Why Lib Dems should support the Citizens’ Convention Bill

Today, Unlock Democracy has launched its campaign for a Citizens’ Convention Bill. The Bill will be presented to the House of Commons today by Lib Dem Treasury Spokesperson Julia Goldsworthy MP, and it is set for its second reading debate this Friday.

The idea behind this Bill is simple: there is now broad, cross-party support for the principle that Britain’s democracy needs to be renewed, and that the people themselves must be at the centre of any new reform.

Gordon Brown launched his leadership bid pledging to “build a shared national consensus for a programme of constitutional reform.” Sir Menzies Campbell subsequently called on Brown to establish “a broadly-based Convention” which “should involve not just the political parties but also members of the public.”

Last week, the Power Inquiry launched its new campaign calling for just such a process in a statement that was signed by 101 individuals and organisations, including – among others – Baroness Shirley Williams and prominent Lib Dem supporter Claire Rayner.

The Citizens’ Convention Bill intends to take this one stage further by committing the Government to establish just such a Convention within 12 months. It isn’t at all prescriptive about how this Convention should be constituted, other than that it must seek views from across the UK and among all sections of society. There are a range of options available, from the Scottish Constitutional Convention in the mid-90s to more radical solutions such as the Citizens’ Assembly model which has been used to review the electoral system in British Columbia, Ontario and the Netherlands, in which randomly selected members of the public deliberate on an issue.

The fact that there appears to be a consensus on this issue is welcome, but that consensus is only any use if it leads to action. The Citizens’ Convention Bill points the way.

Does it stand any chance of becoming law? Well, the brains behind the campaign – Ron Bailey – and the supporting MPs were all behind the Sustainable Communities Bill, a radical piece of legislation that puts communities and councils in charge of drawing up their own local sustainable communities plans which the government has a legal obligation to co-operate with. As a result of a four year campaign involving thousands of individuals, parish councils and organisations, that Bill (a private members’ bill supported by all 63 Lib Dem MPs) is now well on the way to becoming law, having been accepted by the Government during its House of Commons third reading debate.

So popular movements can change legislation. But we don’t have four years this time.

So, please set aside five minutes today and write to your MP, asking them to sign EDM 1763: Citizens’ Convention Bill. For more information, to sign up for updates and to make a donation, check out the Unlock Democracy website: www.unlockdemocracy.org.uk.

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