Democracy: doing it for ourselves

Above is the video of a presentation I made at NESTA in London on 15th November with discussants Claire Mellior and Martin Wolf. I reproduce (AI generated) timestamps in the shownotes of the video below.

00:00 – Introduction and Overview The talk begins with an introduction to the challenges facing contemporary society and the roles of NESTA in addressing them, including applied research, venture building, and policy shaping.

02:09 – The Politics of Policy Solutions The speaker reflects on the difficulties of implementing policy solutions due to the complexities of politics and the need for radical ideas to meet the scale of current challenges.

03:34 – Panel Introduction and Project Background Introduction of the panel members and their contributions to the field, along with a mention of NESTA’s work in collective intelligence design.

05:14 – Democracy and Governance Types The talk shifts to a discussion of different types of governance, with a focus on Aristotle’s typology and the concept of democratic lotteries.

10:43 – Media Influence on Politics Analysis of the impact of media, especially the reduction of presidential soundbites over time, highlighting the influence of media on political discourse.

16:22 – Brexit and Citizen Juries The speaker discusses the impact of citizen juries on public opinion, particularly in the context of Brexit, and how deliberation influenced people’s views.

22:04 – Activism and Nonpartisan Politics The focus shifts to the concept of nonpartisan activism and the importance of citizen juries in representing democratic legitimacy and influencing policy.

28:44 – Embedding a People’s Branch in Government The idea of a ‘people’s branch’ in government is proposed, suggesting a chamber chosen by sampling to represent a check on elected representatives.

37:05 – Panel Responses and Discussion The panel members respond to the talk, discussing their perspectives on deliberative democracy, the role of citizen assemblies, and the complexities of political change.

50:18 – Q&A Session The question and answer session begins, allowing for audience engagement and further exploration of the topics discussed.

You can access the audio here.

I am not sure why YouTube’s transcript creation hasn’t activated and but I’ve posted a rough transcript beneath the fold.

Introduction and Overview

Host: Ravi Gurumurthy

Like climate change, obesity, inequality. We have three roles. We do applied research with innovation partners and lots of testing of ideas. We’re also a venture builder, so we both build companies from scratch and invest in early stage companies. And we’re system shaper trying to shape the policies and institutions relevant to those three missions. In addition to that, we have the insights team as part of our family, and the challenge works that work on a broad range of areas right around the world.

Challenge works running prizes, table insights, team doing trials around the world. So that’s a bit of a portrait of NESTA. One of the projects that we’re working on at the moment is called UK 2040 and we’re trying to think through what are the big challenges facing the country over the next 15 years. Where where is there agreement? Disagreement?

What are the options We should be working up? And one of our reflections, I think, when you go through that process, is that while many problems feel intractable and difficult, there are actually policy solutions. But what is difficult are the politics. And even the second or third best policy idea is difficult politics. And I think that’s the context in a way for this conversation, because if we are to try and meet the scale of the challenges facing the country with ambitious policies, we have to find ways of forging agreements on quite radical ideas, not lowest common denominator politics.

And one of the ways in which politicians and governments have responded historically is to try and insulate policy and government from politics. Independent institutions, Bank of England, the Climate Change Committee, even the NHS, was attempted. It was pushed into independence under David Cameron. Short, rather short lived. So actually what we are talking today about is the opposite. Can we define democracy and deepen engagement?

Because that is a most stable, democratic way of doing things and is actually critical if we’re going to make change happen without the blowback that comes from trying to insulate people from politics, which is frankly often a fool’s errand. So we have a fantastic panel to discuss this really fascinating issue. We’ve got Nicholas Gruen, who is over here from Australia, who’s the CEO of Lateral Economics and a visiting professor at the King’s College.

Nicholas has written on many, many issues, including this particular one. We’ve got Martin Wolf who needs no introduction, chief economics commentator at the F.T.. And I think one chapter of his book is actually dedicated to this particular question that we’re discussing today. And we have Claire Melia, who’s the co-founder of the Global Assembly for COP 26, is an expert in participative processes and knowledge and practice lead at the IS my foundation.

So welcome to our panel. This is an area of work that’s Nesta, has quite a lot of history and we’ve done a lot of work in. At the moment, our Center for Collective Intelligence Design, CCD is doing quite a lot of work practically on the ground. So do check them out as well and we’ll potentially bring in some of those ideas during the panel.

The format for today is Nicholas is going to come up and do a talk for about 25 minutes. We’ll hear response from Claire and Martin, and then we’ll have a panel and panel discussion and throw open to both questions here and online. So do get your questions ready. So over to you, Nicholas.


Nicholas Gruen

Thank you. But are not forget this. But just in case, I’ll also not forget that. Okay. So I’m told that if I press this button, that happens. And it did. So that’s encouraging. That’s what I’m going to talk to you about. Democracy, doing it for ourselves. And that is a quick outline that you of what I’m going to talk about that you won’t have time to read, but it proves to you that I’ve got some system to all this.

Democracy and Governance Types

Nicholas Gruen

Now I want to talk to you. You may be familiar with this typology from Aristotle. These three types of government. And I want to point out a a simple thing to you, which is that two of these systems have a government and the government sorry, a government, a government and the governed. That’s true of monarchy. It’s true of aristocracy and Aristotle had a beautiful description of what democracy was.

It is everyone taking turns in being governed and in governing. And that means that if you asked Aristotle about different institutions and you asked Aristotle what type of institution was were elections, he would have said to you they were aristocratic institutions because they are designed to produce a government to govern the governed. And that’s that’s a simple explanation for why the founding fathers in America chose elections over other mechanisms, which they were well aware of because democracy was a dirty word at the time that they were thinking about designing the Constitution of America.

And the thing that gives people a turn in governing or being governed is a democratic or a democratic lottery. And it remains in our legal system, and it is and it is recognized in Magna Carta and so on. Thomas Jefferson had a hope. And the hope was because he was anxious about democracy like all the others. And his hope was that elections would produce a natural aristocracy.

How is that going then? Which brings me to the corruption of institutions. And in each of these cases of Aristotle’s institution, and then a corrupt form of that institution, what has happened is that the office holder or holders have lost the thread of what their purpose is, which is to be the vehicle for their society’s well-being. And they’ve started to pervert that to.

I think, you know, what the what what they perverted it to their own well-being. And so that’s a better picture of what we find of the situation that we find ourselves in. And, you know, thanks to Dolly, if I press this, I think it’ll point now. Anyway, the vine, if you like, is a delicate thing, and that’s the opinion of the people, what the people want and the spiky, nasty thing is a whole lot of other things like comms directors, people with a lot of money and power and so on and it’s not that the people aren’t involved in democracy, they are, but there’s constant there’s constant negotiation between those two things.

And one of the great one of the great things that gives people of power a lot of lot more leeway than you might think. In theory they had what is vox pop democracy, which is that we run our society on what people think right now, and this is what human beings look like. According to one artist a few tens of thousands of years ago.

And at this point they evolve the they evolved a desire for food that was sweet, fatty and salty. And that’s where we are now. And things that were the stuff of life, the things that were good for us when optimized to that degree become poison. And that’s what we’ve done with our politics. We fast food ified it now.

