At Saturday’s ‘This is What Democracy Looks Like’ conference in Manchester – organised by Politics for the Many and the Electoral Reform Society – Shadow Cabinet office minister Jon Trickett called for a ‘democratic revolution’ and a new constitutional settlement for the UK, as speakers outlined a positive response to the current constitutional crisis.
Around 150 activists, academics, journalists and political figures made the case that democratic reform is not a ‘luxury’ – but vital to deal with the lack of trust in politics as well as economic injustice.
As John McDonnell’s former adviser James Meadway noted: “We need to look at questions of economic democracy and political democracy not as separate spheres, but fundamentally conjoined.”
Journalist Hilary Wainwright agreed – backing ‘real decentralisation’ of the state: “There’s got to be a complete democratic revolution if we want to push power back if we want to have power in the hands of localities – real economic power in the hands of local councils.”
As the ‘Stop the Coup’ protests swelled, campaigners explored the solutions we need not to simply ‘defend’ democracy, but demand it.
The conference marked 200 years since the Peterloo Massacre – which saw dozens die fighting for the vote.
Many noted that far from being ‘unconstitutional’, Johnson’s five-week shut-down of Parliament showed the utterly broken nature of Britain’s constitution: “Everything that Boris Johnson has done this last week is within the boundaries of our constitutional arrangements,” Jon Trickett MP said.
On behalf of Labour, Mr Trickett reaffirmed Labour’s commitment to a Constitutional Convention to set out ‘major transformation’ of the second chamber and the wider political system.
The conference featured a day of workshops, panels and debate, including Guardian columnist Dawn Foster, Julie Ward MEP, Politics for the Many chair Lynn Henderson and many more. Discussions ranged from democratising the economy, increasing representation in politics for women, young people and ethnic minorities, and empowering local communities through building ‘grassroots power’.
Willie Sullivan, Senior Director of the Electoral Reform Society, called for the labour movement to get behind policies that will give power to voters:
“This past few weeks has shown the urgent need to reform the creaking political establishment. Scrapping the unelected House of Lords, changing our broken voting system and establishing a constitutional convention should be the start of moves towards real democracy.”
“Our conference saw hundreds gather from across the left and Labour movement to make that call. We’re in a national crisis and the Labour movement can and must play a key role giving people the confidence and hope for change.”
Lynn Henderson, chair of Politics for the Many, said the debate ‘couldn’t come at a more important time’: “There’s a widespread recognition within the trade union movement that the culture and structure of British politics is largely hostile to working people.
“200 years after Peterloo took place on the streets of Manchester, people are once again taking to the streets to demand democracy and make sure our voices are heard.”
Labour activists and trade unionists are now being urged to pass motions calling for democratic reform in their Labour and union branches. Can you help? Get in touch or view the model motion here.
Full write-ups of the sessions will be published on the Politics for the Many site over the next couple of weeks.