What should our response be to recent events in Saudi Arabia? 

This discussion topic was prompted by the disappearance of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi as reported here

Firstly, the issue was contextualised with some of the features of our current relationship with Saudi Arabia highlighted as:

  • Close business links with billions of pounds worth of weapons sold by UK defence firms to the Saudis
  • Close ties between the UK royal family and the Saudi royals
  • UK military support for the Saudi bombing of Yemen
  • UK reliance on oil supplies from Saudi Arabia 

The UK Government response has been very muted so far, perhaps for the reasons above.

It was suggested that UK influence has waned in the Middle East in recent years and that the US is far more influential in the region. It was also recognised that intervention in  the region requires a clear understanding of the tribal nature of politics in the Middle East. Also, interventions in Iraq and Libya have led to increased instability in the region, and this could be exacerbated if the Saudi regime were toppled.

Nevertheless, a feeling was expressed that the UK Government ought to respond in some meaningful way to recent actions by the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, including the imprisonment of women who campaigned for the right to drive and now this latest incident with the journalist Khashoggi. It was suggested that moral considerations should outweigh commercial considerations in calculating our response. 

How can we have a real democracy? 

This topic was prompted by the Green Party ten point proposals for extending democracy as put forward in Green News and on their website campaign for real democracy. They are working with the pressure group Make Votes Matter to gain support for proportional representation. Another proposal is to reform the House of Lords to make it more democratic and to this end a bill had been introduced in the Lords and proposals agreed but the Government had not given it any time to be debated in the Commons. There is a petition to persuade the Government to give this bill sufficient time in the Commons which can be signed here

This was partly a response to the BREXIT vote, which it has been suggested was motivated by a desire to have more control over how we are governed. Also, low turnout in elections suggests a disillusionment with the current form of governance. 

There were questions raised about proportional representation and whether it leads to sufficiently stable government and also whether it can maintain the link with constituencies. The response was that PR is used extensively throughout Europe and has, in many cases, led to more consensual government and less extremism. Also, there are variations of PR that can retain the constituency link. Reference was made to the use of various types of PR in the election of the Welsh, Scottish and London Assemblies.

One key question raised was: Does real democracy, in the sense that it is proposed here, lead to better governance? It was suggested that it may be a way of moving towards better governance but on its own is not sufficient. What is needed, as well, is a more informed citizenry that can make decisions. Citizens Juries are a means for achieving this and could be regarded as an important element of real democracy.