People blame the Internet for this. But let me show you something that happened before the Internet arrived. This is the length of a soundbite of a presidential soundbite on on American network news. And we’re starting with 1968, and we’re going to 1988 before the before Social media was even a glint in Mark Zuckerberg’s time. And that is what has happened.

Media Influence on Politics

The length of a soundbite has gone from 42 to 9 seconds. If you can’t communicate something in 9 seconds, it doesn’t get communicated. And that’s if you’re the president. We also have intensifying culture war. If you are out there prosecuting politics, you’re not interested in debating the issues, you’re trying to frame the issues, you’re trying to set up rival camps.

You’re trying to get people to identify with this camp or that camp. And that’s largely the story of Brexit. So this is the vote for and against. Yes, for and against Brexit. And as you know, in the middle of 2016, the vote was 52, four and 48% against and now it is about 6040. And still for various reasons we have this idea that we have, we have the will of the people that we are carrying out when it is no longer the will of the people.

In fact, it is a long, long way from the will of the people. So that’s the scenario that I want to address and I wouldn’t really be very interested in any of this if I didn’t think that the worse things that we can do that are simple and powerful to have a big impact on making this better and being an economist of course it’s I like to talk about Mr. Keynes, John Maynard Keynes, and I want to use just a very simple expression from him.

And he was writing about the Great Depression in 1930, and he used this expression, We have magneto trouble. And what he was saying was that if we take this problem to be a cosmic morality play, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble. But if we take it, if we ask ourselves carefully, calmly, what mechanisms might we be able to adjust?

How much can we how much can we fix this? And he had an answer for that in economics. And many economists think that his answer was a very fertile one, and it was a simple one. That’s important, too. And so he is his a way of thinking. What I think is a very important part of the answer, and that is to say that virtually every democracy that you can think of is a three legged stool.

It contains elements of the three. The the three legs are three different democratic institutions. The middle leg there. I’ve called direct democracy in Athens. It was the assembly. In our system it is simply voting. So we all get a say. Then we need more than that. And so we have people who are represented. Let’s see if that works.

No, that just turns everything off. That’s a bit of a pity. And if that. No, anyway, I can’t point. That’s all right. So and then we have two different ways to represent the people because what we need is we need a small group of people who will make themselves knowledgeable enough to make decisions on our behalf, to make decisions for our benefit.

And one way to do that is representation by election. And we’ve and I’ve given you a little hint of all of the things that that deviate from the textbook, our imagining of what that might be like and what it actually turns out to be like, because representation by election is mediated, is mediated democracy. And I think that mechanism is an important mechanism and if I didn’t think that, it wouldn’t matter because who the hell am I?

And then there’s this other way to represent the people. And we use it every day in courts. And that way to represent the people is to grab some people who we have reason to believe are similar to representative of people, of the will, of ordinary people. And of course, as you know, we use that in legal juries in Athens.

They use that to run the whole city. They had a thing called the Council of 500, the July and 1/10 of those 500 people at any one time were running the city. They were maintaining the monuments and the buildings and and and all the other things that had to go on. As well as preparing the agenda for the assembly.

This the supreme decision making body. And they used elections just for a few offices generals and also some financial officers. Now let’s go back to Brexit and let’s see what a citizen jury thinks. In 2017, there was a citizen jury in this city funded by four universities. And they so this is a year after the the the plebiscite.

Brexit and Citizen Juries

And they said to the press that they weren’t trying to relitigate Brexit. Remember how terrified people were of that They were looking at what sort of Brexit people wanted. But in fact, if you dug into the data, there was an entry question and an exit question about what you think about Brexit. And if you asked yourself that question, you found that over the four days of deliberation, nobody who voted leave sorry, nobody who voted remain changed their vote, and seven or eight people who voted leave changed their preference.

And so the citizen jury produced pretty much exactly the state of opinion that exists today with the experience that we’ve had so far. Here’s one example, and I mention it to you because I want you to think about the theater of this. So if you’re voting and let’s say you’re voting on the environment, your constantly being campaign to people, there are a bunch of people who you don’t like, who are on the telly all the time telling you a whole pack of lies or whatever you think they are.

And then there’s your side and maybe you think they’re right, or maybe you think they’re a bunch of blocks as well. And in a situation like that, you go to the voting booth and you’re pretty determined not to be the mug. You’re pretty determined not to be taken for granted. Compare that with being in a room of people who exemplify the situation that you are in, which is that you should be thinking about your own interests and you should be thinking about that in the context of all of our interests, because that’s what most other people there will be trying to do.

And in that context, in a citizen jury in Texas, which you may be intrigued to know, was commissioned by Governor George W Bush in 1999. I think the going into the citizen jury people were asked, would you pay a little bit more? And it was very small amount more for renewable energy as opposed for renewable energy rather than fossil fuel produced energy.

And 54% of people going in said they would and coming out 82% of people said they would. So that’s the difference of a of this different way to frame decision is to frame political decisions in people’s minds. Now the problem for me is that the citizen juries have been improving in have been becoming more popular. Lots of people think these are good things, but I think we’re only really at the end of the beginning because I’m almost all citizen juries have been one off temporary subject specific, and they and they advise the real law makers, which of course, which of course rehearses their inferiority, rehearses the fact that the real law makers, they’re the ones who make the decisions.

And again, a great deal a lot of citizen juries are run at the because governments have set them up, because governments have got into a problem and they think this might be a way out. I’m not really against any of that. That’s great. But I think if we’re going to try and make this this approach more, if we try, if we trying to make the next step, you can be here for decades going to governments and saying, what about this?

What about that? I have some experience of people who have spent a lot of time doing that, and it’s quite frustrating. So I want to suggest something. And as I’ve suggested this, it’s occurred to me that it’s actually quite a new and powerful thing. I want to be an activist. I want some activism around this. So there’s some activists.

There’s another activist, there are some activists. And if I ask myself, what are they doing? They’re not going somewhere and asking for permission. They’re not trying to please they’re not placing themselves in a position of supplicants. They will perhaps do that in other contexts. What they’re doing is they are asserting an alternative legitimacy. And that’s what I want to do with citizen juries.

But there’s a big difference because these people are partizan. These people are represent a particular group of people who believe that they are hardly done by and certainly the ones I’ve shown you, I’m good with that claim. There are some others I’m less good with. But what I’m talking about is something it has occurred to me is a different kind of activism.

It’s a nonpartizan activism. It’s an activism of the center, and it’s an activism not for a particular sub community, but for the system, for the health of our democracy. So the goal is, as the 18th and 19th century negotiated by Cameron ISM, two different chambers, initially the lower chamber represented the people, a.k.a the House of Commons. The Upper House represented property.

Activism and Nonpartisan Politics

I won’t go into why that wasn’t really the case until 1920, but you get the picture that was true in the United States as well. It was true in my country, Australia, upper houses. Typically you couldn’t vote for an upper house without a fair bit of property and so on. And so each is a check and a balance.

On the other, we need a people’s branch, a branch chosen by sampling to represent a check on elected representatives. So what could be the means of doing this rather than going to the government and asking, well, what I would what I would be doing, what I am trying to do is to privately fund a standing citizen assembly. Well, I want to commence with philanthropy, and that doesn’t mean we can’t take small donations.

