The Constitution Unit


Unit holds first weekend of citizens’ assembly exploring attitudes to democracy in the UK

17 September 2021

The Constitution Unit held the first weekend of the Citizens' Assembly on Democracy in the UK on 18-19 September

Citizens' Assembly on Brexit logo on pink background

The Citizens’ Assembly on Democracy in the UK met for the first time on 18 September and will meet remotely over five further weekends up to 12 December 2021. The Assembly is exploring what kind of democratic system people want in the UK, with members hearing evidence from experts, politicians and campaigners, and discussing the issues in depth among themselves.  Video recordings of all the presentations and other plenary sessions are now available on the Assembly's web pages.

Led by Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit, Dr Alan Renwick, the Assembly comprises around 74 members, carefully selected by lot (as is the case with juries) to reflect the UK voting-age population in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, education, disability status, region, and political attitudes. It is investigating what roles people think should be played by government, parliament, the courts, and the public, and what expectations people have for how participants in UK democracy should behave. Assembly members will formulate recommendations on how democracy should operate, with the aim of informing debates about democracy among policymakers in governments and parliaments in all parts of the UK.

Members heard from a range of speakers over Weekend 1. Some speakers were ‘informants’ who offered balanced perspectives on the issues, while others were ‘advocates’ who presented their own views. Speakers from Weekend 1 included:

Reflecting on Weekend 1, Dr Alan Renwick said, 'It was great to see people from all walks of life and all parts of the UK gather for the first weekend of the Citizens' Assembly. The opening discussions were rich and varied, with Assembly members highlighting numerous aspects of the UK's current democracy that they like and dislike, and identifying key features of what a good democracy looks like. I greatly look forward to seeing how these ideas develop over the coming weekends.'

The Citizens’ Assembly on Democracy in the UK is a central part of the Democracy in the UK after Brexit project. This also involves two population surveys on public attitudes to democracy in the UK, delivered in partnership with YouGov — the first of which was fielded in July 2021 and will be reported on in January 2022. The results of the two surveys, together with the recommendations of the citizens’ assembly will offer significant and invaluable insight into public attitudes to democracy in the UK today. 

The project is led by the Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit, Professor Alan Renwick, working with Professor Meg Russell, the Director of the Constitution Unit, and Professor Ben Lauderdale, a leading expert on the measurement of political preferences. The citizens’ assembly is being delivered in partnership with democratic participation charity, Involve. The Sortition Foundation led the process of recruiting assembly members. 

For more information about this Citizens’ Assembly and the wider project, please contact either the project’s Principal Investigator, Dr Alan Renwick (a.renwick@ucl.ac.uk), or the project’s Research Assistant, James Cleaver (j.cleaver@ucl.ac.uk).

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