’d like to sign up to receive updates on the coalition sign up via this Google Form.

OSB Coalition makes recommendations to Secretary of State

A coalition of organisations have written to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, Rt Hon Nadine Dorries MP urging that the Online Safety Bill protects free speech, tackles the true drivers of online harm, and ensures transparency in digital regulation. If you want to be part of this initiative, fill in this Google form.

Democracy Defence Coalition sends briefing to non-Conservative peers ahead of report stage

With the Election Bill’s report stage coming up, the Democracy Defence Coalition is sending this briefing out to peers today. The aim here is to bring everyone together to support the peers briefings and shut down the government on key areas of the Bill, as happened with the Police Bill. In other news, the Government has conceded Clauses 25 and 27 relating to 3rd party campaigning.

Share Unlock Democracy & Shout Out UK’s new video

The new video fact checks the government’s claims that photo ID will make our elections fairer and more secure. Can your organisation share the video and help push back on photo ID?

Good summary of Nationality and Borders Bill from Refugee Action

Refugee Action have tweeted a summary of the Nationality and Borders Bill that is well worth reading, complete with its implications for asylum seekers. Refugee Action recently published a new report, All Punishment, No Protection, on how the proposed changes could impact asylum claims in the UK.

Full Fact express concerns over Online Safety Bill

The government introduced the Online Safety Bill to Parliament on Thursday 17th March. The bill will usher in a number of new laws designed to protect the public from harmful online information. Full Fact have raised a number of concerns however, criticising what they see as its failure to “tackle harmful misinformation and protect freedom of expression”.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) speak out against the Nationality and Borders Bill

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have condemned the Commons vote on the Nationality and Borders Bill on Tuesday 24th as “shameful” after just four Conservative MPs voted against the government. They suggest that if the bill passes, the UK will become “one of the most anti-refugee countries in the world”.

Russia-Ukraine War

Scale of humanitarian catastrophe laid bare in recent weeks

European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen backs a new EU probe into reported Russian war crimes in Ukraine. The EU is understood to be sending Eurojust investigation teams on the ground to support the Ukrainian Prosecution Services. The International Court of Justice launched an investigation late February into the war in Ukraine, and countries around the EU backed the ICJ probe. Russia has denied accusations of war crimes.

Global protests mark one month since Ukraine invasion

President Volodymyr Zelensky called for a worldwide show of support to mark one month since Russia invaded Ukraine, and the world answered. Hundreds of thousands turned out in London on the 26th March, with similar scenes in cities around the world.

Ukrainian activists circumvent Russian information embargo

Activists and campaigners in Ukraine are attempting to break Russia’s tight regulation of information by using ‘pop-up’ notifications and Facebook ads to tell the real story of the invasion to ordinary Russian citizens. With international press organisations like the BBC banned from operating in Russia, these activists are attempting to keep access to information open in whatever form possible.

Economic Crime Bill gains Royal Assent

The new Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act received Royal Assent on Tuesday 15th March ushering in new laws allowing quicker and more readily available sanctions to combat Russian oligarchs and the flow of ‘dirty money’ around the UK economy. The government has also established a new ‘Kleptocracy Unit’ to investigate assets belonging to Russian President Vladimir Putin in London.

Elections

It’s SOPN Day! Can you help Democracy Club record all the candidates in their database?

Candidate lists are being released today, check out Democracy Club’s Twitter for info on how you can help! Democracy Club are also recording all hustings events across the UK, which will be promoted on WhoCanIVoteFor. If you’re running an event, or know of one, report it to DC via this form. Likewise, if you’ve seen an election leaflet, upload it here.

Back the pledge on political advertising

Reform Political Advertising and Compassion in Politics have teamed up for an election pledge this year on ‘ensuring that claims made in political adverts are fact-checked, reliable and traceable’, and for campaigners to seek to improve the conduct of our politics. If your organisation would like to back the pledge, please contact Matt Hawkins at Compassion in Politics.

Labour press government to stop expatriates donating to political parties and voting in elections

The Labour Party continues to oppose the Election Bill. The bill currently includes proposals to make it easier for expatriates that were born in the UK but that have lived abroad for most of their lives to donate to political parties and vote in UK elections. Labour opposes what they see as the exposure of the electoral system to outside influence, citing recent allegations of Tory party links to Russian funds as a key example of the overseas financialisation of British politics.

Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill receives Royal Assent

The Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill received Royal Assent on the 24th of March. The new legislation overturns the 2011 Fixed Term Parliamentary Act meaning the Prime Minister will once again be able to call an early election at a time of their choosing. The power this brings to the executive and ruling party has been met with concern by some.

