Submission to National Policy Forum

Priorities for constitutional reform co-signed with members of the Democracy Network.

Statement | 29.03.23

Citizen Network is a member of the Democracy Network and we recently co-signed a submission to the National Policy Forum (NFP) Consultation on Safe & Secure Communities on the topic of constitutional reform. The statement can be read below:

The Democracy Network represents organisations and individuals working on issues of power, democracy and voice across all four nations of the UK. This submission only represents the views of the signatories (listed below).

Devolution of power to communities - Genuine devolution requires finance-raising and decision-making powers to be devolved, including to a neighbourhood level. Any plans to devolve power should include direct participatory democracy and forms of deliberative democracy (such as Citizens Assemblies and Participatory Budgeting). Boundaries for local structures need to be protected from arbitrary or politically motivated change, to allow them to develop effective democratic cultures and focus on delivering.

Proportional representation (PR) for general elections - Adopting PR for general and local elections would make politicians more accountable, empower voters and communities. PR is already successful where it is adopted in the nations. The introduction of PR in New Zealand led to a more diverse and representative Parliament. BME communities are disproportionately concentrated in cities; under the current electoral system this means that a significant population are not in swing seats and therefore rarely influence who represents them in Parliament. We urge the NPF to commit to replacing FPTP with PR.

House of Lords reform - We recommend a fully, or substantially, elected House with real diversity of candidates which would make for better lawmaking and scrutiny with Peers held accountable to the public. In September 2022, 55, or 7.3%, of Peers were from minority ethnic groups and 28% were women.

Reducing barriers to voting - There are widespread fears that the new voter ID laws will raise barriers to voting. We support reducing barriers to voting by scrapping photo voter ID, introducing automatic voter registration and providing investment in civic education. There is a serious risk that the introduction of mandatory voter identification requirements will prevent black and ethnic minority groups from voting. We also support calls to drop the voting age to 16.

Improved transparency and accountability in our politics - A lack of transparency erodes public trust in democracy. We can increase transparency and accountability by: requiring FOI requests to be responded to in a timely manner; a more comprehensive, statutory lobbying register or better quality, regular departmental disclosures; the ethics watchdogs, including Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests and the Advisory Committee on Business Interests, should be placed on a statutory footing and equipped with the necessary resources and sanctioning powers to enforce the rules; cap political donations at £10,000 per year per donor; and new measures to block foreign political donations.

Ensure a thriving, free media sector - A healthy media is essential for a healthy democracy. Three immediate steps should be taken: address concentrations of ownership within legacy media and Big Tech; invest in alternative media infrastructure underpinned by civic, non-commercial values, particularly local news; and create a Citizens Assembly to determine the future purpose, remit and structure of the BBC in the digital age, including measures to strengthen its independence.

Civic education - We recommend the implementation of a statutory right to impartial, non-partisan education for citizenship and political literacy for every young person in primary and secondary education. Public Service Media should have specific duties to ensure the public understand and can participate in political systems.


Neal Lawson, Compass
Dr Simon Duffy, Citizen Network
Tom Brake, Unlock Democracy
Transparency International
Runnymede Trust
Fair Vote UK
Jessica Garland, Electoral Reform Society
Deborah Grayson, Media Reform Coalition
Liz Crosbie, Reboot GB
Mark Kieran, Open Britain
Titus Alexander, Democracy Matters
Angela Fell, Neighbourhood Democracy Movement
Philip Hardstone, Democratic Yorkshire
Rebecca Deegan, I have a Voice
Eva Pascoe, Cybersalon
Marijn van de Geer & Kathie Conn, XR UK Citizens' Assembly Working Group Co-ordinators
Peter Hirst
R J Bater
George Bolton

Gavin Barker, who leads on constitutional reform for Citizen Network shared the following reflection on our current situation:

Citizen Network works with a wide range of committed individuals and groups who are passionate about building a better society. Yet despite the diverse and creative projects, media campaigns, and push for change we all work towards, there is one common obstacle that constantly dogs our efforts: a recalcitrant political system that ignores, opposes and undermines our work, even as it claims to do the opposite. We think we live in a democracy, we are told we live in a democracy, yet somehow nothing changes. 

For too long, our biggest mistake has been to play by their rules. What we have to do is change the rules. It is with this in mind that a number of campaign groups have come together to submit a set of demands which we urge the Labour party to adopt. The submission below is a beginning, not the last word. What each of us can do is look at the demands set out below and begin to reframe whatever project and activity we are involved in, within a wider context of system change. And that in turn means reforming the building blocks of power we call a constitution

A nation's constitution sets out the rules by which power is exercised, who exercises it, and what its limits are. Right now, the rules are gamed in favour of a privileged elite few, in the form of an archaic, abstruse set of legislative and constitutional documents utterly inaccessible to public understanding. This has allowed the overcentralisation of power at the centre. And that won't change unless and until each and everyone of us recognises that we cannot work to improve the communities we live, end poverty, or help the most vulnerable, unless and until we have complete system change.

If you want to get involved in Citizen Network's work to reform the constitution and promote real democracy you please get in touch with Gavin by email

In addition check out our projects on Constitutional Reform | Neighbourhood Democracy | Democratic Yorkshire

Also see