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New report: The Populist Signal

14 June 2015
New report: The Populist Signal

The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change

Policy Network and the Barrow Cadbury Trust today launch a major new report examining the political (rather than cultural and economic) drivers of populism in the UK and outlining democratic innovations to tackle them over the long term.

Drawing on original polling by Ipsos Mori, it looks at the attitude of voters towards the political system and their responses to a range of democratic innovations, such as a national constitutional convention, citizens’ assemblies, and the random selection of a number of people to serve as independents on local authorities (following the model of jury selection).

The report indicates that dissatisfaction with the political system and an openness to these new democratic innovations is highest among those voting for ‘outsider’ parties such as Ukip, the SNP and the Greens. The report also breaks down this data by region, class and age groups.

Key findings:

  • 69 per cent of voters feel the system of government needs significant improvement. This figure rises to 77 per cent among Green supporters;  83 per cent among Ukip supporters; and 90 per cent among SNP and Welsh nationalist supporters.
  • Only 21 per cent of people feel that national politicians listen to them, while 31 per cent feel their voice counts among local politicians;
  • 54 per cent of all voters, and 63 per cent of Ukip supporters, said they would participate in citizens’ assemblies on local issues where decisions made were non-binding, while the same number (and 70 per cent of Ukip voters) would take part in an assembly that took decisions that were then carried out. SNP and Green voters were similarly supportive;
  • 50 per cent of all voters, and 62 per cent of Ukip supporters, said they would participate in citizens’ assemblies on national issues where decisions made were non-binding, while support fell slightly if the assembly’s decisions were binding.

The report argues  that populism is a warning signal to parties and governments to revisit their approaches to governance and representation.

The case studies, based on interviews with ministers, politicians, organisers, and academics from Belgium, the Netherlands, Australia, Norway, Canada, Ireland and Iceland offer practical examples of democratic experiments (see below).

The conclusion offers recommendations for democratic innovation in the UK, including:

  • Replacing the archaic House of Lords with a citizens’ senate – a stratified randomly selected group of citizens to approve or veto legislation.
  • The next London mayor should hold a citizens’ assembly shortly after the election to involve Londoners in determining the priorities and concrete proposals for his or her four-year term.
  • The same could happen in Bristol, Salford in Liverpool next year, and in Manchester in 2017 following the mayoral elections.
  • The General London Assembly could be replaced with a body of randomly selected citizens who are more diverse and more representative of the capital. An incremental option could be to add additional members to the existing GLA which are randomly selected.
  • Ministers could hold citizens’ assemblies like the Flemish Citizens’ Cabinet to advise on policies.


About the author: Claudia Chwalisz is a researcher at Policy Network and Crook Public Service Fellow at the University of Sheffield

Launch event: This took place at the Royal Society at 8.45am on 17 June. For more information please contact Emma Kinloch: ekinloch@policy-network.net

The Populist Signal Presentation.pdf
The Populist Signal Presentation by Claudia Chwalisz.

Listen to the podcast from the launch event on SoundCloud.

About Policy Network:  Policy Network is an international thinktank and political network that aims to promote the best progressive thinking on the major social and economic challenges of the 21st century. www.policy-network.net

Media contact: Ben Dilks bdilks@policy-network.net

Social media: Follow the debate using #PopulistSignal

Examples of case studies featured:

  • In the Netherlands, three days after municipal elections, 1,000 people from the community come together for a “G1000” citizens’ assembly. Together, they develop an agenda for the next governing term in the form of priorities and concrete project proposals.
  • In Australia, citizens’ juries and people’s panels are involved directly in making political decisions – whether it is developing a 10 year budget for Melbourne, or developing proposals for making South Australia more cycle-friendly.
  • In Flanders, Belgium, the Minister of Culture has a Citizens’ Cabinet, comprised of randomly selected ‘ordinary’ people to advise him on policy.

Media coverage of the report:

The bright side of politics

The Independent, 13 June 2015

Report reveals huge appetite for 'citizens' assemblies' to take power back from the state

The Independent, 13 June 2015

Replace this archaic institution with a citizens' senate
The Globe and Mail, 15 June 2015

London's next mayor should be a democratic trailblazer
Progress, 15 June 2015

How Labour can beat the populists
Left Foot Forward, 15 June 2015

The Guardian view on populism in European politics: shaken and stirred

The Guardian, 17 June 2015

Look behind you: how Labour can avoid the threat of Ukip
The New Statesman, 24 June 2015

International interest in G1000

G1000.nu, 26 June 2015

Citizens' Juries: Ancient idea for participation in a modern world

The Australian Financial Review, 11 July 2015

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