People changing politics

30 Apr 2024


Barry Knight, GFCF Adviser and Co-Chair of Compass

I have a dream. And I’m having that dream right now. Don’t wake me up!

Where am I? I’m at a political meeting. I am in a big theatre crammed with more than 1,000 people and I am lucky to have found a seat. The audience is not only wonderfully diverse, but also includes scores of children and young people.

Everyone is sitting on the edge of their chairs, rapt in attention as the fast-changing kaleidoscope of performances on the stage both entertains and energizes us. No one is allowed to speak for more than two minutes, and a timekeeper rings a bell without fear or favour when anyone exceeds the limit. In the audience we cannot boo or heckle but we can applaud if we want to.

The agenda has been framed based on a year-long listening campaign involving 2,000 one-to-one conversations in different communities across the region. Four main items are included: cost of living, racism, mental health and housing. Each agenda item has specific questions to be answered by politicians representing each of the main political parties.

As we file out at the end of the meeting, everyone is buzzing with excitement.  The meeting has been such good fun and so well organized. So many voices have been heard! All of the politicians have agreed that, if elected, they would work to implement almost all the policies we have suggested. All have agreed to meet regularly with representatives from the community to monitor progress and to attend another large assembly to account for their actions. Each and every politician has been generously applauded and given a potted plant to take home by way of thanks.

What a dream! But now I have woken up.

Actually, no I haven’t. I have been awake the whole time. The meeting happened in the North East of England, and I have pictures to prove it. It was organized by Tyne and Wear Citizens and held at the Tyne Theatre and Opera House on Monday 22 April in preparation for the election for a regional mayor on 2 May.

Sorry for my deception but this is the kind of politics that I dream about. The tone was set at the beginning of the meeting by one of the three co-chairs who stressed three principles in politics that are central to good governance: trust, integrity, and accountability.

These qualities have been conspicuously absent from national politics in the UK in recent years. Debates have become so full of anger, hate and division that we cannot address the serious problems that we face. Take Prime Minister’s question time as an example. This should focus on substantive issues that affect the country, but instead is all about point-scoring and abuse. Is this how we want to teach our children to do politics?

Tyne and Wear Citizens is a chapter of Citizens UK, which is a charity. This means that, while it cannot endorse any particular candidate, it involves people in politics in respectful ways to ensure that politicians are responsive to the wishes of the people. The legitimacy of Tyne and Wear Citizens derives from being a non-partisan people-powered alliance of diverse and local communities working together for the common good across the region.

People-led politics of this kind is just what we need if we are to restore trust in our democracy. Everyday people need to feel that they can make a difference and their politicians work on issues that matter to them. And if this happens it works. Over the past nine years of its existence, Tyne and Wear Citizens has achieved many big wins for people in the region.

Citizen-led initiatives of this kind are growing across the world and are becoming part of a movement to #ShiftThePower. The premise for this movement is that we have our politics the wrong way around. Following what Compass calls 45º Change, we can transform society from below and influence change from above at the same time. This would replace the common practice of politicians’ developing policies from the top-down and testing them out in focus groups. Instead, we would devolve power to the people and politicians would work with them to find solutions to the multiple problems we face together. That way, we can rebuild the trust in our society that has been lost.


By: Barry Knight, GFCF Adviser and Co-Chair of Compass

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