Gina Miller launches new political party

True & Fair is a new political party led by Gina Miller arguing for a ‘radical modernising’ of the machinery of government, a ‘cleaning up’ of our politics and a ‘multidimensional’ approach to policymaking. You can watch Gina’s launch speech on YouTube.

Orbán election win sets stage for more EU battles on democracy

Hungarian conservative nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has won a fourth consecutive term in elections this weekend. More than 53% of Hungarians voted in favour of Fidesz in the national list, according to the results, with the Orbán’s party taking 88 of 106 available voting districts across the country. With reports of bussing voters and election fraud rampant in the country, the results portend a continuation of Fidesz’s policies to undermine democratic norms in the country.

Democracy Sector

Democracy Network hosting upcoming events on Online Safety Bill, Citizens’ Assemblies and Academic Collaboration

Democracy Network are hosting three upcoming events, including:

For more events hosted by democracy organisations across the UK, see the Centre for Democracy’s event database.

Democracy Network host development workshop

Last month more than 40 people from as many organisations came together to help chart a course for the fledgling network, trying to answer questions around purpose, structure and networking approaches. You can find Jessie Joe Jacob’s follow up Interim Report in our Dropbox here.

Pilar Girvan joins the Democracy Network team!

Joining Involve’s Democracy Network as an Advocacy & Communications Officer, Pilar will be primarily involved in the development of the Democracy Network.

Call out for Democracy Research Collaboration Guide

George Bolton, Centre for Democracy, and Graham Smith, Centre for the Study of Democracy, invite democracy orgs to take part in a new project recently funded by the University of Westminster. The project involves co-producing a Democracy Research Collaboration Guide, aimed at facilitating a better working relationship between academics and practitioners across the democracy sector. The project involves two core stages, interviewing to explore the problems and challenges, and then two workshops with participants to co-produce the Guide, based on insights from the interviews. If you’ve previously collaborated with academics, sign up here to participate in the project — if you’ve not previously collaborated with academia, please sign up here.

Centre for Democracy’s Co-Working Day goes down a treat

What a fantastic day! Thank you to everyone that joined us over the course of the day in central London to celebrate the Centre for Democracy’s first anniversary. Some even joined us from as far away as Land’s End and Peterborough. So much fun and so many great discussions & connections, we may have to organise another! Check out the pictures!

Onward and Create Streets to hold conference on strengthening democracy and community building

Onward and Create Streets are set to hold Restitch: The Social Fabric Summit. The conference will be in London on May 24th and Halifax on May 27th and will explore themes of how to rebuild our communities in the face of the increasing polarisation of politics and society. Check out the event page and sign up for an important discussion on how we can rebuild society from the ground up.

Sheila McKechnie Foundation Report encourages new way of thinking about power and social change

A new report, It’s All About Power, from the Sheila McKechnie Foundation offers a new way to think about power within social movements and how we can create more equitable partnerships with groups with lived experience. Join SMK for a participatory workshop on the 19th of April to discuss how to put these principles into practice and create more effective forms of solidarity.

E-campaigning forum resumes in Oxford

The annual event of the Electronic Campaigning Forum (ECF) community of campaigners, fundraisers and basically everyone involved in campaigning — is this week on this week on the 5–7th April. It’s not too late to join, with many events and activities online. They also host an excellent jobs board and community forum.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy host first-ever conference on Environmental Democracy

Westminster Foundation for Democracy held their first environment conference 29–31st of March discussing environmental democracy in the context of the rising tides of authoritarian politics and climate change. Check them out on Twitter for updates on what will have been a fascinating event.

Reflecting on Legislative Theatre

Katy Rubin, Legislative Theatre (LT) practitioner, and Charlotte Bamford, LT co-facilitator of the Glasgow Youth-Led Climate Crisis Legislative Theatre, wrote an article for The Forge — a US based journal on community organising. The piece considers the challenges and opportunities of engaging in creative participatory democracy in partnership with local government. The Manchester Meteor also recently wrote a piece on the outcomes of the 2020/2021 LT project focused on homelessness.

Big Tent Ideas Festival headed to Bristol

Marked for the 10th & 11th of June, the public Bristol festival will focus on the future of the media, regeneration and net zero. There will also be an invite-only event, the Big Tent Summit, focused on city-led regeneration. If you’d like more information or an invite, contact Georgie at Big Tent.