Just mentioned that in case you’re interested, but if we can get this done from philanthropic money, I think when people see this and I’ve got a lot of evidence for this, when people see this, they’ll come up with their hundred pounds a year and say, I mean, I want to fund this thing. And the idea would be, say, over five years you phase out philanthropic funding, you get crowd funding, but all the time you are campaigning for government, governments to fund this.

So to fund it with ongoing funding and also a constitutional role for this body. Again, remember, we live in an open society. Some people might disagree with that, but there’s an assertion for you and this chamber, if it has a lot of legitimacy, can challenge the rest of the system if it wants to. And the challenge I would like to suggest that it issue the rest of the system is to say if it disagrees with a vote of the House, of the Lower House or the Upper House, it petitions that House to hold the vote again by secret ballot.

And if it could do that, we would have avoided the hard Brexit that has done so much damage to Britain, We would have avoided the abolition of carbon pricing in Australia in 2013 and we would have yes, we would have impeached Donald Trump, who six Republicans in the Senate voted to impeach Donald Trump the second time around. We didn’t need that many more to get a two thirds majority in a secret ballot.

I will assert you would have done it. So that’s the power that it can claim for itself whether the houses will cooperate or not. Well, I’m not all that optimistic. But then we campaign and we try and get that written into into the the laws of the land. So that’s the basic idea. A standing chamber. It models the way people solve problems because that’s what happens in citizen assemblies and juries as opposed to creating them, which is largely what has become what people do when they’re elected.

Because to be elected and stay elected, you create a problem and you you’re the solution to that problem. It illustrates deviations between the opinion of the people and their considered opinion. There’s no other there’s no institution that’s doing that. Surveys don’t surveys, opinion polls don’t do it. And they challenge elected representatives to do likewise, to represent the considered opinion of the people, and they see secret ballots where they disagree.

There’s another role that such bodies can have. And if and he is the thing that’s happening in democracy at the moment, which is that basic democratic norms are not being upheld by the system. Perhaps one of the most dramatic things to illustrate that is the way in which the United States Supreme Court has become politicized, even though the founding fathers built a mechanism in to try to stop that happening.

And that’s confirmation hearings that, of course, the confirmation hearings have become massively politicized. Well, it turns out that the people themselves will defend basic democratic norms, but they won’t do it if you ask them to vote at the same time as voting for a leader or voting for what they think different parties will do to the electricity prices that that doesn’t turn up high in the air on the dial.

But if you put people together in a group and you say, should we gerrymander this state, as you probably know now, it wasn’t always the case. But now Republicans have far gained far more from deliberate gerrymandering in numerous American states than Democrats. 92% of Democrat voters are against gerrymandering. Guess how many? Guess what the proportion of Republican voters?

These are the ones who vote for many of whom vote for Donald Trump. Guess what proportion of Republican voters think gerrymandering is a good idea? 80 is a bad idea, excuse me, 88%. And therefore a citizens will defend basic democratic norms far more than politicians in the right structures such as the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, which has a role in the Michigan Constitution to redistrict, to draw electoral boundaries and has cleaned up gerrymandering, know in the short time that it’s been around.

Embedding a People’s Branch in Government

So how do we embed a people’s branch? You see, what I’ve done is I’ve talked about the idea is this body would be renewed with new people sampled from the community on a rolling basis. So it it’s so there are two problems. One is existing institutions have built like the House of Commons in the House of Lords have built their sense of themselves, their procedures and so on, through various crises for centuries.

And there is a continuity of leadership there. So what I suggest is that that that the citizen with citizen assemblies being new and continually renewed, I would propose a council of elders from the alumni that is produced by each cohort. And I would try to select the best dozen of each cadre and they would become on a council of advisors.

They would have no and this is illustrative. There are different ways of putting this, but they would have no further power. I will. And so I’ll tell you a little as so this is a way of squaring the circle, but this is a way of trying to get to Jefferson’s and Stream, where we are actually promoting the best people.

And let me tell you of something that really excited me when I heard about the Adelaide Citizen, the Adelaide Citizen Jury on nuclear waste, there are 340 people in that citizen jury and they needed to choose spokespeople to speak to the Premier and there they are, the spokespeople and the Premier Jay Weatherill is on the left there and they didn’t want to hold an election.

So what they did was they randomly selected a group of people, about ten people on the last day of the citizen jury, and they said, please join us in a room for 2 hours. The first hour will be spent identifying the criteria according to which we want spokespeople and the second hour identifying who we’ve met in the citizen jury who best meet those criteria.

And then they went and asked people if they’d be happy to be spokespeople. And the and those who agreed were spokespeople. A nice little cherry on the cake. This was extremely popular. It was extremely successful. A nice bit of cherry on the cake for me is that the group of spokespeople was gender balanced, but gender balance was not one of the criteria.

In other words, they were ideally gender balanced, not artificially gender balanced. That to me, I wrote and I was blown away by that. I thought, that’s a very exciting mechanism. And I wrote an article about it. And then the people who improvised this method were a little mystified that I had got so excited. Some time later I discovered that this is how Venice governed itself for 500 years, you will have heard of coups and blood feuds up and down the Italian peninsula, breaking, you know, causing mayhem in most of the cities of the Italian Renaissance and medieval period.

Venice had no coat, no successful coups, was a stable government for 500 years, for 290, from two to from 1297 to 1797, when Napoleon turned up and said cold drinks. And the way they did this was So think of Venice as a little bit like Athens. Athens had about 20% of the population, had a vote and they were radically equal.

This is about 3000 nobles who had who were the sovereign body governing Venice. And what they did was they would randomly select people from that council. They would lock them up. Think of the papal conclave. They’re not allowed out until we get 15 new senators, two new councilors for the Doge and a financial controller. They are given a secret ballot.

So if people want to campaign or threaten or bribe them, you just walk out of the conclave and say, Yep, yep, did your bidding, and you can’t tell whether they do or not. A really, really interesting mechanism which solves Jefferson’s problem of trying to get off, trying to identify merit without flicking the switch towards Machiavellianism, narcissism and whatever else the third Triad is, I’m sure someone can tell me.

I want to I’ll conclude with what Joan Robinson You know, I’m an economist and I’ve quoted Maynard Keynes. This is the second this is the second edition of her Economics of Imperfect Competition, published the first way back in 1933. This was the second edition, 1969. And she said that the the book, the book had become canonical, and yet it frustrated her because she said all the good things or all the things that that she didn’t care about, which are all those graphs, all those things that she thought were a bit of a fudge.

They went into the canon. But what she was really concerned about was this, which is the consumer. As she wrote, Consumers sovereignty can never be established as long as the initiative lies with the producer for the great brand of consumer goods, the buyer is necessarily necessarily an amateur, while a seller is a professional. She’s just talking about consumer goods.

But think about all the other parts of our economy and then think about our political system. And that is the problem writ large. And this is something of a solution. It’s not a solution because we create a new institution which is part of the system. It is because we take we sample from the community, we give people the time.

We give them the capacity to start knowing enough to take turns in governing and being governed. I said, that was the last thing I’ll make it the last thing I might come back to that. And and if somebody does want to ask me why, if somebody does want to ask me why Susan Boyle is on this presentation, we’ll just have to handle that in questions.

Thank you.

Panel Responses and Discussion

Ravi Gurumurthy

Thank you. Nicholas. Claire, do you want to respond first?


