Last night I was pleased to be invited by Matthew Taylor to respond to his RSA Chief Executive's Lecture titled "what democracy needs now". During his lecture, which can be watched below, Matthew outlined the desperate state of liberal democracy and argued that democratic deliberation is the best starting point for systemic change.

The discussion was chaired by Involve's trustee, Julie Mellor, and we were also joined by Dr Clodagh Harris who spoke about the powerful example of the Irish Citizens' Assembly, including its role in repealing the 8th Amendment of the Constitution which banned abortion. In my comments, which can be read below, I made the case that democratic deliberation is possible and already happening in many parts of the world. 

The lecture marked the start of a campaign we're developing with the RSA calling on politicians and national and local governments to commission deliberative decision-making.

My comments

Thank you to Matthew and the RSA for inviting us to share the stage with him for this annual lecture. 

Democracy is not working as it should. Decision-makers are struggling to get things done. People are frustrated the system isn’t working for them. Everyone is feeling divided, distrustful and powerless.

The Hansard Society’s Audit of Political Engagement makes for difficult reading. Only 29% of people are satisfied with the current system of governing. And 34% feel that getting involved is effective.

Quite simply, if things don’t change, people’s lives will get worse and democracy itself will be under threat.

But things can be different, and at Involve we see it as our role to demonstrate how. We were founded in 2003 to “to create a new focus for thinking and action on the links between new forms of public participation and existing democratic institutions”. That means we’re interested in democracy beyond the ballot box. Specifically, our goal is to make participation and deliberation a much larger part of how we practice democracy in the UK.

The message I want to leave you with this evening is that it’s possible. And it’s already happening.

There’s a lot we can learn from Ireland on how their citizens’ assembly has contributed to the public and political debate on some key political, social and environmental issues for the country.

We can also take inspiration from Canada and Australia, where public deliberation is used on a regular basis at a regional and local level.

Mongolia has been using deliberative polling on the future of its constitution.

South Korea has based its nuclear energy policy on the outcomes of a deliberative poll.

The State of Oregon in the US gets 24 randomly selected citizens to provide neutral evidence and advice to voters ahead of referendums.

We’re lagging behind in the UK but took a very important step forward last week. Over the past three months, we’ve been working with two Parliamentary committees to run a Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care.

Like other important national issues - such as climate change, pensions, and housing - politicians have been unable to take the politically difficult decisions needed to fund adult social care sustainably. This has left the social care system close to crisis point and contributed to a sense among the public that the current system doesn’t work and politicians are ducking the big issues.

The Assembly brought together a representative group of 47 randomly selected English citizens to consider the question of how adult social care in England should be funded long-term.

Through 28 hours of learning, deliberation and decision-making spread over two weekends, the Assembly Members developed detailed recommendations for funding adult social care for both working age and older people. The Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care developed clear and consistent recommendations, setting out a bold new funding arrangement for adult social care.

This was the first time a Parliament in the UK had commissioned a Citizens’ Assembly. A little bit of history in itself. But the committees went one better by echoing many of the Assembly's recommendations in their own report.

Important progress. But it’s not enough.

Deliberation needs to become a defining principle of our politics and our democracy. But it needs to be high-quality deliberation.

  1. Properly resourced.

  2. Focused on where it can make a difference.

  3. And with power handed over to citizens.

That’s why we’re pleased to be working with the RSA to develop a Campaign for Deliberative Democracy. We invite you to sign up if you agree with the following statements and would like to stay involved.

  • Democracy is in peril and at risk of further erosion by the forces of elitism and populism.

  • Robust forms of deliberative democracy present an opportunity for change which strengthens representative democracy.

  • I will actively encourage politicians and national and local governments to commission deliberative decision-making as a way of enhancing their work.