Helping parliaments get closer to the people they represent

Helping parliaments get closer to the people they represent

By Andy Williamson A key challenge for those trying to engage a broader public in parliamentary democracy is that the processes often appear closed and opaque (because, often, they are). The language is off-putting, the procedures cumbersome and unfriendly, and it’s hard to see what’s going on. It can be hard to see any value in taking part. Digital can’t fix thefirst problem (though it can help), it should improve the second (otherwise it’s pointless) and it can significantly impact on the final two. The internet has given us the opportunity for a genuine…Read more

Reforming the House of Lords (again) and the number of Peers

David Morris MP (Conservative) recently moved a motion in Westminster Hall on ‘Reforming the House of Lords and the number of peers’. Morris spoke of a need to reduce the current number of peers and proposed a ‘better way’ to slim down whole of the Lords to 250 members. He emphasised that “this debate is trying to find a way forward where we can still retain the Lords expertise and keep them there for life, as they were originally appointed to be”. Morris framed the proposal by speaking about the current composition of…Read more

Speaker Announces Digital Democracy Commission for ‘Parliament 2.0’

The Speaker of the House of Commons has announced a ‘Digital Democracy Commission’ to look at the implications of the technological revolution for parliament and democracy. The Commission, which will begin work early in 2014, is in part a response to the rebuilding of the reputation and trust in parliament as a result of the expenses scandal. The speaker acknowledged that ‘parliament had become a dignified part of democracy without much dignity’ saying that people see parliament as ‘a green room where mainly men shout at each other for short periods of the…Read more

Empowering the Citizens’ Health Assembly

The starting conditions for a Citizens’ Health Assembly will largely decide how it develops. Get these right and the Assembly could make a constructive contribution. Get them wrong and it could be irrelevant or even damaging. This article suggests three starting conditions which could make it develop effectively, through a direct relationship with Parliament; by giving it a specific task such as the NHS Mandate and Call to Action; and by starting with local and regional forums. To test these or any other options it is worth running simulations and pilots to test…Read more

Seven ideas for Open Parliaments

The Opening Parliament blog has seven tips on opening up Parliaments, taken from discussion at Personal Democracy Forum Poland. Most are also relevant to Open Policymaking (hat-tip, too, for Giulio Quaggiotto from UNDP). I particularly liked:4. Understanding why citizens engage: Meeting citizens’ expectations for use of PMO websites is important to attracting repeat users. Ostling identified some reasons citizens use PMO websites, including: they receive answers from MPs; they believe PMO information to be trustworthy and neutral; they desire to build support for their priorities/beliefs. As Paul Lenz of mySociety noted in a…Read more

European Parliament get social mauling

It was not a huge story, but the European Parliament came in for some stick from the Daily Telegraph the other day, for using social media monitoring tools to find out what people were saying about Europe. Obviously the EU is for media paranoia what catnip is for cats, but it's a warning to policymakers and others who are trying to understand what people across social media and other networks are saying. It may be published information, it may be out there in the open, but that doesn't mean that some people won't…Read more

Involve submits evidence to PASC inquiry

Simon Burall from Involve is in front of the Public Administration Select Committee tomorrow, along with Professor Nigel Shadbolt of Southampton University and Mike Bracken of the Government Digital Service talking about public engagement with policymaking. You can follow the session live from 9.30amThis second evidence session in the Committee’s inquiry into public engagement will provide an opportunity to explore the Government’s practical proposals for the implementation of a new “open” model of policy making, and its commitment to becoming “digital by default”. Particular issues to be explored may include: The implications for…Read more

Referendums: still not democratic

Another day, another proof that referendums are the tool of the powerful, not of the people. Today's comes from David Cameron. The Guardian reports that he's trying to force a Scottish independence referendum earlier than the SNP would like to hold it - in the next eighteen months rather than in 2014. Whatever the legal merits of this move (and the Robert Hazell from the UCL Constitution Unit says it's a bit dodgy), it's a reminder of how referendums, from the timing of the vote, to the wording of the question, to the…Read more

Sure, but is it in Magna Carta?

Is there a word for people who have a manically exaggerated respect for the US Constitution? Ultra-constitutionalists perhaps? Anyway, whatever they're called, they've just been hugely outdone by three Republican members of the New Hampshire General Court, who have proposed a procedural Bill that in its entirety reads: "All members of the general court proposing bills and resolutions addressing individual rights or liberties shall include a direct quote from the Magna Carta which sets forth the article from which the individual right or liberty is derived." Slaves counting as three-fifths of a person? Modern…Read more

Oh for a democratic dictatorship

There's a slightly odd article by Francis Fukuyama in today's FT.  His argument is that the checks and balances in the US constitution have hardened (under pressure from more ideological politics) into a situation where nothing can be done due to the presence of unbreakable and increasingly common vetoes like the filibuster rule. Fukuyama compares the UK and US budget-making process, to the UK's advantage: The advantage of the British system with its fewer opportunities to cast vetoes is clear when it comes to passing budgets. The budget is written by the chancellor…Read more
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