Yeah. Okay. Great challenge. Thank you. So I suspect where I’m coming from is that we’re hearing you’re talk in a way about the need for change and it’s coming from you and it’s coming from an activist. It’s coming, but it’s actually from the day citizens and the general public. And that’s backed up by evidence. And there’s pure research that shows that people want radical system change, radical political system change.

So it’s not just us. Probably the usual suspects interested in politics that are asking for change. And it’s not just the social movement. So I want to start from that, acknowledging that there’s actually a demand for radical change right now. And it’s not just a theory and theoretical thoughts. It’s it’s actually happening, you know, citizens assemblies and the deliberative processes.

So you’re using the term justice, but actually there’s a wide range of methods which are at the heart of these processes. It’s about not just about sortation and selection of people at random, but it’s also deliberation. These are the key components in citizens assemblies, sortation and deliberation. So that’s that’s really it’s happening. And we are seeing, you know, the OECD, as you know, coined this, the deliberative wave.

And we think actually there’s a lot more that the U.S. is acknowledging. In the UK, for instance, the doing the brand brown governments that was, you know, more than 200 processes happening, deliberative processes. They might have been called citizens duty because actually there was there was a lot more happening. And my my organization is we as we’ve been supporting processes in Armenia, for instance, which I think speaks to your point about doing democracies democracy ourselves.

There’s there’s been an assumption for, I would say, the past ten or 20 years that to have legitimacy, these processes need a mandate from power holders. And if you get a mandate, you get, you know, a process will be designed that will lead to change. What we’re noticing and I’ve been involved in more than 20 assemblies in the last few years, is that actually that’s a bit simplistic and naive to assume that mandate and a good process need to change.

Politics is messy, and we’ve seen that with the French commercial situation, for instance, where there was a commitment from the from President McCall to not feel to what was coming out of the assembly that would be either translated into a referendum, regulation or legislation. By the end of it, we and that’s the thought. And so on your one on your picture.

We know how politics works. It’s it’s messy. They are vested interest and we need to acknowledge that. I suppose when we’re talking about deliberative democracy, it’s not just good enough to do a process that is robust. You actually need to think about how change happens. What are these recommendations landing and they land in a system that is not suited for actually radical change.

So when you think about the deliberative system, then you need to think about the different components in that system. And the citizens assembly is a mechanism, but you need to think about what are narrative and culture, How does that shape what happens, what well, what’s the role of the media? How is that going to influence what happens once you’ve got the recommendations?

Well, why are the vested interests good? And at which point are they going to influence the process between the recommendation and the legislation? So and this is what we try to do in an article we wrote last month called Let’s Get Real about Citizens Assemblies, it’s actually let’s let’s really talk about politics and how power works. So we need to become power literate.

So just to to, you know, in a way support completely your argument that we need to do democracy ourselves. We need to reclaim it and not put all our hopes into existing power holders open, you know, in a way that’s quite disempowering to say. And I’ve seen that time and time again when I was facilitating these assemblies, people were really activated.

That sense of individual and collective agency being created and then they’re realizing actually the change that we really believe is needed is not happening. So it is actually the risk and that’s the biggest risk I’m seeing at the moment, is that what’s that wave is actually crushing and that it creates disempowerment. This is your illusion then, because the change is not happening.

And so just to summarize, I think we need to see the seeds of the change. And and for me, this this idea of doing it ourselves is actually is really empowering. But that that requires thinking really carefully about then how do you make the change happen? So it’s not just about creating the process. And that’s what’s so interesting.

For instance, with this project in Armenia called the Convention of the Future Armenian, which is a highly complex political contact with war happening in Azerbaijan with as Abidjan, a genocide, literally another one happening on our doorsteps. And they have created a completely independent citizens convention, which has its own affiliation network, which will take some of the recommendations forward, which include, you know, people from civil society businesses.

So they’re not putting their hopes into the existing power holders. So this is where I completely relate to the arguments of let’s reclaim our power, let’s do democracy ourselves, but let’s be really careful about not just putting all hopes into methodology, which could be a method going to treat. Let’s think about system change and how we’re going to change that system collectively.

Ravi Gurumurthy

Thank you very much. I’m and finally, Martin, if you want to come up and give me a response.

Martin Wolf

Okay. That’s so many fascinating ideas.

I decided I’d sort of decide what to say when I heard what people said at the. So I’m a complete non expert on the assemblies and how they work. So my knowledge is such as it is doesn’t overlap with Claire in anything I think and Vicky and I got to this in a rather strange way and basically my starting point is because I got to it via Nicholas that everything he says must be true and right.

But what I won’t do, I is discuss three things, which is why I became interested in this. The this relates to the sort of what I think is the core problem in politics. And the third is what will be involved. David, this is just a reaction to Claire saying it can sort of manage in bringing about an insurrection, which is, I think what you’re talking about and which is, in other words, how do you actually make it politically effective, which is, I think, a pretty big question.

So why did I get to this? So I started writing in 2016, a book called which is published last this year in February called The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism. And basically it came out of my view, which is not something I would have thought ten years earlier or 13 or 20 years earlier, that our political economic system in as operating isn’t working very well.

And I’m putting this quite gently, and to me it seems clear that some form of capitalism is going to survive. But I’m not at all clear that any sort of democracy is going to. And that’s not something I had expected, and it was triggered by the obvious disaster. Brexit would be not just economic naturally, but politically. It’s created a for it has reinforced a form of politics which cannot possibly deal with any of our problems.

And I don’t think anybody who’s looked at the last seven years can really disagree with that. And of course, in America they’re about to elect a fascist. It’s as simple as that. And it’s a very open question, in my view, not very open whether Americans see America, even its current form of democracy, will survive. So this is a major crisis of our system and the core.

There are many core ways, but maybe one good way of thinking about a good way of thinking about it is get to Nicholas’s point, which could be put in the same way that democracy that is in my book, but not put it this way, democracy as we know it, representative democracy emerging within a constitutional order and out of a constitutional order that itself was highly non-democratic, to put it mildly.

And what made it more or less peaceful in a country like Britain? I won’t go into the whole history of all this. We’ve spent a lot of time on. This is precisely that. And that’s where we get to Claire’s question becomes one very crude way of putting it. Is that at each stage in the process, vested interest of which the most important were the landed aristocracy, and then what marks with the capital is recognize that giving the vote to a lot more people was better than having a civil war.

And there were successive stages. And based on and we ended up with universal suffrage democracy. And the point was not to change too much and it didn’t change too much, except within the system, of course, it developed a new form, not a new form, an evolved form, but the political process itself, which Nicholas has talked about, which is the corruption, the complete corruption of debate.

I think we can describe that this is very so that’s how we got sort of where we are. And in the process of making those adjustments 40 or 50 years ago, we designed a system to cope with this new arrangement, which very broadly could be defined as welfare capitalism. And that’s broken down, in essence, is the argument of the book very, very crudely?

What do you do now? Well, one approach, which is I talked to at length, is try and reform politics, reform the economy in such a way through the political process that it works better for everybody. The other way to think about it is you need to reform politics. You probably need to reform both. And they have to come together.

