Gordon Brown embraces citizens’ assemblies

In a thoughtful contribution to considering the governance of Britain in the context of the still running Brexit fiasco, Gordon Brown offers this suggestion:

We must renounce the unsatisfactory, inward-looking, partisan and inevitably piecemeal decision-making process of the past 30 months.

In the old days, political parties saw their role as aggregating and then articulating grassroots views. But to the British people the parties seem – like social media – to be dominated by those with the loudest voice.

[…]

I envisage bringing together in each region a representative panel of a few hundred citizens, engaging them in a day’s dialogue to deliberate on arguments presented by informed opinion leaders and advocates from both sides — and testing whether pro and anti-Brexit voters can find any common ground.

5 Responses

  1. >testing whether pro and anti-Brexit voters can find any common ground.

    Brexit is a quintessentially up/down decision — you’re either a member of the EU or you’re not — so what on earth does Brown mean by “common ground”? This looks like the political class telling voters that they’ve made the wrong decision. In my own proposal for a deliberative forum on Brexit (published well before the referendum) I argued that a judge-led public enquiry (culminating in a binding vote by a large randomly-selected jury) would be the best way of uncovering the informed preferences of the British people, but this has nothing to do with seeking common ground. Imagine the uproar if a judge instructed a jury to seek common ground between the defence and prosecution advocates in a courtroom trial!

    https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/keith-sutherland/brexit-lottery

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  2. Sounds like you’re quibbling. I think we know what Brown means.

    Besides, the referendum pitted one known state (Remain) against a quite unknown state (Brexit from hard Brexit to remaining effectively in the EU but removing Britain’s formal membership and influence on it – which isn’t so far from where we are now.

    It’s unclear what the people think if they voted for Brexit, so a second vote can be structured to help resolve that – as well as get the people’s more recent view informed by the gaining of experience, especially of the incredible hash their elected representatives are making of it all.

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  3. Nick,

    There’s nothing magic about the number two, in fact those calling for a second referendum [third, when you include 1975] want three choices on the ballot: a) Theresa May’s “deal” b) No-deal Brexit c) Remain. Such a decision could be taken by a referendum or by a statistically-representative jury, the only difference from my original proposal being that there would be three sets of advocates. But such a citizen’s assembly could not be deliberative in the Habermasian sense as it’s unlikely that different samples of the same population would come to the same verdict, so which one would represent the considered view of the British people? As for Brown’s call for “common ground”, the problem with May’s proposal is it’s a compromise between Leave and Remain that looks unlikely to please anybody, as you can’t be half pregnant.

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  4. keithsutherland:> “But such a citizen’s assembly could not be deliberative in the Habermasian sense as it’s unlikely that different samples of the same population would come to the same verdict, so which one would represent the considered view of the British people?”

    To what extent could this be mitigated by equiring a supermajority of, say, 55%, or 53%, or whatever analysis of the real-life swing is between different test assemblies?

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  5. Roger,

    The easiest way of testing this is to have a number of groups of several hundred deliberate in parallel. But I don’t think this would work for Brexit, as it’s such an important and controversial issue and the original referendum results were very close (52/48). This being the case, the precautionary principle would apply and anything that might possibly tip the balance away from an accurate representation of the preferences of the target population would be ruled out. And Brown’s appeal to “common ground” is impossible for this sort of decision.

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