Trusting the people

On several occasions on this site we have talked about Citizens’ Assemblies or Citizens’ Juries where a carefully and randomly selected group of people come together to discuss a topic of local interest. They have been used more and more around the world to try and find solutions to those tricky decisions that can so divide communities. People have great faith in democracy the assumption being that electing people who believe in certain things will result in good government, local or national. A quick look around us should have put paid to that belief.

Shortly, we shall be having local elections. We have been trying to persuade the various local parties to include CAs in their manifestos with some success. A letter by Dickie Bellringer in today’s Salisbury Journal (29 April 2021) discusses progress so far:

“There is one political party holding out against People Power in the upcoming local elections – the Conservatives. Before last week’s online candidates’ hustings , organised by the Salisbury Transition City, two Parties – Labour and the LibDems – had already committed to the idea of Citizens’ Assemblies in their manifestos.

“LibDem candidate Victoria Charleston confirmed that commitment during the debate. The idea is in the Green Party’s national manifesto and the Green candidate Rick Page nailed his Party’s flag to the local Citizens’ Assembly mast.

“Independent candidate Annie Riddle said we would needed to develop more grass roots democracy including CAs. We don’t know yet what the other Independents think. And Labour’s Clare Moody and Green’s Sarah Prinsloo made the important point, in answer to a question about how to educate people sufficiently to take part in CAs, that participants received information from expert witnesses so that they can make informed decisions.

“At Salisbury Democracy Alliance we have kept the flame flickering for Citizens’ Assemblies over the past four years despite a cold wind of indifference from the Conservatives – apart from a glimmer of hope when the former City Council leader Jeremy Nettle warmed to the idea.

“There was, however, silence from the Conservatives on the issue at the hustings and there is nothing in their manifesto. So, if the Conservatives don’t change their minds and if you don’t want to live under what Conservative peer Lord Hailsham called ‘elective dictatorship‘ don’t vote Conservative!”

Dickie Bellringer is a member of SDA

Peter Curbishley