And it’s in that context that I came to Nicholas’s idea and have only two or three pages actually on why citizens assemblies, and particularly creating a separate house of Parliament selected by vote by lot might be a really interesting idea and might do some useful things to remedy the problems we have. And Nicholas discussed a lot of that, and I don’t have much to add the so that’s why I got to it and what I think are quite nice ideas to start with.

But the big point Clare raised is how do you make this or anything like it happen, which is of course also the good, the big good critique of my book of I wrote a critique of my book. It would basically say, Well, how is any of this going to happen? And the answer is what Claire is suggesting in a very nice and gentle ways or revolution.

And and because it’s trying to undo the 200 years or so, give or take over evolution of what was an aristocratic and monarchical system into a quasi democratic system and say we took the wrong course, we should have been Athenians. I won’t go into all the problems with the Athenian system. That’s another point altogether. I spent a lot of time as a classicist, but the the point is we have to be quite clear about this and this really last point.

If you want to do this, you have to recognize as you’re trying to overturn the logical by the the, the logical basis, I think, of our political system, which is, as he said, an elective aristocracy and the and the to do that you have to persuade the people at large that they are being fooled big time. Very big time.

And you’re going to have to do that against every interest, including all of the media, such as the Financial Times. So maybe what we should focus on if we want something that big is how you make revolutions happen, right?

Ravi Gurumurthy

I didn’t expect you send them all out.

Martin Wolf

I didn’t say I wanted to make this revolution. No, I said, if you wanted this to happen, my amelioration is that let’s get an agreement that we can build on the assemblies that Nicholas thought make them into and make one into an institution, Make it legitimate to such a degree that people have to give it part, which to some extent happened with the House of Commons in over a hundred years and sort of incremental incremental stuff.

But that change will probably be a century or so.

Q&A Session

Ravi Gurumurthy

Okay. Let’s let’s pick up on that actually, because I want to ask perhaps start with Claire. Nicholas, if you if you take on which I think he mentioned or Belgium or Armenia, how did they get there and what are we learning from those sorts of processes?


I can start with France. I’m quite close to what was interesting with the French Climate Citizens Assembly, which had more than 90% awareness in the French public by the end of the climate Assembly is that it started with the religion and the social movement. The gesture came together with deliberative democracy expert, activist, and they created this group, this Utoya, which then went to Moscow and negotiated to hold the citizens assembly.

The momentum came from the social movement in France, and that led to a process that was really interesting and change the narrative around what’s possible with deliberative democracy. And then it fitted within the existing power structure and that when that was commissioned by Merkel, what’s interesting for me with the Armenian process or what with we’ve done with the global assemblies, we claim the space was given to cause a claim space rather than a closed or invited space.

So most of the citizens assembly, when they’re commissioned by power holders, are invited spaces. The power holders determines the framing the agenda. The the you know what? How much budget is going to go into it. I think what’s interesting is to look at these claim spaces and how they have legitimacy within themselves. It doesn’t have the legitimacy doesn’t have to come from the power holders if they are done well and that transparent.

And that’s where the governance of these forces is, is absolutely critical. We haven’t really talked about it, but I think the governance of assemblies is where for me, where the nuts and bolts need to be really open and transparent.

Nicholas Gruen

I’m yeah. So one of the interesting things about Belgium and just to explain to people who don’t know the German speaking part of Belgium, it’s only 70,000 odd citizens has a standing citizen council and it’s pretty much, I think, best practice. I think it’s a perfect instrument. It has no formal power that it is funded. 50 people sit for a year and they have the power to commission additional citizen assemblies of a bunch of new people chosen at random.

And they write the terms of reference and just before COVID, they initiated a process in which people were looking at the conditions in nursing homes rather presciently, they then moved and one of the interesting things is that a lot of the things that a lot of the work that this body does doesn’t isn’t very newsworthy because of our politics in the paper is only newsworthy politics.

Quick factoid for you. A a small party in Austria that believes in Sortation did a survey of Austrian citizens before the last election and asked them what they thought was the most important issue for parliamentarians to focus on in their next term. And the answer was education. And the election was about immigration because you can’t. It’s not news.

Education doesn’t get on the nightly news. We don’t have fights about it. We don’t have demonstrations about it and so on. The other interesting thing about East Belgium is that East Belgium, like so many European polities, is run by proportional representation and there are six parties and all six voted for this thing. And in my discussions with Belgian people, they’re a little bit mystified because I’m and they realize that that this is a very different problem that I’m trying to solve, which is that I’m trying to solve a problem.

I’m trying to build a branch of government that can start to pacify civilized discipline. This crazy freak show that we’ve got in our politics. So all parties are not going to suddenly vote for a system of assembly in Britain or Australia or the United States. So it’s a it’s quite a different problem. I’ll also just make a quick comment about Ireland, which is that Ireland is a sort of pin up point for this and I think it’s extremely successful.

I’ve done about six or seven of these governments. They understand that they can be useful to them. And so lots of and so I would say that government, that the government in Ireland is right up at the edge of what I call the end of the beginning, which is that they have not yet got an established concept channel position for citizen assemblies, but Irish people like citizen assemblies.

And I think that’s a very valuable thing. And I just spent earlier this afternoon talking to somebody in, in government in, in the UK about the prospect I said I said to this person the most successful government in Australia, both in terms of policy and in terms of politics, was Bob Hawke and Bob Hawke styled himself not as a political hero but as a steward of a process.

That process in Australia was an accord between employers, employees, farmers, the bureaucracy and big business basically, and small business. And what that meant was that there were large social problems solved. And then they came to the party and they came to the parliament. And if they and of course, what’s the opposition basically take whatever trouble they can and at which point one of the social partners would say to look to the opposition, can you shut up?

We’ve done a lot of work on this. This is going to be good for us. It’s going to be good for everyone because we have to negotiate it through. I’m not suggesting you replicate that, but something like citizen assemblies can enable a politician, a senior politician, to present themselves to the nation as a steward rather than as the latest political hero, which will be a big hero for a while and eventually disappear, worn down by the tabloids.

Ravi Gurumurthy

Martin You want to come in? I just want to also ask you on this, can you see a version where it is actually an assembly that’s invited by a political by power holder as opposed to a bottom up revolution?

Martin Wolf

Yeah, I was I’ve been thinking about that actually related to discussion we just had. What are the circumstances in which politicians might be interested in institutional arrangements of this kind or anything that constrains their discretion in some way? And my sense of this within sort of, broadly speaking, functioning states, we can let’s not get into the difficulty of deciding what they are.

They exist, they operate, and all the rest of it is. And I can think of a few examples when a potato gets so hot that they really, really don’t want to handle it. My understanding and stress stress, my non expertise is one of the reasons the Irish, for example, went in to do this on abortion, is that it was a nightmarish issue, so deeply divisive and so poisonous to politics that it seemed very desirable to find a mechanism which looked plausible and decent and reasonable for people to reach a consensus which didn’t involve them having to make a decision which you’d end up as wildly outraging some very significant part of the population.

But that that was sort of deeply invested in it. And there are a few issues like that. And Nick just mentioned Brexit. Well then obviously many of those characteristics. I could imagine that if Cameron had thought about it, I imagine as I would stress, imagine that if he realized the mess he was going to get himself into, he might have said to George Osborne, You know, isn’t there some way that we can de-politicize this ghastly thing that is tearing our party to pieces and will end up destroying it as a functioning government party, which it has?

