Towards a Citizens Assembly on the constitution
Report: Corinna Lotz
Photos: Peter Arkell
Britain’s constitution is on “its last legs”, openDemocracy founder Anthony Barnett told supporters of Occupy Democracy outside Parliament on Sunday.
He was speaking at Re-Imagining Democracy, hosted by Occupy London and co-organised by Assemblies for Democracy and the Democratic Reform Party.
Britain’s old constitution, which worked, is now a “shambles”, Barnett said, adding, “It is broken. It is broken morally, broken electorally, broken nationally, broken internationally.”
Gesturing at the Houses of Parliament he warned: “One thing you can’t do is give it to these guys to solve, because they are the problem”.
He outlined practical steps towards reaching a new, citizens’ constitution: “You create an assembly of people. You give to this assembly a very clear brief. You say we want to have a new, written constitution with massive participation that you put to a referendum. You give it the authority to come to its own conclusions and put those conclusions to the population as a whole.”
A strong feeling of community and inquiry prevailed as the gathering listened to lightning speakers and considered ways forward after the election.
David Whyte, author of How Corrupt is Britain, travelled from Liverpool to introduce themes from his book. He opened by saying “You don’t even need to read my book, it has almost become normal to hear about corruption in Britain”.
Whyte read out a message from the “Bank of Love” in Liverpool: “We are continuing to build a solidarity network with all those who stand against a system that has failed us. We salute Occupy Democracy. Direct action is the only way to challenge the system.”
Campaigners in the northwest have been occupying a bank with the aim of drawing attention to the appalling inequality that has been visited on the most vulnerable in Britain, Whyte explained, “bringing homeless people into a building that has not been used.”
Occupy Democracy activist Julie Timbrell [above right], who facilitated the discussions, said that working towards a citizens led convention on a new constitution was one of Occupy six core demands. She pointed to the inspirational example of Iceland, where a new constitution was crowd-sourced via the Internet.
Paul Feldman [speaking right above], A World to Win website editor and a co-founder of the Agreement of the People for the 21st Century, said that in Britain representative democracy had been hollowed out in the period of globalisation.
“The state and its political instruments speak predominantly for a minority, for the 1% which in practice are the corporations, the banks and the financial markets. There is no greater or more dangerous example of this trend than TTIP, which gives corporations rights over governments. This is what a corporatocracy looks like!”
“A Peoples Convention on the Constitution has the task of drawing up a blueprint for a more advanced democracy because we cannot say that the present system is the last word,” he concluded.
Steve Freeman, who stood as the Republican Socialist and Anti-Unionist candidate in Bermondsey and Old Southwark, called Westminster to be closed down. He suggested setting up a new parliament or peoples assembly somewhere like Birmingham. It was an opportunity to end the Commons, Lords and monarchy, which put class at the heart of the constitution, and elect people by proportional representation and make them accountable and subject to recall.
Freeman said a democratic revolution was needed. “This means the mobilisation of people outside parliament. Westminster cannot reform itself. We need a cultural revolution with music, dancing singing, poetry and rediscovery of our democratic past. In Scotland the democratic revolution was very much inspiring and inspired by cultural awakening.”
Phillip Badger, of the Democratic Reform Party and election candidate for Lewisham Deptford, spoke about the great possibilities of digital democracy in allowing local communities a real say in their affairs. He has begun an Open Parliament project, currently in Beta.
Why did you come today?
On the spot interviews in Parliament Square
by Lilian Pizzichini
Ivette, 47, PhD student
"I am writing a thesis on the Chilean student movement; how grassroots social movements can be organised."
Peter from A World to Win
"This is the seed of an alternative democratic means of getting people together. We meet to do this because the General Election brought out the fact that we don't live in a democracy."
Joe, 16, Occupy Democracy
"I came here to learn and discuss alternative ways we can run our own societies without the need for an overall governing body."
Darren, 32, East Finchley
"I am really annoyed with how the democratic process works; the fact that we have a monarchy and a House of Lords. Even a single transferable vote would be preferable to what we have now."
Julie, 36, East Finchley
"I'm angry with how the system words. Frustrated, and curious to see what everyone else thinks."
Portia, 30, North London
"It's obvious that voting isn't enough. it's important to engage more and be self-organising in order to direct politics with effect."
Lise, 51, Richmond
"I came because we don't have public spaces for debate any more."
Les, 55, Islington
"I am exasperated and frustrated with this country especially after a dreadful outcome of the election. I hope this will grow. Yesterday I went to an impromptu demo to Number 10. It was so energising. I hope more people will feel comfortable to join in."
Robbie from A World to Win
"Now is a good time to reflect on what other forms of democracy we can build."
"One month ago we weren't allowed to step on the grass and look at us now. There are lots of people on Parliament Fields."
In the closing session participants put forward ideas for how to take the campaign for democracy forward. Plans included:
- building an alliance between campaigns and groups, sharing weblinks and producing a leaflet
- supporting the Runnymede eco-camp and taking part in a festival for democracy at Runnymede 12-15 June
- campaigning against Britain’s withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights
- Drawing up a forward plan towards constitutional conventions in 2016. This could be mediated by assemblies in different nations – England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland
- Holding major events including a Women’s Rising on 8 March 2017 together with international movements.
11 May 2015
- More photos by Petra R. from Occupy NewsNetwork
- Videos of all the speakers and discussions can be found on Occupy London website