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Democracy Matters Action Update October 2013

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This has been a busy month, fundraising for Democracy Matters, job hunting and organising a seminar series on practical political education – see below. This month also saw the fantastic SMK Campaigner Awards – a great celebration of people’s determination to make the world a better place.

Our next volunteer meeting is on 7 October in central London if you’d like to help run Democracy Matters.

In this month’s bulletin you will find news about:


Is politics the master science?

We are running a seminar series on the case for teaching practical politics as a vocational subject to support an inclusive democracy at the Institute of Education with the International Centre for Education & Democratic Citizenship (ICEDC). Contributors include leading campaigners talking about influencing strategies, models of how change happens and learning from mistakes. The series aims to inspire action as well as inform through ideas, examples and exploration. It starts Thurs 24th October, 5.30 – 7.30 pm. Places are free, but please book for each seminar at our Eventbrite site.

Future of Democracy Matters

For democracy to work, people need to know how the system works and be able to influence decisions. Campaign training, citizenship education and political literacy should be as accessible as business studies or basic skills. The attack on citizenship education, cuts in funding for adult education with a social purpose and the Lobbying Bill, as well as the big changes to health, welfare and other policy areas show that people need political skills more than ever.

Since the 2010 election most of the chief officers who set up Democracy Maters have moved on, most of our member organisations have had big funding cuts and several have folded. We have always been a loose alliance, run by volunteers working for member organisations. This is no longer sustainable. I am therefore seeking funding to rebuild the alliance on a stronger footing and make the case for practical political education. Do get in touch if you can help with this:

Lobbying bill unites campaigning charities

A coalition of organisation has set up a Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement in formed response to the Lobbying Bill. Clare Hammacott will be the central contact point for the Commission – contact her at: 07841114999.

Instead of gagging civil society the Government should enable citizens to have an effective voice by creating local democracy hubs and supporting organisations to provide campaign training to strengthen democracy.

The Lobbying Bill is expected to have its second reading debate in the House of Commons on 24 January 2014. It aims to “establish a public register of organisations and individuals that carry out lobbying of Parliament, the Government and local authorities for financial gain;” introduce a code of conduct for those on the register and sanctions for non-compliance.

The Bill also limits third party spending on campaigning in the year before an election £390,000, rather than the current limit of £989,000 and includes staff costs, advertising and rallies in regulated campaign expenditure for the first time. This would severely limit the ability of charities and community groups, which is why it has been called the “Gagging Bill”.

38 Degrees have produced a five minute video explaining the gagging law in simple terms: and launched a petition to the Minister responsible, Chloe Smith.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) is “concerned that other voluntary organisations in civil society may still be subject to ambiguous and damaging legislation. NCVO believes in a society where freedom of speech, the freedom to associate and the right to free and fair elections are all similarly inviolable.”

Public meetings are being planned in constituencies of MPs likely to rebel on this issue through hearing the strength of feeling from constituents. The idea is to have a platform with the MP and representatives from civil society. Meetings that are confirmed include:

  • Julian Huppert MP, Cambridge – Thurs 17th October, 19:30-21:30
  • Stephen Williams MP, Bristol West – Thurs 17th October, 19:30-21:30
  • Andrew George MP, St Ives – Fri 18th October,  19:30-21:30
  • Tessa Munt MP, Wells – Fri 18th October, 18:00-19:30
  • Stephen Gilbert MP, St Austell and Newquay – Fri 25th Oct,  20:00-22:00
  • Adrian Sanders MP, Torbay – Fri 25th October [MP not confirmed yet]
  • John Hemming MP, Birmingham Yardley – Sat 26th Oct [MP not confirmed yet]

What do you want the Government to do after 2015?

The political parties are all working on policies they hope will win the election in May 2015. If you want to influence the next Government, you need to get your proposal into party manifestos. If you work with a local community or interest group, you should be thinking about the election now, not in 12 months’ time:

  • What issues do you want addressed?
  • What do you want done about them?
  • What don’t you want the next Government to do?

If you belong to a party member, then obviously you will want your party to back your ideas and win, but to get something done it is better to have support from all parties. The most effective campaigns are those which influence all major parties, so that whoever wins their policies are carried out.

Even if you are not a party member, it is worth going to party conferences. Fringe meetings, bars and receptions at are an opportunity to find out how policies are developing and ways of influencing them. There are just three conferences before the election (Spring and Autumn 2014, Spring 2015), but all parties should have their key policies and a draft manifesto in place by next autumn.

As with most politics, access to the Leaders’ inner circle and who you know is more important than how good your policies are, but most parties are looking for policies which address voters’ priorities, such as:

  • Increase economic growth and reduce unemployment (45%)
  • Stricter border controls and reduce immigration (38%)
  • Reduce the deficit in public spending (31%)
  • Invest more in healthcare (30%)
  • Reduce income inequality (27%)

Each party wants their own eye-catching initiatives to target their swing voters, satisfy their core supporters and beat off their main threats, as well as policies for key voters such as women and older people.

Most parties don’t go “policy shopping” and are bombarded with policy proposals from think-tanks, campaigners and members, but they do become increasingly receptive as the election approaches.

The election is wide open as a result of the rise of UKIP, the spread of the Greens and wildcards such as the National Health Action Party and referendum on Scottish independence, as well as the fall in membership of most parties means that.

All parties listen to their constituencies through the media, increasingly this includes social media, and their elected councillors and MPS in constituencies.