And and isn’t this a possible way of doing it? The idea, I’m sure, never crossed their mind, but in other, the supremely hot potato might be one reason that politicians are genuinely interested. And the other possibility, and this is more a question for Claire and this is gets more into the revolution stage. Now, I’m obviously I have no expertise on what’s going on in Armenia except the pretty obviously the country’s in simply staggering crisis as a place.

And if you are in overwhelming crisis or the regime is beginning to break down in one way or another, then revolutionary things happen mostly very, very terrible revolutionary things. But there are situations in which the break from a functioning order is so great that finding some way to work together becomes important. It is conceivable to me, therefore conceivable, I stress conceivable that politicians in the US would start saying if we continue down this where we’re going, we’re going to end up in a civil war.

And that’s really not a place we want to get to. Is there any mechanism we can think of to resolve outside this war? We having the the really bitter, contentious issues that divide us? And again, that might be a situation in which politicians will agree. This is the sort of thing we, we we we could consider as an alternative.

So those a couple of imagined paths which might lead some political forces say actually we need the help of this because the politics we’re now in is absolutely nightmarish.

Ravi Gurumurthy

There’s an assumption that there isn’t, that it’s the process will come up with the right answer and that when people deliberate, they suddenly become rather progressive and sensible and manageable.

Martin Wolf

I don’t equate sensible and progressive. I’m afraid I’m much more reactionary than that.

Ravi Gurumurthy

Well, you said point. There was an assumption that this is a way of when people really about the issues actually they come up with a a better judgment than when they haven’t deliberated. But if you take and I think it’s lots of good examples of that being the case. Yeah, I’ve been involved in enormously things on the energy side where we got people to participate in a 2015 net zero plan and actually people come up with very, very sensible ideas, almost identical to the economists cost optimizing models. So we put through an Energy Department, if it’s very.

Martin Wolf

Easy to get people to agree on what needs to be done in 2050, it.

Ravi Gurumurthy

Is, but even even even nearer term questions.

Martin Wolf

But I’m sure if.

Ravi Gurumurthy

You took questions that are very difficult, like the death penalty or immigration right now, would you take the risk of putting this through a citizen’s assembly or would you be fearful of the potential consequences of doing that?

Nicholas Gruen

So I would be a little fearful. But my view on Brexit, for instance, was that Brexit was a mad thing to do, but that if the British people really wanted to do it and understood what they were doing, I would be in awe. I would think, Good on you. You’re going to take a 4% lower income. We don’t live by bread alone and this is what you want to do.

So this all and so there’s almost no, it’s true. This is one. So citizen juries swing towards retributive ideas. And I think there are for instance, there are some precedents of juries in the South simply not convicting white murderers of black people. So I wouldn’t be that I would take to be a problem. But but but generally, all the evidence I’ve seen is that the considered opinion of the people is very safe, and it’s better than the opinion of the people.

And if it if it differed from me, except on a few incredibly visceral points, I’d go with that considered judgment, not mine. That’s I believe that that that’s that’s those are my values, if you like.

Ravi Gurumurthy

On sort of issues where particular the public are really much more to the right of say, the political elites would you.


So I was in Copenhagen at the Deliberative Democracy conference recently and we had a session on all some topics too hot to tackle. And there was very different views within the democracy experts. And some were saying, actually we can’t go on on these very polarized topics. And I and I, I don’t think personally that a topic is too hot to handle.

I think it’s about the expectation. So a not deliberative democracy experts put into these processes the expectation of consensus. I don’t think that’s what they are about. I think it’s much more about actually surface things, the deep fears and hopes and governing sentiments and not expecting that we’re all going to come to an agreement. But actually it’s randomizing that we we can live together and agree to disagree in a way that is respectful.

And so it’s quite a profound difference. And someone cool shimmery Windsor, an activist from Israel, has been, you know, basically imprisoned because he was he was supporting, you know, peace, the peace process in Israel. And he’s e believes that a citizen’s assembly posts on on you know, what’s happening in Israel at the moment could really be be done.

So I think I wouldn’t I mean, I’m not the one who needs to answer that. I don’t I don’t know. But I would talk to people who actually have thought about this. And Professor Nicole Camacho, for instance, has written this book called Democracy in Times of Crisis, And she really understands what’s possible in really deeply polarized states in the Philippines, for instance.

So I think it’s it’s it’s possible. We just need to be brave.

Ravi Gurumurthy

Okay. I respond and then we’ll go to the floor for questions.

Martin Wolf

I haven’t thought about this deeply, but I have thought quite a bit about what democracy means. And and it doesn’t mean unbridled majoritarianism. I mean, here I’m with Jefferson, if I may say so. And it’s a constrained system and, the most important constraints. And we can we don’t have the time to discuss how or where they would come but have are obviously individual rights.

So I wouldn’t support any democratic process, including this one, which allow people, for example, to decide by majority vote that a large proportion of the population should be killed. Okay, that’s a constraint, right? You’re not allowed to do that.

Ravi Gurumurthy

I think you’re reactionary. Reactionary.

Martin Wolf

That’s completely rational. Individuals are ultimately majority democracy is only important because individuals are important. That’s the core value. Human beings are important because as individuals in making state decisions which have to be collective, we have to have a process that allows in the best possible way the aspirations, hopes and ideas of everybody involved. And that’s, I think, what we’re discussing.

But if you accept that this is my view that the demand for democracy derives from the value of human beings per say, then there are things you can’t aren’t allowed to do to individual human beings just because of a majority of people would like to do them to them. In other words, there have to be fundamental rights in a system.

I’m not going to discuss how you get there, but that’s why every constitution has them. And by the way, the worst example of the Athenian democracy was in a debate of exactly this kind, which is the vain the million debate, as you know. Now, admittedly, this was written out by Thucydides, but the point is to me, all democratic processes have to be constrained by fundamental human rights.

Now how that fits into immigration is more difficult because the civic rights of non-citizens are an interesting question. But in the case of capital punishment, I’m pretty clear.

Ravi Gurumurthy

Okay. Thank you. Let’s go to the floor. Let’s take three questions in a row. Take the lady, that gentleman there and the gentleman just behind us. Okay. Could you bring the microphone over? Well, so everyone can hear online line. Ready to put your hand up? I.


Thanks very much. My name’s Sara, and I’m organizing with a group called Just Stop Oil. So I was really interested in Martin’s point of, you know, that basically what we need is political insurrection, because I would agree with him, and I think we do need it to change politics because our politic, our process right now is failing us hugely.

So currently this September was 1.78 degrees above the preindustrial average. And so, Martin, I don’t even think capitalism is going to survive.


Way that we’re going, nevermind democracy. So and also, we’re on a trajectory where we are going to kill millions of people. That’s what our democratic process is currently doing, if not billions of people. So I think my question is, I mean, I don’t know if just the world can achieve it, possibly not. But those, you know, today there’s an 18 year old who got sent to prison because, you know, they really believe that we need to change this political system that we have.

So what are you going to do to help achieve that, that change to take place? Because there already are people on the streets demanding and occupying that space, you know, saying something different has to happen. So how do we use them to make the the change in our political process happen?

Ravi Gurumurthy

Okay. Just pass it to the gentleman that I keep. Thanks.

