Taking Back Control: Deliberative Democracy

On the 23rd June 2016 the British people voted to ‘take back control’. One of the reasons for doing so was concern over the ‘undemocratic’ nature of EU institutions. We asked people from across the political spectrum, leavers and remainers, politicians and the public, what taking back control of our own democracy meant to them. Read their responses in our blog series - The Brexit Debates.

Our first guest blog is from Molly Scott Cato, a Green MEP for the South West of England. She is Green Party speaker on economy and finance and spokesperson for EU relations. She is formerly Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at the University of Roehampton. 

Politics, they say, is the art of the possible. This is usually said to pour cold water on the hopes of idealists like myself. It always seems incongruous to me how people who play this trick are the very same who continue to vote for the impossible - a Tory government reducing the deficit for example. Similarly, people who complain that politicians are liars are the very same people who continue to vote for 'the two main parties' time after time.

Something is very wrong with our democracy, a fact that was made much clearer by the EU referendum debate. I was often struck by a sense that people were wilfully taking leave of their senses. Some Big Lies got out early on and our attempts to chase them down were futile. We had all fallen through the looking-glass where making Britain great was a deciding argument even though it was vacuous and where the opinions and evidence offered by experts and politicians, were like dust.

Democracy must be about real choices. To offer people a future that might be their heart's desire but which is impossible is to debase democracy. Like voting for unicorns, people who believe such a promise have been cheated of their vote. The only possible result is disillusion, anger and the further debasement of our democracy.

The referendum also demonstrated the futility of organising a vote that is against something. It proved unsurprisingly easy to assemble a majority against ‘faceless bureaucrats’, large budgets, straight bananas and - shamefully - horribly caricatured migrants. Whipping people up into a frenzy of disgust is depressingly easy; the challenge of democratic politics is to persuade more than half the population to agree with a positive proposal – something leading Leave campaigners singularly failed to do. This has left our society more divided than ever and our future even more murky.

But one thing I will give the Brexiteers: they had the better slogans. I particularly like 'Take back control' and am finding it increasingly useful. As I asked in a final, fraught debate in Bournemouth, who precisely was taking back control from whom?

I like to interpret taking back control as an opportunity to revitalise our democracy. Because I am interested in majorities who share a common vision I have proposed the idea of citizens' juries as a form of engaged but deliberative democracy. Such a process could provide the opportunity for those who disagree with each other to talk to each and - more importantly - listen to each other, an opportunity that was rare during the referendum process itself. Without such listening, majorities cannot be assembled, divisive rhetoric turns communities against one another, and democracy turns into rabble and rebellion.

And let's use the prime minister's echo of 19th century language to our own advantage by demanding a new Great Reform Bill introducing proportional representation, a democratic House of Lords and a written constitution. Until we restore our ailing democracy through such measures, building ‘a country that works for everyone’ will remain no more than a hollow promise. Now is not the time to side-step democracy but to embrace it.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of Unlock Democracy