A weekend with the ERS and Unlock Democracy grassroots

Katie Ghose, former Chief Executive

Posted on the 11th February 2013

David Cameron’s recent failure to secure far-reaching boundary changes in time for the 2015 General Election was another nail in the coffin of the Westminster government’s constitutional and political reform agenda.

Many changes have been publicly defeated or quietly died. But democracy activists are a resilient bunch and on Saturday nearly 70 supporters of Electoral Reform Society and Unlock Democracy gathered in Birmingham to take stock and work out how to take action for a better democracy.

Rather than dwell on lost legislation, the focus was on live issues where campaigning locally and nationally could make a difference.

As individual voter registration approaches the statute books, we discussed practical opportunities for action – making sure millions of fellow citizens do not lose their right to a say come the next election.

Another topic was the prospect of being on the winning side of a coalition to secure votes at 16. After the Scottish referendum next year in which young people will vote, it is almost inevitable that the franchise will be extended to elections elsewhere in the UK.


Even House of Lords reform – which saw draft legislation trashed by politicians from all sides last summer was treated as a rallying call to expose the continuing eyesore of an unelected institution, already the largest second chamber in the world and fast heading for 1000 members.


From lobbying registers to bringing fair votes to local government in England and Wales everyone was inventive in finding ways to make national constitutional issues relevant locally in their towns and neighbourhoods.


Changing the way British politics works can be frustratingly slow for activists passionate to make a difference now. Devolution, freedom of information, human rights laws, voting reform; all reflect the slow turning of constitutional wheels and the tantalisingly perfect combination of ingredients required to win change.


I was heartened by this conference because it combined hard realism about timescales with fierce ambition to seize every opportunity, large or small, to take our democracy from Victorian times into a modern age. Politicians have been unable to put their own house in order and parties are crying out for fresh ideas for manifestos.


It was fantastic to be part of an initiative to breathe fresh life into our democracy. If we put half the ideas discussed into practice we will begin to shape a democracy fit for the 21stcentury.

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