Let’s transform our dying democratic system, now.

Neal Lawson

Thursday, 05 September 2019

We have woken up to the UK’s biggest democratic and political crisis of modern times. Our Government is not serving our Parliament. Our democracy is not serving us, the people.

Yes, of course this has something to do with Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings, but they are distractions compared to the undercurrents that have been churning for decades. 

It’s our system that breeds politicians like Johnson and their behaviour and it’s our system that allows them to exploit divisive tactics such as proroguing Parliament in the face of a disastrous No-Deal Brexit.

It is also our broken political and democratic system that brought us the irresponsible EU Referendum, fuelled division and polarisation, and then gave us three years of party-political game playing with a resolution no closer than it was on 24 June 2016. 

Protesters carrying placards on the street in Westminster on 31 August 2019

The outrage that many are feeling right now is entirely justified. We feel it too. But let’s address the causes and not the symptoms: calling to protect our democracy isn’t enough – we need to transform it.  

The Good Society we want – one where we all live fulfilling and sustainable lives – we will only make it happen through an open, inclusive, and compassionate democracy. That is why Compass’ focus is on changing the rotten foundations of our system, rather than on day-to-day hand fights.

It’s becoming ever clearer how urgent this is. Opinion polls are showing that huge numbers of people now believe that our democratic and political system is broken. Democracy has become a doorstep issue, for the first time ever. In an increasingly fractured society, our desire for better democracy has become a point of unity.

But where is the political response to this? While the Tory Government is outrageously abusing the system, Labour shows few real signs of wanting to transform it. And without deep, democratic reform, the crisis will simply fester, whoever wins any election.

As our politicians are occupied trying to rule a dying system, it’s up to us to start building the political structures and cultures that fit our 21st-century society. We, the people will have to show the way.

Compass is mobilising to help make this happen, now, working together with anyone and everyone who’s up for transforming the UK’s democracy. This initiative will go by the name of We, the People.

We are bringing people and organisations together to realise long overdue reforms, from a written constitution to a proportional voting system for all elections, and from greater devolution to a reformed second chamber.

But importantly, we are looking beyond these necessary fixes, to new participative and deliberative forms of democracy, which have the power to truly transform how we decide and do things in our country and in our daily lives. With Compass’ help, citizens’ assemblies have now firmly got onto the political agenda, and deliberative democracy is set to play a much greater role in our society, not least through a people’s convention to determine the shape of new democratic institutions.

It doesn’t stop at changing our systems, though. It can’t. This is as much about behaviour – our democratic culture. We need a politics that is empathetic, collaborative and inquiring. And through We, the People and over the course of any election campaign we will keep pushing to ensure a new politics comes with new practices, not just with new institutions. 

We live in a historic moment. It’s much bigger than Brexit or what party has the upper hand in our ailing democracy. The Brexit chaos and the democratic crisis are symptoms of a failed politics. Nothing will ever get better until we have democracy fit for the 21st century. Compass will put every ounce of its energy, creativity and influence into building democratic institutions and behaviours that make a Good Society possible.

We need your help to make lasting change happen! Here’s what you can do:

  • Join Compass – the political home for people who believe in a Good Society and know we have to change the system to change society.
  • Start the conversation on Twitter – how do we fix our broken politics?
  • Support our work – help us build a movement for a new democracy.
  • Share your views – let us know what you think below.

Your democracy needs you. Thank you for being with us in this effort. There has never been a better time for it.

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  1. Posted by Annie Hitch

    We need to move Parliament out of the historic “confrontational “ Commons Chamber and into a new, modern, semi circular debating chamber which allows electronic voting by MPs. Abolish the antiquated rules, bring MPs into the modern world and out of an environment which just continues the surroundings of their private boarding schools.

    Reply
  2. Posted by Alex Churchill

    You’re completely right! The reforms you describe are needed, as is a collaborative spirit in politics. I’m eager to see what your conversations come up with. Unfortunately one key problem is the excessive sway that a couple of key media franchises, particularly Murdoch, have over the national conversation and viewpoints. I’m not sure what the solution to this is.

