Salisbury Compass was successfully launched on Thursday 2 March

There was a packed house for the launch of the Compass group in Salisbury last Thursday evening at the Boathouse in Castle Street. Two guest speakers gave speeches followed by a lively question and answer session.

Neal LawsonThe first speaker was Neal Lawson (left), the chair of Compass.  Neal’s opening words were ‘our politics is broken’ which set the scene for why we have launched a group in Salisbury.

Compass had a basic belief in people he said. The context in which Compass was set up was the decline of the Labour Party. There were deep rooted cultural changes in our society and the world in which people worked in factories and belonged to trades unions had diminished. Globalisation and other changes in society – which left many people in ‘non-jobs’ – meant there was a need for hope.

There was now a need for a politics that was done with us not to us and he called for a progressive alliance. The Labour party could no longer win on its own. More young people had to be involved and we had to break the current political system.

Graham Smith

Graham Smith. Pic: Salisbury Compass

Neal was followed by Prof Graham Smith of the University of Westminster. Graham spoke of the popular disillusionment with current politics, the low trust, low turnouts at elections and the rise of populist parties.  Older people were more negative whereas younger people were more positive but less engaged. Ultimately populist parties tended to disappoint.

His central question was: can we do politics differently?  Was it all about ‘electoral’ democracy?  And the big question, how do you constrain political elites?

He went on to describe different ways of doing politics. For example the idea of sortition, randomly selected ‘mini-publics’ and reference panels. This idea came about because of the problem of oligarchy, clearly a problem we have today especially with our media ownership. He described the experiment in British Colombia and the link is to the report Making Every Vote Count (pdf). One of the key results was that the broader public trusted citizen’s assemblies and that people enjoyed taking part.

He recommended the site participedia of which he was a member.  It was about spreading ideas of new forms of participatory politics and governance and reflected the desire of people to be more involved in collective decision making.

Both speakers focused on the failures of the current political system. A politics which represented the few not the majority, a politics which was increasingly dysfunctional and unrepresentative.

Dickie Bellringer, acting chair of the Salisbury group, thanked the speakers and the audience for coming and said that we were planning to set up a democracy café. It would enable people to meet and deliberate on a wide range of political issues.

Peter Curbishley

Prof. Graham Smith, Dickie Bellringer and Neal Lawson pictured at the launch
Prof. Graham Smith, Dickie Bellringer and Neal Lawson pictured at the launch.  Pic: Salisbury Compass