Examples of effective influencing politicians ahead of the election include:

  • Citizens UK  set a “citizens’ agenda” for the mayoral elections, then  organised regular “Accountability Assemblies” with the London Mayor; the organised ‘The Fourth Debate’ on 3rd May 2010 when 2,500 citizens who packed Central Hall and showed the power of community organising on issues such as the living wage, community safety, community land trusts and other issues.
  • The Resolution Foundation invites leading speakers from each party to speak about low pay on a panel with experts and journalists.
  • The “Parents’ Amendment” to successive education bills before the 1997 election and the Parents Agenda for Action pushed parenting education and support up the political agenda, dramatically increasing public investment in support for parents since then.

In all these cases citizens set the agenda and the politicians followed.

Our “Democracy Diary” aims to highlight opportunities for influencing policy all year round.

When you know what you want …

… Get into position:

Put yourself, team or agency in strategic positions in relation to relevant power structures. Communicate your aims and vision Build alliances and networks. Build trust with people who will bring about the change.

Take action!

Party Policy Making Processes

The Conservative Policy Forum has almost 250 active groups and gives party members the opportunity to take part in policy discussions and get their voice heard. It also provides an insight into the development of policies (see also current policies). Policies can also be influenced through affiliated special interest groups, Conservative Home and many other associated groups.

The Labour Party invites people to contribute ideas through Your Britain and its eight Policy Commissions (which are not very responsive) and a National Policy Forum (about which their leader Ed Miliband said about “Too often, they submit ideas with great enthusiasm and never hear anything again”), elected councillors on the LGA Labour Group and the National Executive Committee which signs off the manifesto.

The Liberal Democrats  have a guide to “How we make policy”, but the key people are the Manifesto Working Group. The party also has a variety of groups through which it may sometimes be easier to propose relevant policies. The LibDems also publish a detailed guide on How To Be A Parliamentary Candidate.

Courses in campaigning and practical politics

We like to promote courses in campaigning to empower people to make a difference, so do spread the word about the following:

SMK run subsidised workshops across the UK. The next ones are:


with Newcastle Council for Voluntary Service Council on Friday 4th October, 9.45am – 4.00pm with Harmit Kambo, Learning & Development Manager, SMK; Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle Upon Tyne Central; Adrian Pearson, Regional Affairs Correspondent, The Journal

Complete the registration form  and email it to Aura Lehtonen.


with Regional Action West Midlands and Parliament Week Friday 15th Time: 9.45am – 4.00pm with Harmit Kambo, MP and journalist speakers TBC: Complete the registration form and email to Aura Lehtonen.

Make Justice Work masterclass on Thursday 24th October, 9.30am – 12.00pm at Forster Communications, 49 Southwark Street. London, SE1 1RU with Roma Hooper, Founder and Director, Make Justice Work

Chair: Linda Butcher, Chief Executive, SMK

Regular two and six day training courses. Dates can be found on their pages.

Queen Mary, University of London also run short courses in Community Organising, on Thursday evenings at 5-8pm. For more information, please contact Amy Tan or Prof Jane Wills.

Free Parliamentary training is available to people wanting to know more about the UK Parliament and how they can get involved with the House of Commons and House of Lords. Training sessions are organised by the Parliamentary Outreach team and are strictly non-partisan.

If your organisation is interested in free Parliamentary training, contact: Parliamentary Outreach, Tel: 020 7219 1650 E-mail:

Please say where you are, name of organisation and what you want.

NCVCO’s Certificate in Campaigning is already fully booked this year. To express interest in the next series of the Certificate in Campaigning please email the Training team.

Bond courses on skills and techniques to advocate and campaign effectively, particularly from an international perspective

Strategic advocacy: 13 – 14 November 2013 • 2 day course

Advocacy Essentials: 29 January 2014 • 1 day course

UK corridors of power: 17 – 18 March 2014 • 2 day course

If a course you want is not scheduled, please contact Bond  to find out more.

also run campaign training international issues. Their Constituency Campaigners programme takes place in various cities, the first on 19 October in Birmingham.

Christian Aid campaigners training evening on tax & climate change

6-9pm, Thursday 7 November, 2013 at Christian Aid Head Office,  35 Lower Marsh, Waterloo, London SE1 7RL (Nearest station: Waterloo).

To register: Places are free but please book in advance by emailing or calling 020 7523 2105.

Good practice stakeholder participation training

9-12 Oct, 2013 at: Wye, Ashford, TN25 5DB

Three day training on involving stakeholders in decisions about the environment; understand the principles and concepts of stakeholder participation; learn practical facilitation skills and how to design a participation process. Contact : Anne-Marie Campbell, dialogue matters

Children’s Takeover Day – Friday 22 November 2013

Give children and young people a chance to work with adults for the day and be involved in decision-making. Children benefit from experiencing the world of work and making their voices heard, while adults gain a fresh perspective. Put your event on the map,  tweet about your #TakeoverDay and follow @ChildrensComm.

Locality annual convention in Leicester 12 -13 Nov 2013

#Locality13 is about “’building possibility:  Early bird booking is open for by 31 Aug for a discount. More details here.

Women and Democracy: 15 – 23 Nov 2013

What are you planning to do for Parliament Week?

It’s time to organise something now!

Please pass on this information to your networks, acknowledging Democracy Matters, and let me know what you’re doing.

Best wishes,

Titus Alexander


Democracy Matters

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