Rebecca Deegan considers political literacy metrics and evaluation

I Have A Voice’s Founder, Rebecca Deegan, is currently pondering measures, or a measure, of political literacy, and is plotting a roundtable on it this summer. If this sounds like something you’d like to chime in on, pop them a message.

Demos on the Great British Inbox and upcoming Future of Activism report

Having conducted dozens of interviews with activists across the spectrum, Ciaran Cummins, Researcher at Demos, is in the final stages of polishing off their new report on the impact of covid upon activism and the challenges of new pressures and intensifying crisis on activists. But whilst you’re waiting for that to slide into your inboxes, here’s a blog post by Ciaran on the Great British Inbox aka Jacob Rees-Mogg’s strategy for public participation — and no, he isn’t making this up.

Fairness Foundation identify democracy as key focus issue of fairness in UK

Will Snell, Chief Executive of the Fairness Foundation (FF), is currently designing an annual UK ‘fairness index’ that will use external indicators to summarise the state of the nation in relation to FF’s five ‘fair necessities’, with democracy emergies as a key focus issue for fairness.

DemSoc outline their Theory of Change for improving democracy

DemSoc have published their Theory for Change report highlighting the changing nature of democracy as well as their own ambitions for promoting change. The report outlines the need to build a ‘networked democracy’ in response to an increasingly digitised and globalised world.

Act Build Change hold online event on accountability in organising

Act Build Change held an online community meetup last week on the topic of accountability. Led by Alex Johnston of Transforming Together, the event explored the role and value of accountability in organising, as well as the tools available to implement proper community accountability. Follow them on Twitter for updates on future sessions.

UK “driving a world-leading project on trust in democracy”

Joe Mitchell, Programme Manager at Public Interest News Foundation, questions the sincerity of the UK Government’s statement of commitments to the US Summit for Democracy…

KNOCA to hold introductory talk on Climate Assemblies

Knowledge Network on Climate Assemblies (KNOCA) are holding an introductory talk on April 20th exploring the key features of climate assemblies. The event will provide a great opportunity for anyone curious about democratic solutions to the climate crisis to come and ask questions and explore the potential of this model. Bjørn Bedsted, organiser of the Danish Climate Assembly, will host the event.

Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform discuss routes to proportional representation

Earlier this month Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform (LDER) held an online cross party session on the routes to proportional representation. The session was chaired by Unlock Democracy chief Tom Brake and you can catch the online recording on YouTube if you missed it.

Local Trust launch new Podcast — The Community Power

Local Trust have teamed up with the Community Wealth Fund to produce a new podcast on the power of community organising. The podcast explores the potential behind giving people on the ground the power, resources and financial opportunities to bring about change on their patch.

Founders of New Citizenship Project to discuss new book ‘Citizens’

Sheila McKechnie Foundation will host an online conversation with Jon Alexander and Irenie Ekkeshis to discuss the publication of their new book Citizens: Why the Key to Fixing Everything Is All of Us. Join in on April 27th for a deep dive into the ideas behind the book.

Largest annual politics festival returns to Yorkshire

The Festival of Debate returns to South Yorkshire this year with speakers including Jeremy Corbyn, George Monbiot, and the unmissable, Jackie Weaver. Events run from April to June so be sure to check out the event schedule and take your pick.

Anglia Ruskin University to hold event on ‘the wisdom of the crowd’

Join philosopher Henrik Schoeneberg for an in-person event in Cambridge on the roots of collective consciousness and the ‘wisdom of the crowd’. Can these ancient dynamics be applied to help build resilience in our modern democratic institutions? Get over to Cambridge to find out.

Integrity & Transparency

Hope Not Hate Report highlights lack of faith in UK democracy and political establishment

Hope Not Hate have published their annual State of Hate report which has found that over half of the population (57%) are not satisfied with the way democracy works in the UK and 44% think our political system needs major changes. The report also expresses fears that ‘Partygate’ and a number of bills currently passing through parliament will intensify this mistrust.

UK Constitution Monitoring Group report warns of insufficient checks and balances on ministerial power

The biannual report from The Constitution Society was published last month raising concerns about the expanding power of the UK executive. The report suggests that the impending bills on the regulation of elections, the right to protest and the treatment of refugees would all ‘enhance the discretion of the UK executive in troublesome ways’.

Ian Lucas, former MP for Wrexham, publishes new book on the breakdown of democracy

Ian Lucas has recently published a new book, Digital Gangsters, in which they explore the breakdown of democracy in the context of the emerging ‘information war’. Lucas, a key figure in the investigation into the Cambridge Analytica scandal, tells the story of how the unbridled power of social media and harvesting of online data has reshaped and undermined the democratic process.