Martin Wolf

James Robertson from Sortation Foundation. You mentioned 2040 at the start. Our vision is that by 2040.

Ravi Gurumurthy

The powers and responsibilities.

Nicholas Gruen

That are currently held by the.

Martin Wolf

House of Lords will be held by House.

Ravi Gurumurthy

Of Citizens.

Speaker 5


Nicholas Gruen

Rolling Citizens.

Ravi Gurumurthy

Assembly. And we realize that’s ambitious.

Martin Wolf

And that’s why we’ve already started the campaign. But we do think we have an opportunity.

Ravi Gurumurthy

So on the question of how that has come up.

Martin Wolf

As I’m sure people will be aware, Starmer’s pledge to abolish the House of Lords basically because everyone agrees.

Ravi Gurumurthy

It’s pretty indefensible in a 20.

Martin Wolf

First century democracy. But it’s under the he is pledged to do that in order to restore trust in politics. Well, our polling shows that people are about four times more likely to trust ordinary people in.

Ravi Gurumurthy

A citizen’s.

Martin Wolf


Ravi Gurumurthy

Than politicians to make a decision in their.

Martin Wolf

Interests. Right. So if it’s trust.

Ravi Gurumurthy

In politics that you want, then a house of citizens is the answer, not an elected second chamber. And then the other thing is.

Martin Wolf

Will people always say, well.

That’ll never happen? But then they’ve been debating.

Martin Wolf

They’ve been trying to get an elected.

Ravi Gurumurthy

Second chamber out of the Commons for the last hundred years, and it doesn’t ever get very far.

Martin Wolf

And so I wonder if there is a possibility that as.

Ravi Gurumurthy

Obviously a house as citizens wouldn’t.

Martin Wolf

Be elected, it would be selected whether they would be seen as less of a threat. So I suppose my question.

Nicholas Gruen


Martin Wolf

What do you think of that idea?

Ravi Gurumurthy

And so the idea being that even replace the House of Lords.

Martin Wolf

With a House of.

Ravi Gurumurthy

Citizens, basically. Thanks. And you. Good evening. My name is Andrea Sakurai. I’m a systems architect. The seed I would like to plant in your mind is the cost of democracy could be just a pound. The question I’d like to ask is no one’s kind of mentioned money in politics. And the reason I say that is because money is power.

Ravi Gurumurthy

And the political parties, even in quite an informed here, I’d be surprised how many people realize that political parties, whether it’s Conservative or Labor Party or the Lib-Dems, they’re really tiny and I mean tiny by budget. And if you look at the last ten years, the major parties have a budget that somewhere between 10 to 20 million a year, it’s largest in an election year.

Ravi Gurumurthy

None of these parties ever run can balance the books. They are not capable of running their own party like an efficient company, like and or business or an organization. And then what happens is we have donations. And those donations for the left come from unions, but at least they represent millions. Your question? Yeah, the question is why are we talking about the influence of money in politics?

Ravi Gurumurthy

Because politics shapes all the parties. And there are 47 million registered voters in the UK. And if we each paid £1 every year towards a pot, we would have enough money to fund all the parties so they couldn’t take any donations. All right. Thank you. Let’s keep going with some points and questions. Let’s keep them short and then we can have let’s have three football and then let’s go to the panel for some final reflections, if that’s okay.

Ravi Gurumurthy

Let’s go to this side of the room now, Rory. Yes, you can. I say.

Martin Wolf

Sorry, you consider using this mechanism, if you like, for decisions to be taken in advance.

Ravi Gurumurthy

It occurs to me you could also.

Martin Wolf

Have it as a check on and balance on decisions already made. So there’s a huge problem in politics. What is really reputational sunk costs. So projects like high speed to continue after the point of absurdity. If you’d asked me, for example, to advise the Remain campaign, what I would have said is that there was a perfectly rational reason to vote leave, which is you knew you’d never get a chance ever again to leave the European Union.

Martin Wolf

Okay? The odds of being given that choice ever again in your lifetime were practically zero.

Ravi Gurumurthy

You also knew that.

Martin Wolf

The political and governmental and economic class was slightly perversely obsessed with the European project to an extent which they would sign up to almost any future indignity. So if you’d asked me to advise that the Remain campaign, I would have said, Look, if we remain in the European Union, we will have a citizens assembly and permanent standing. And if that reaches a point where 50% of the people or more want to leave.

Martin Wolf

We will have a subsequent referendum. And then I think I don’t think many people wanted to leave in 2016. They wanted to leave for fear of what would happen in 2027 because they’d been told it was an economic project. It turned into a political one. They had been misinformed. Now, if you did that with things like high speed, two large projects where you simply said, we will do this thing, but at the point where it appears to be failure, the Citizens Assembly can override it and provides a low embarrassment way of stopping that could also be useful.

Does that make sense?

Ravi Gurumurthy

Yeah, makes sense. Thank you. Let’s take one from the online and then let’s take one of the back there.


Thank you. Yeah. So I’ve got a question here from Martin Online, and he said he very much like the idea of kick starting citizens assemblies with flapped philanthropy and what kind of budget would be required to get kick start this great thinking.

Ravi Gurumurthy

And I think the cloud hanging over this really fascinating conversation is urgency because, you know, we’re talking about five years or ten years time, and yet the progression towards potential fascism, as you said, in America, is on a much shorter timeline. And we’ve seen in the actions just in the last couple of weeks about infringement of the independence of the police, you know, the same stirrings of that movement here.

Ravi Gurumurthy

So I really want to pick up I mean, it’s it’s a sign of our times that a chief economic correspondent of the day is the one calling for revolution. And I just want to follow up on your question. If we were going to have a revolution, can we dream all of that? Like, what does that look like? Can we do something before this pivotal election to try and make an impact and start turn the ship around, Lady at the front.

Ravi Gurumurthy

Hold on a second. Hold on. Just let me get the film.


I just have a question regarding public legitimacy, because I see that is as the core of everything. I mean, if we know.

Ravi Gurumurthy

The British people no longer see their system as legitimate, you know, it will fall apart.


How do we if we think that democracy has to be deep, polarized and get off the the the parties fighting each other is how the system is set up. It means that we need more citizen engagement. So how do we nurture that with the idea that individual rights come also. With collective responsibility? How do we how do grow that society? Because we have to stop. We have to stop expecting that some leader is going to come and show us the way or give us all answers. We have a collective responsibility to our citizens.

Ravi Gurumurthy

Thank you, Robert. I’m afraid I’m going have to go now to a final round from the panel. I’m going to actually ask Martin to start off. There are a few questions that you might want to pick up. I think the question about checks and balances on decisions already made was interesting. And also the question on funding, is this a big idea or a small idea?

Ravi Gurumurthy

How expensive is this?

Martin Wolf

Okay. I think a fairly straightforward and I but I want to take up money. There are so many interesting questions, obviously. I think a very interesting idea and thought about it that way. One of the ideas in my book, I probably just got it from Nicholas, I saw all the others is that of referendums or proposals for referendums would go through the House of Citizens, and that will be one of their permanent functions to de-politicize the actual motion, and they would have the right to initiate them.

So that might be one way of getting your your thing. My own suggestion, by the way, because I don’t want to go to for various reasons, is that there will be an additional house of the citizens. I would be open to discussion of replacing the House of Lords. I just think it will create more, more difficulties. And there are functions of the House of Lords performance, which I don’t know exactly how they would work in this system.

