At Full Council today (14 January) a Green Party motion passed to ‘reboot democracy’, committing Bristol to trialling participatory democracy schemes such as citizens’ assemblies, where ordinary citizens deliberate and produce policy ideas.
In citizens’ assemblies and other processes noted in the motion, people are randomly chosen and carefully selected to provide a representative sample of the local population in terms of age, education, ethnicity and so on. They are given a major issue to deliberate on and produce policy recommendations, meeting over multiple sessions, typically with access to expert advice, and often paid a stipend to support people in taking time off work.
Green Councillor Paula O’Rourke proposed the motion to Full Council. A Labour amendment was passed that would have delayed the motions implementation to 2022. Greens were critical of this but after securing assurances from Labour Councillor Asher Craig in the meeting that work would start sooner they backed the amendment.
A Citizen’s Assembly on Climate Change is one of the core three demands of Extinction Rebellion, who supported the Green group’s motion and provided a supportive presence in the public forum and demonstrating outside the council building. Over 35 statements from the public were submitted in support of the motion.
Reacting to the motion passing, Cllr O’Rourke said:
“This is a historic motion that will help us take real action on the climate emergency and hopefully begin to address a growing lack of faith in democracy and politicians. Too often politicians avoid making the bold decisions we need to tackle the climate emergency – or other complex problems – out of fear of a public or media backlash. Putting important and complicated issues in the hands of citizens with full access to expert opinion will in my opinion – and many case studies suggest – produce stronger and more ambitious climate policies, and demonstrate that there can be public support for them.”
The motion also contains proposals to give local people power over a certain amount of Council spending in their areas through participatory budgeting. Cllr O’Rourke said:
“By selecting people from all strata of Bristol society and backgrounds, and paying them a stipend to attend, we can improve local democracy. Participatory budgets will allow citizens to make informed decisions about how their money is spent and, by getting people in on the ground, changes to make Bristol better will be made by the people, not for the people.”
"I’m proud the council has passed this key motion. Nobody who relies on people’s votes for their position should be afraid to trust the public to make important decisions, especially when they are given access to expert advice and support as politicians are.”
The motion was welcomed by Green Party co-leader Sian Berry who said:
“While other parties centralise power and shut people out, Greens put power back into the hands of local people. I’m so excited that Bristol will be empowering its citizens to take ownership of their city and set a budget which meets the needs of actual Bristolians. This is what democracy in the 21st century must look like, if we’re going to rebuild trust in politics and address the real challenges we face today”.