Big Brother Watch release documentary on the rise of the ‘UK surveillance state’

A new documentary Pandemic Police State: The Rise of Authoritarianism in the UK from Big Brother Watch tracks what they see as the emergence of a surveillance state within the UK state apparatus. The documentary explores the new terrain of civil liberties that have emerged following an era of ‘coronavirus law-making’.

Devolved Democracy & Local Government

Democracy Made In England, new report from ERS

The Electoral Reform Society’s latest report on devolution charts why England lacks so far behind Scotland and Wales when it comes to devolution of power away from Westminster and electoral reform. The paper asks what now can be done for democracy in England, and why is the need now so acute?

Localis question whether ‘Levelling-up’ will initiate a meaningful devolution of power

Localis have published their response to the government’s Levelling Up White Paper. In the report, The Medici Code — The Levelling UP White Paper: Reflections and Responses, visiting fellow at Localis, Professor Colin Corpus, suggests the government’s levelling up strategy will amount to a ‘decentralisation of a range functions’ rather than a meaningful devolution of power.

New publication from LGiU explores representation in local government

The Local Government Information Unit have been exploring representation in local government amongst ethnic minorities and disabled groups. Highlighting the scarcity of information in these areas, their new publication offers a starting point from which to have more meaningful conversations about diversity in local politics.

Democracy & Media

IMPRESS launch public consultation on proposed changes to Standards Code

IMPRESS are looking for feedback on proposed changes to the IMPRESS Standards Code and guidance. The changes will help shape a new code that is appropriate for the changing face of journalism. Respond to the consultation by April 8th and have your say on the future and accountability of journalism.

Deputy Prime Minister launches call for evidence on SLAPPs

The UK currently has no law in place to tackle the use of SLAPPs — Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, which allow powerful actors to bring crippling lawsuits to investigative journalists and independent media corporations. This could soon change however as the Deputy Prime Minister has launched a call for evidence on their use in the UK. This comes amidst reports that UK law firms have been involved in preventing legitimate scrutiny in Russian oligarchs through such means.

Minfo UK working on new disinformation app

Roland Storti, Founder of Minfo UK, is working on Reveals, a new app with a Shazam-like feature allowing you to identify any speaker in any media and pull up data on them from the International Fact-Checking Network. Minfo hope the app will play a role in counteracting recent disinformation trends.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries presses ahead with Channel 4 privatisation

DCMS Select Committee Chair Juian Knight MP has questioned if the privatisation plans are a “revenge” for the channel’s relatively impartial coverage of Brexit over recent years. We Own It have started a petition against the plans. Lindsay Mackie, writing in response to the government’s then consultation on these plans in openDemocracy last September, lays out the context for the government’s actions. Journalists and senior Conservative politicians alike have come out strongly against the plans.

UNESCO report suggests worrying global decline in press freedom

UNESCO has published a report on global freedom of expression and media trends. The report warns of a worrying decline in press freedom with 85% of countries said to have experienced some sort of restriction on the freedom of the press over the last five years.

Newsquest buy out of Archant brings further centralisation to local media

Media Reform Coalition report that Newsquest will be taking over the 74 local news titles attributed to the Archant media portfolio. The takeover means Newsquest now owns 30.3% of the local and regional newspaper market. It also means 80% of local and regional news is now owned by five companies.

Labour criticise appointment of Conservative Peer as next chair of OFCOM

The decision to appoint Conservative Peer, Lord Grade, as the next chair of OFCOM has been met with scorn by Labour’s shadow minister for media, Chris Elmore. With OFCOM possibly soon to receive greater regulatory power through the Online Safety Bill, Elmore suggests this is a dangerous example of the government appointing a party insider.

Applications still open for Sounddelivery Spokesperson Programme

Sounddelivery are re-running their Spokesperson Training Programme which aims to bring visibility to voices typically excluded from the media. The programme will equip the 14 successful applicants with the expertise to harness their lived experience and become voices and changemakers within their community. Deadline for applications is April 8th.

And Finally…

Novara Media explores whether our democratic system is up to the task of combating the climate crisis

Jeremy Gilbert’s #ACFM podcast explores the anti-democratic shifts across the spectrum, what it means to be ruled by the people with an incisive take on whether our beleaguered democratic system is able to take on the climate crisis or whether we need to ‘intensify’ democracy.

Could we represent abstainers and non-voters with randomly selected citizens?

In this blog the author explores the suggestion of representing abstaining citizens with randomly selected citizens, worth a read.

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!

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 #ShowTheSalary

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, Max 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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