Last week we launched Demsoc Manchester, our new hub that compliments the work we’re already doing in Brighton, Edinburgh and Brussels. Thanks to everyone who came along and contributed to an interesting and lively discussion. In case you couldn’t make it, here’s a quick summary of what happened on the night!
We asked the room ‘How can devolution be a breakthrough for engagement in democracy?’, a divisive subject at the best of times, and it provided lots of different and stimulating opinions and ideas.
We heard thoughts from Michelle Brook, Demsoc’s Director of Policy and Research, she gave an overview of what devolution means and some points about citizen participation (and the lack of) so far in the process. Hattie Andrews, Director of The Politics Project, told us what her organisation is doing with schools and young people. Finally, West Didsbury Councillor John Leech, Manchester’s sole opposition councillor, gave us some insights into how democracy works in Manchester and his views.
Cllr Leech led us into the second part of the conversation, on elected Mayors and it was clear that many still find this aspect of devolution controversial. Some saw it as giving a net boost for the civic lift of the city, others though it unnecessary. It was suggested a Mayor elected by council leaders across the ten boroughs might be preferable, others noted that the title of ‘Mayor’ itself might be confusing. This title is already used around the region and people may not have enough information to understand the difference and nuances of this new combined role.
This led us on to education, where there was agreement that political education needs to be standard in schools. There are many fantastic organisations working on this (including The Politics Project) and schools were seen as useful and equitable way to reach young people. Education, the room agreed, needs to reach beyond those at school, many adults don’t feel confident in their political knowledge. Could community groups provide these resources and reach out to adults to get them more involved? People saw this as hard to do but important. And what of those left out of the conversation to date? Will they want to engage or is it a case of ‘the usual suspects’ taking control again?
Greater Manchester as an area brings up many questions around identity. How we create a shared identity for people to buy into is hard to answer at the moment, but it needs to happen. There were some great points about how such seemingly small things, like the uniform colour of buses, are the ways to form a local ‘brand’. But a shared identity isn’t always a positive, many are worried that it will negatively impact the local identity of towns like Bolton, Rochdale or Stockport. This suggests the possibility of resistance, particularly in the older generation, who might feel a stronger sense of local identity, especially if they remember the old Greater Manchester County Council.
Devolution presents a once in a lifetime opportunity to re-energise Greater Manchester. Despite the range of perspectives, we accepted that devolution is happening and that Manchester is going to lead the way. Many questions remain about how this can be done in ways that encourage good engagement practice in Manchester and in the other combined authorities that follow. This is an important question when the sense is that people aren’t engaged in the idea, especially when funding and resources for engagement are so limited.
Yet, to end on a positive, some people are already doing something about these issues. The People’s Plan, a combination of website and offline events encourages us all to give opinions and demand the change we want to see. What else is happening? If you have any ideas, projects or thoughts you want to share with us, feel free to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @DemsocMcr.
Like the sound of our event? You’re in luck, our next event ‘Do we really need politicians?’ is happening on 17th November 2016 as part of UK Parliament Week. Get the details here.