This weekend’s Big Tent Ideas Festival prides itself on being able to foster debate on the most important issues in a non-partisan setting. With Parliament being prorogued this week, I’m sure there will be plenty of debate about the state of UK democracy and the most effective ways to give the public a say on the crucial issues we face today.
As an event that challenges established politics and offers new ways of doing things, it is the perfect place to highlight our third manifesto demand: that government “must create and be led by the decisions of a citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice”.
In short, what we want to see is something called a citizens’ assembly which will give a representative sample of the UK population the opportunity to debate and decide how we tackle the climate and ecological emergency.
Decades of inadequate political action have led to a climate and ecological emergency that poses an unprecedented threat to humanity and all life on Earth — “politics as usual” will not meet the challenge we face.
In June the Select Committees announced plans for a citizens’ assembly aiming to reduce greenhouse gases to net-zero by 2050, but these plans lack the scale and scope that we desperately need. 2050 is way too late; we have 17 months not 31 years.
The assembly has no teeth, so the select committees are free to ignore their recommendations and the government is free to ignore the select committees.
Parliamentary democracy cannot solve long-term problems. Politicians focus on getting re-elected, so short-term policies are prioritised. A citizens’ assembly is an upgrade to democracy that fixes its flaws. People in citizens’ assemblies can think long-term about what they want for themselves, their families, and their communities. There’s no tactical voting or influential lobbyists behind the scenes.
So how would it work? Members of citizens’ assemblies are selected randomly, and in a way that the members are representative of the population on key demographic characteristics such as age, gender, region and education level. Members learn from experts such as scientists, but also those with lived experience, such as farmers who have lost crops to extreme weather, or those on the frontline such as the Fairbourne community who will become the UK’s first internal climate migrants. Members then discuss the pros and cons of policies, make value-based trade-offs and recommendations to government. In some countries, such as Poland, recommendations with over 80% support are automatically accepted.
Party politics are tribal, it’s about ‘us’ versus ‘them’. Shouting at each other across the aisle isn’t acceptable in a classroom, so why is it acceptable in the UK’s primary decision-making body? Does closing parliament and shutting down discussion sound like a healthy democracy?
Citizens’ assemblies give people the chance to discuss what matters, face to face, with others from diverse backgrounds and values. Society is a compromise, everyone’s values deserve to be taken into account. Surprisingly, citizens’ assemblies often show that people have more common ground than you might think.
Our climate crisis is an emergency. Every ounce of greenhouse gas we emit contributes to the extreme weather events killing hundreds of thousands and societal collapse. Every ounce contributes to melting permafrost (permanently frozen seas at the north and south poles); if that goes, we’re in a runaway climate situation which means the planet will be uninhabitable.
By failing to act right now, we’re condemning our children to a bleak or even non-existent future. The public has a right to respond to this crisis. We trust juries to make decisions about justice, we put someone’s life in their hands. Now, the fate of humanity rests in politicians hands and they still fail to act, it’s time to take back control over our future.
In times of crisis, we need more democracy, not less. So let this emergency be the wake up call that gets our democracy straightened out. Our current form of Parliamentary democracy is outdated, that’s why it’s not working.
We’re running out of time, and we’re running out of options. A citizens’ assembly is one of the few options we have to get the nation behind confronting our environmental disaster.
HuffPost UK is partnering with The Big Tent Ideas Festival, a day of political and cultural conversation across a range of topics from politics and society to communities and arts, taking place on 31 August in Mudchute, East London.