Time for a government of national unity — and for citizens assemblies!

The Supreme Court’s definitive demolition of the PM’s illegal prorogation of Parliament means that Parliament will now return with immediate effect. If Boris Johnson does not do the decent thing and resign with immediate effect, then it is likely that Parliament, whose sovereignty the Supreme Court have affirmed, will look for a way of getting rid of him. There is a clear Parliamentary majority against him now that he has kicked 21 Conservative MPs out of the Party, a majority against him that will surely now look to find a way of working together to create a caretaker government that can find a way forward. Probably more Conservative (or ex-Conservative?) MPs will join that growing majority, now that the PM has been ruled a law-breaker.

Such a government will necessarily be a government of national unity, with MPs from all parties (and none) in it. It will be very difficult for such a diverse group to agree on anything positive.

So how to make progress on the great issues of our time, in that exciting but very challenging context? Not just Brexit; but also our very constitution and democracy (e.g. surely it is now clear to everyone that we need a written constitution) which the PM has been trying to ride roughshod over; and the real underlying long-term determinative crisis: the climate and ecological emergency.

There is an answer waiting, on the shelf. We all – and the incipient government of national unity – should all be taking a leaf out of the playbook of Extinction Rebellion. It is time to renew our broken democracy. It is time for citizens assemblies.

Politicians cannot be at the heart of fixing political system that they themselves are beneficiaries of.

These are not issues that parties with vested interests should be trusted to lead on. Instead, we should truly return control back to the people by creating a series of citizens assemblies to discuss, debate and ultimately craft a constitution to fix this broken democracy. These assembles would consist of randomly selected members of the public by sortition in much the same way that juries are selected. The selection process would also seek to balance demographics so that no region, gender, ethnic group, religion or sexuality is underrepresented in these assemblies. (This model was used successfully in Ireland to draft recommendations in response to a whole range of social and environmental issues.)

Additionally, we should make space for citizens assemblies on those other vast issues aside from constitutional reform that parliament has shown itself unable to grapple with, and that a government of national unity would find it difficult itself to agree anything positive about. As I’ve said, there are at least two such massive issues today…

  • Most pertinently we have the climate and ecological crisis/crises that, if we do not get them under control, threatens to collapse our society. XR has made a compelling case for a citizens assembly/ies to chart the way toward climate- and eco-safety by 2025.
  • Added to this is of course the vexing issue of Brexit itself, which politics as usual has palpably failed to settle.

I submit that citizens assemblies could well provide illumination on all these issues and extend democracy.

We should seize the opportunity that Boris Johnson has given us through his constitutional vandalism by highlighting the deeply broken nature of our democracy and use it to call for drastic reform of our system.

A citizens assembly on democratic and constitutional reform, a citizens assembly on the climate and ecological emergency, and possibly one on Brexit itself (this might be a more healing way forward than the second referendum which many potential members of the government of national unity seem to be leaning towards).

This is how the UK could heal itself.

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