The election approach is a good time to reimagine opportunities for enhanced participatory democracy under a new (or existing!) government. History tells us that most party manifestos are nothing more than aspirations, not necessarily well conceived and not necessarily deliverable.  Truth is, there are no promises – although they do create political pressure and focus in order to deliver.  Perhaps clever then that Reform UK have exposed this malpractice and instead called their manifesto a “contract”.

Exposing broken election promises is satisfying.  We’ve long been a fan of which allows citizens to upload party political publications for the purposes of transparency and later scrutiny. 

This year there is considerable bottom-up pressure on doing things differently.  For example, the “we’re right here campaign” is lobbying for a new “Community Empowerment Act”.  The proposals are solid – including a community right to shape public services.  Some might argue that this already exists in the shape of duties to consult or engage but this goes further in terms of levelling-up the dynamics of power.

A” community right to control investment” is perhaps more interesting.  We’ve long argued (via the RSA Citizens’ Economic Council)  that consultation and engagement on major spending decisions is as important to consultation and engagement on budget setting.  Just consider the messes over spending decisions on PPE equipment, investments in Icelandic Banks and Solar Farms which have helped bankrupt our government.

A Community Covenant and Community Power Commissioner could well be the recipe for future success but there are other interesting initiatives too.  For example, Involve has started a project called “everyday democracy” which supports 100 people (with cash honorariums and support) to become Everyday Democracy Champions, in turn catalysing the action of others in communities furthest from power.

On the other hand, the DEMOS Future Public Taskforce has created a vision which sets out a new relationship between citizens and public service professionals. Co-production and participation are the focus although there is little meat on the bone. One thing we do like is a right for more experimentation – for example, we think consultation can be informed after a change has been tested.

But perhaps our greatest inspiration in the run-up to this election is Niko Omilana.  If you haven’t watched the YouTuber and his attempts to become the London Mayor in 2021 then you should watch now.  This year he attempted to become a candidate in 11 constituencies –  for ‘vibes’ as it is not allowed – but simultaneously highlighting the lunacy of our election system to millions of young people when names appeared on ballot papers.

In a campaign video, Niko explained he chose to run in the current Prime Minister’s constituency of Richmond and Northallerton ‘to get Rishi out.’  He said he wanted to ‘completely remove him from the political world,’ commenting: “Rishi Sunak wants to send young people to war, so I’ve decided to declare war on the system,” referring to the Tory pledge to introduce national service for 18-year-olds.

The irony is that somebody like Niko can create a renewed interest in politics and mobilise a new generation by exposing the flaws in the current system.  For what it’s worth, our feeling is that we need new icons who have followership fit for the internet era and hence radically new leadership styles in order to create fresh opportunities for consultation and engagement that go beyond our current norm of 1% representation by the population in any given democratic opportunity.