It’s the Economy, (not) stupid!

I’ve never met Paul Wyatt – who describes himself as a self-producing filmmaker and media consultant. I’ve admired his work from a distance though, both as an inspiration for my own efforts to transform myself into a multi-media journalist and also for the subject matter he’s currently focused on.

I’m highlighting his work to Equality by Lot readers as you may be able to help him – right now – to raise some money to promote the cause of random selection and deliberation as it relates to economic policy. The challenge he’s facing is directly relevant to EbL readers. You are people, I assume, who are intent on spreading awareness and best practice of sortition in its different forms.

If Paul gets the money, and completes his film, we’ll all have a tool to help us argue the case for citizens to get a stronger voice in directing economic policy.

That’s why I’m spending some of my time writing this blog post.

Paul is crowdfunding for the money to complete a film on the RSA’s Citizens’ Economic Council.

The RSA programme gave randomly selected British citizens a non-binding say on national economic policy, and influence over the future of the UK economy.

So far, so so, you demanding EbL readers would say. You’d be right, of course, the Council conclusions didn’t oblige any policy maker to do anything with those findings, regardless of how good they might have been. Not at all best practice in sortition land but not catastrophically bad either.

The RSA initiative has had some heavyweight endorsement from the likes of Andrew Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England. Who knows how far its recommendations will make it through the mechanisms of government and public policy? Perhaps its best legacy will be to move the debate and practices forward for others to then pick them up in turn.

Paul secured an RSA commission to document this event – something he did with skill and style in the short film shown below. You can access the kickstarter campaign via this link, and share it far and wide to your networks.
 

Where to for Frome’s politics?

It’s interesting to see that councillors in charge of local government in the English market town of Frome are mulling over sortition. They face a byelection one year before the end of the council’s current, four-year term. Peter Macfadyen* and his fellow members of Independents for Frome (IfF) will be defending their record as part of the campaign.

No surprises there, it’s what any political party has to do mid term, even if IfF members see themselves as a “non-party party“.  It does raise the intriguing point of manufactured conflict, though. Elections, as readers of Equality by lot know only too well, create divisions among competing candidates and their would-be voters.

Opposing candidates must somehow differentiate themselves from their opponents. That generally means over-blowing your own qualities while demeaning the opposition’s. Exchanges do little to illuminate or advance public understanding or people’s engagement in political issues.

Yes, yes, you know all that too.

The Frome election won’t change the balance of power on the council as IfF control all the other 16 seats. It will also cost money to stage and for candidates to contest.
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When Citizens Assemble

What happens when Irish citizens get to deliberate on abortion law?

Ireland’s efforts to break a political deadlock over its de facto ban on abortion inspired a bold response – the creation of a Citizens’ Assembly to tackle on the issue.

During five weekends spread over five months, a random selection of Irish people deliberated on the highly divisive and controversial issue. Their conclusion, in April 2017, recommended a radical liberalisation of existing laws, including a change to the Constitution.

Their work helped prompt Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to pledge a national referendum on abortion. In 2018, Irish voters will have a chance to make new laws.

Breakthrough moment

The Assembly represents a breakthrough moment not just for Ireland but also for ways of doing politics in the rest of the world. Ireland used random selection and deliberation on a highly contentious issue, rather than leaving it to elected politicians. The effect is to gift us all a real-life lesson in doing democracy differently.

At a time of deep dysfunction in our electorally driven political models – what issue wouldn’t lend itself to a citizens’ assembly approach?

When Citizens Assemble is the first in a global, nine-film series on the state of democracy and efforts to radically improve the way it works. Please feel free to sign up for project updates, to offer funds for its completion or other support in kind.

 

When Citizens Assemble from Patrick Chalmers on Vimeo.

Teaching students government skills

Adam Cronkright, co-founder of the Bolivian organisation Democracy in Practice, gives a Democracy Talk audio overview of the group’s findings so far with experiments in student government.

Democracy in Practice has been helping run student councils in a few different Cochabamba secondary schools since 2013, using lottery selection rather than elections to choose candidates.

Doing away with elections allows for a more representative body of students on council, making room for less charismatic or popular pupils to have a chance at government.

Changing selection methods is one thing, governing differently is another – with all the usual challenges of having representatives turn up on time, or at all, learning how to take collective decisions, not dominating proceedings and following through with promised actions.

An encouraging finding, Adam says, is that students can, and do, learn the necessary skills to govern. That raises hopeful prospects for better government in societies who manage to improve their citizens’ governance skills more generally.

An intriguing curiosity, albeit an anecdotal one according to Adam, is how students who appear to stand out as natural leaders, those who might usually get chosen in elections, are often not the best suited to actual government.

Catch the full audio interview below.