Conference Report

Our Broken Democracy And How To Repair It

Over 70 people gathered in the South Molton Assembly Rooms on Saturday 27th April to discuss how to fix our broken democracy. Lots of ideas were aired and we will be revisiting these over the coming months to work them up and develop a practical plan for action.

The Conference was kicked off by Times journalist, Alice Thomson and was wound up by ex-North Devon MP, Nick Harvey.

Conference Guest Speakers: Alice Thompson And Nick Harvey

Our guest speakers used their particular expertise and experience to anatomise our broken democracy. In the morning we had Alice Thompson a long-time political writer for ‘The Times’ and sometime resident of North Devon. As if to prove her credentials for the job she told us she has interviewed every PM from John Major to Sunak but this, impressive as it was, was no idle boast. She mentioned it to illustrate her view that while PM’s varied in quality the overall trend has been downwards.

In the past, in the absence of firm constitutional rules, governments acted according to a loser code of precedents and values relating to public service, preservation of democracy, respect and fairness. Once politicians discovered that all these principles could be discarded with impunity and a successful career in politics was still possible, and for some, made even more likely by discarding them, the quality of our governments declined with each successive PM. To prove her point Ms Thompson then took the hatchet to  each of our PM’s and their governments for the last ten years or so.

Is there a way back to the unwritten code that defined our politics. Ms Thompson thought not, implying support for the constitutional and electoral changes Compass advocates but, like a good journalist she came more to inform than to persuade.

By contrast the afternoon speaker, Nick Harvey, was more robust in his assessment of our broken democracy and the part played by the present government in bringing it down. On the ways to repair it he was more definite in his support for the constitutional and electoral changed we seek and assertive about the radical policy changes in policy he would like to see pursued by the next government including a re-think on Brexit and our role in Europe. Nick Harvey is the former Lib-Dem MP for North Devon and remains a senior figure in the party and the Chair of the European Movement so his forthright comments did not come as a surprise. Much of what he had to say is also Lib-Dem policy but he was careful not to turn his speech into a party rally and kept his comments within the framework of the conference themes. Together our two speakers provided excellent stimulus for the Open Space group discussions that followed each of their speeches.

Repairing Our Broken Democracy

This was very much the theme for the Open Space sessions although the topics for discussion and the direction the groups decided to go was completely un-directed. Topics were invited from the floor and if a topic attracted enough people to have a discussion, a discussion took place. Ideas and information were recorded and presented to conference in a follow-up session. Topics ranged from the entirely theoretical to the entirely practical (see the link below for a full write up).

All in all the conference was a success. Attendance exceeded our expectations and although some people who booked didn’t show up others came on the day. The speakers were well received and the open sessions were popular with everyone there. The feedback session afterwards produced a wealth of ideas and suggestions and demonstrated a notable spirit of cooperation and collaboration among people from varying political backgrounds and allegiances. This spirit continued informally over the excellent lunch provided and from comments offered and heard as people were leaving it was clear the entire event was well  received and will help to promote Compass and our aims in the important months ahead.

A Conference Review

When Compass Northern Devon announced that they were holding a democracy repair workshop I thought what a great idea. We all talk about how democracy is broken but, apart from changing our voting system, there seems to be little debate about exactly what it is that is broken, what a good democracy looks like, and how we can get there. I volunteered this subject at the Open Space and there was sufficient interest to create a lively discussion and produce an initial outline for further expansion.

I found the day itself interesting and thought-provoking. Most of the participants remember when we had public services delivered locally, council housing, education fee-free through tertiary level, roads without pot-holes, public buildings, the NHS; when government scandals were the exception rather than the rule; when local authorities had revenue grant support rather than having to compete for funding. Things weren’t perfect but we had a better-functioning society, more equal, with government for the most part taking seriously its commitment to look after the people.

I would love to see Compass Northern Devon produce a blueprint for good governance, structure and process which re-asserts the aim of producing a society with full employment, good in-work benefits, decent and affordable housing for all, restored public services, re-instated NHS, a sound welfare state, and strong, accountable, properly-funded local government.

Netti Pearson

View Outputs from Open Space Sessions – Newsroom Write Up as a PDF HERE>

Listen to our Conference Spotfy playlist HERE>

Read the Conference Press release HERE>

We use cookies to improve your experience and to help us understand how you use our site. Please refer to our cookie notice and privacy statement for more information regarding cookies and other third-party tracking that may be enabled.