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  3. Posted by Tim Williamson

    So right that we need to look at the long standing issues and at systems – not getting rattled with current traumas.
    I like the name We, the People – but I’m sure you realise how populists use the word “People” as though we are one block and not each of us as individual citizens. The current chancellor used it on r4 this morning.
    How to transduce the very fine words and attitudes into behaviour change and actions? For starters we could spell out the benefits of democracy. Here are my 6:
    1. It’s a human right
    2. It gives each of us an identity, a sense of belonging and responsibility
    3. It stops tyranny and dictatorship.
    4. It increases the effectiveness and efficiency of government.
    5. It’s an antidote to populism, tribalism and war.
    6. It limits extremism: capitalism, communism, and religious fundamentalism.

    Basically we could only enjoy these benefits by using democracy as a system that resolves citizens’ differences of opinions.

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  4. Posted by Joanne

    Boris Johnson wouldn’t have needed to be doing what he is currently doing if people hadn’t been trying to overturn a democratic majority decision. It’s the Remainers who thought it was OK to stop Brexit from happening, by shady, underhand and minipulative means, who are to blame for what Boris Johnson is being forced to do currently.

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  5. Posted by Manda Scott

    We exist in a world where political point scoring and the adversarial nature of politics pushes us ever more deeply into tribal groups where the need to ‘win’ feeds our brainstems and the fear of losing causes our amygdalas to grow (I can provide refs if necessary). We need to step away from this if we are to meet the demands of Deep Adaptation in time to avoid complete wipe out in the coming Climate breakdown.
    So we need a political system which removes tribalism from the heart of its way of working. There’s a new political movement in the US which (sadly) they’ve called the One Nation movement, but which aims to be ‘Omni-win’. We need something similar here to move us forward in a way that maximises our emotional intelligence as well as our intellectual grasp of the complexity of our times.
    Phase change emerges out of complex systems. Human extinction is not a given, it’s just highly probable, and if we continue to fight amongst ourselves, then it’s pretty much definite.

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  6. Posted by Peter Allen

    Whilst needing to look at longstanding issues we also need to deal with current traumas Tim.

    I would support, and get involved in, any attempt by Compass to relaunch its Progressive Alliance initiative. Somebody surely has to. Right now.

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  7. Posted by Samuel Carnall

    Great stuff! The insanity of the last few years should be the last nail in the coffin for this zombie political system that’s not anywhere near fit for the modern age.

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  8. Posted by Brian Fellows

    Hilary Benn has given the best answer on TV today.He said that any person buying a house would not be expected to be forced to buy if the survey came back showing major faults we were not aware of and would cost us our livelihood to go ahead. I don’t have to support his party l just have to be grateful for all these people from all parties who have a common sense attitude.He also said this is why people must be allowed to NOW Confirm if they now feel the same now
    as when they voted on BREXIT.

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  9. Posted by Marjorie Drake

    As a left wing voter in one of the safest Tory seats in the country, I feel that my vote has never counted. It must be a priority to campaign for some form of proportional representation if we are ever going to reform our democracy..

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  10. Posted by Fraser Devlin

    Spot on Neil. Please keep doing all you can to bring about these changes and let us know how else we can help. Surely we can find a silver lining to this Brexit chaos by using it as the unquestionable evidence that we, the people, need and demand a better political system. There was one a few years ago called the Power Commission which we have discussed before. Chaired by Helena Kennedy – I couldn’t think of a better chair for the next one! We need an independent Royal Commission with binding obligations to enforce the outcomes. And yes it should include Citizens Assemblies to inform its thinking. If the USA can gather its best minds 250 years ago to write down a Constitution and Bill of Rights then surely we can do it now. The failed PR referendum a few years ago prove thats not the way to bring about the sensible changes we desperately need.

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  11. Posted by Martin Childs

    ‘The failed PR referendum a few years ago’. The referendum was on the Alternative Vote (AV) which is not proportional representation. When the Tories say that we have already voted on PR and it was rejected we must be quick to counter that we have never voted on PR. In fact David Cameron specifically rejected its inclusion in the referendum in his negotiations with Nick Clegg. But we don’t need a referendum to bring in PR. We only had to have one on AV because it hadn’t been included in the Tory’s manifesto. So if Labour wins a future general election, and PR is in their manifesto, they should just pass the legislation. Labour members of Make Votes Matter are working hard with constituency parties to ultimately persuade conference to agree to just such a manifesto commitment. However, I don’t know how far they have got with it this time around. Incidentally, the Tories had a commitment in their last manifesto to make all future elections in England be by First Past The Post. They certainly weren’t going to hold any referendum on it.

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