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Feb 2018 -The Citizens’ Parliamentary Group Initiative Dr. Oliver Dowlen The initiative is based on a proposed scheme for Citizens’ Parliamentary Groups in each constituency. According to the scheme these groups would consist of around 20 randomly selected citizens whose general brief would be to defend the fairness and integrity of the political system. They would undertake this by addressing three main tasks during their year in office. 1) Ensuring that the MP adhered to the agreed Parliamentary Code of Conduct. 2) Strengthening the ties between the MP and the wider constituency. 3) Demanding action from the MP on key issues of grave public concern in which the integrity of the political system was subject to threat or compromise. There are two main organisational features to the scheme. The first is what I call the period of special duty. For each period of approximately one month two CPG members would be asked to work in closer contact with the MP and with his/her Constituency and Parliamentary Offices. This could involve attending meetings, surgeries and debates. It is envisaged that this greater “hands on” element would involve no more than two day’s work per week on the part of the CPG members. A programme to this effect could be drawn up that left some provision for unannounced visits. The second special organisational feature is the monthly CPG meeting. At intervals as close to one month as possible within the Parliamentary timetable, the CPGs would be required to hold full meetings of all their members. As well as discussing CPG business, the meetings should include reports from those completing special duty and a question and answer session with the MP. Reports of these meetings would be posted on a special CPG website. Within these reports there would be only a limited facility for the CPG to make collective criticisms of their MP. This might be limited to grounds such as misleading the public or the use of inflammatory language. If CPG members suspected any breaches in the code of conduct they would report these to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. Should an investigation of these or any other instances be forthcoming, two members of the CPG would be involved as observers with the right to demand further investigation on any matters where this was thought to be necessary. Should the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards conclude that no investigation should take place in respect to any allegation, the CPG meeting as a body and receiving a report of this could demand that an investigation be undertaken. The special duty provision and the monthly meetings should also be understood as broadly educational: designed to bridge the gap between the operations of the parliamentary system and the citizenry at large. The third task is a provision to prevent the political establishment from closing ranks in the face of serious public issues where Parliamentary action is required. The Hillsbrough cover up is a reminder of the dangers of this, and the aim of the Task Three provisions is to provide a secure pathway whereby such issues can obtain speedy redress. We can also think of it as a way of defending democracy between elections. In the case of such an issue coming to the attention of a CPG, the CPG must first check with a special regulatory body that the issue does indeed constitute a threat to the political system. (i.e. it is not just an unpopular act by a government or party in power). Once this is established the CPG must seek the endorsement of two further CPGs before the status of the issue as one of grave public concern is determined and the demand for action made. Once action is demanded in this way, recall proceedings against the MP can be initiated if no action is forthcoming. Again this would require endorsement by two other CPGs. A further provision is that there should be an annual conference of delegates from outgoing CPGs in which experiences can be shared and improvements suggested. This then is the basis of the scheme there are, of course, many details that could, and should, be debated and discussed. Broadly speaking it is designed to strengthen the existing system of Parliamentary representation by giving citizens a responsible, non-partisan role between elections: in other words giving the citizens greater “ownership” of the political system. It is broadly based on existing patterns of citizen participation such as the jury service, school governorships and citizens on boards of objectors for inquiries by district auditors. The idea of the “initiative” is that a scheme of this nature cannot operate unless it has widespread support from the citizenry at large. The first step therefore, is to introduce it to groups of citizens and discuss its advantages and its possible problems. My hope is that groups of citizens can then link together to modify, develop and promote schemes of this nature based on their own perceptions of how the political system can be improved. Oliver Dowlen is an academic writer and researcher specialising in the random selection of citizens for public office. His major work, The Political Potential of Sortition (Imprint Academic) was published in 2008. The study on which this presentation is based was funded by the Australian New Democracy Foundation. A full text can be found on: - https://www.newdemocracy.com.au/docs/researchpapers/2017/Oliver%20Dowlen%20-%20Citizens'%20Parliamentary%20Groups.pdf Oliver Dowlen is affiliated to Sciences Po, Paris and currently lives and works in Hertfordshire.