I haven’t thought about them enough. But anyway, that’s that. That’s how I have a very clear view on money in politics, which is a big theme in my book. And I argue, which I think comes down to what you say that we need a mechanism for public funding of political parties and indeed private funding thereof becomes should become very difficult unless through with clear maximum gift.

So the problem is not just of money. In politics, though. This is changing in America, frighteningly in a way about that very large donations will be discourage. The interesting thing is that some of the parties the Trump machine works in this way have become very, very, very good at getting small donations. And that’s where the Internet has changed something.

So I think money and its role in policy is a very big the lobbying machines are very big issue, but they are quite complicated. Now, the final thing is I just want to get to is it because I was making a logical statement, not a political recommendation, that if you wanted to do this quickly on a big scale, it would have to involve an insurrection?

I’m in general, not in favor of insurrection, because my reading of the history of revolutions is they are generally a very, very long way round after the death of many millions of people to end up where you started. And the Russian Revolution is to me, the definitive example of this. They recreate. It’s a serious system under Putin. It’s more corrupt, more disgusting, and more culturally ruinous than where they started.

That’s pretty horrendous for God knows how many of death the so the political mechanics of this are unbelievably important and they have to be thought about much harder than I have. But I’ll make one point on climate, which is a point on which we’re going to disagree. And this is basically a practical issue. I mean, I tend to think, of it assume that climate is an existential issue.

Right. Assume that absolutely decisive action has to occur very, very soon and know that nothing, literally nothing we do in this country will make any difference. All. We produce a 1% of emissions. Two thirds of the emissions in the world are produced by emerging and developing countries and all the growth. So this is a global problem. Now, that doesn’t mean I have a solution of how you do this.

At the moment it seems very, very difficult. But actually I cannot imagine any conceivable process that will make a lot of difference in this very quickly that doesn’t involve actually going through the machinery of government that we have in the world. Right now and an immense amount of pressure on it from the people at large. And the and I think a an attempted transformation of the political process in a few relatively liberal and open democracies will unfortunately not change the outcome in any relevant way.

So I basically ended up with a conservative political position if you want to achieve any degree change. You can rightly point out that probably won’t work. I think that’s quite likely. So I’m very pessimistic on it, but I don’t see any alternative that will work better in the relatively relevant timetable, and that’s really a very, very depressing situation to be in.

Martin Wolf

But it’s not how I think about it.

Ravi Gurumurthy

Thank you very much.

Martin Wolf

Sorry about the length of that.

Ravi Gurumurthy

That’s alright. Claire, do you pick up any of the questions you want to. One particular one I’m interested in your view on whether the idea of a citizens assembly taking the place of the House of Lords could work, or whether if it were sort of co-opted, would it be co-opted by the establishment and the power holders and the be be effective from the start?


So that’s one one model replacing the House of Lords that’s very different from actually creating an independent chamber. I don’t think the workings of the House of Lords as a as a House of Citizens replacing House of Lords. I don’t think we we have the the details yet. I’m not sure how actually it’s going to change the system.

For me it’s just a plaster on actually an existing problem acting system. So I’m, I’m, I don’t know they are inside those outside the strategies. It’s you know to, to explore. But for me what’s what we haven’t talked about at the moment is how culture eats politics. And there are people in the audience that are working on actually how to engage how to bring this into popular culture.

I think we we need to hear more about that. How do we do that effectively and quickly? Because to address the point of urgency, I think that’s where we’re going. We could see the biggest shift. So it’s like almost like a social tipping point. If you bring this into popular culture and people realize the potential and the thing we haven’t talked about on the scale.

So at the moment, you know, you’re you’re saying it needs to be addressed at the global level? Well, we’ve done the Global Citizens Assembly. That was an experiment for COP26. We’re now working towards the the UN summit of the future, looking at how a global assembly fit within the multilateral system. But actually how does that connect to the very local processes?

So the multilayered and the the momentum is already happening. I mean, Brian Eno gets requests and offers all the time for hearing people doing deliberative processes on the ground and in communities. So it’s just a question of actually ensuring people know that it’s happening and that these collective agency, collective efficacy is, is built. It’s a movement building piece that we need to do actually.

And I think the there’s the it could happen faster than we think.

Ravi Gurumurthy

Okay. Finally, Nicholas, there’s also a revolution, which I didn’t expect in this this event. But in a way, your ambition for this goes way beyond the sort of single mechanism you actually want to try and create a deliberative culture more generally across how we make decisions. I just wondered whether you wanted to end with almost what’s an extension beyond what you’ve talked about.

Nicholas Gruen

Well, yeah, I think of this, and I think I’m reasonably unique in this among people who are who have discovered or claimed to have discovered that so attention is a kind of giant sanity mechanism that I think of it as more a kind of hemisphere having opened up in one’s mind about governance, that there are these two ways we.

Martin spoke about the monarchical power system every every polity in the modern world, every day, what we call democratic polity in the modern world, stuff that as a monarchy and remains a democratized monarchy, The president is a single figure, an elected monarch. And here it’s exactly the same thing. We have a pyramid. We have enough of sovereignty, and then we then we try to democratize that.

Now it is all sort of woke up at the start, maybe six months, maybe 12 months ago, to realize that Pericles, who most of you know of what’s the hold of any he was a general, one of ten. He wasn’t the holder of Supreme Office. There was no Supreme office that the demos was supreme. And and the the boat, the Council of 500 kept it all together and it functioning.

This is even true of the Roman Republic where that wasn’t they had a period of monarchy and they built the republic not to be a monarchy, to be a system in which the people, the consort was the what, two of them, and they could veto each other and so on. More generally.

Could this is what is in the mechanism in Venice. We can we can mix in these mechanisms and they can detox a lot of us. But that spiky plant keeps growing up. The the, the list in my picture. That’s what I did in Venice. And these mechanisms of view, this idea and up getting the actual people to be the experts to the extent that they can.

Nicholas Gruen

That’s what John Ruskin was to do.

Speaker 5

Is and that’s just because I can see I mean, that’s democracy. It’s pretty happy with McDonald’s.

Nicholas Gruen

With these things. We can.

Ravi Gurumurthy

Change through.

Speaker 5

These courts mechanisms of the sorts of things.

Ravi Gurumurthy

That can enable us to do that. Thank you very much, Nicholas. Thank you. Thank you, Martin. Thank you very much to the audience here and online for a really good discussion.

Nicholas Gruen

Nobody asked me about Susan Boyle.

Ravi Gurumurthy

I’m very disappointed because I Susan Boyle, if you want if you want to know Abbas’s void, we’re going to have some drinks afterwards to do. Please ask Nichols about the Susan Boyle question. Just one final thing from me. You know, I come back to what I said at the beginning, which is when you think about the massive difficult challenges faced in this country and everywhere else, yes, there are some technocratic policy answers, but I don’t think we will get them get to them without political change.

Ravi Gurumurthy

And institutions that drive better decision making, that drive moderation, that drive better reflection and that political space needs to be created. And it’s not being created by today’s institutions. We are both being honest, have done some work in this area, the collective Center for Collective Intelligence Design and Policy have done different experiments, both in the private sector and the public sector as an area.

Ravi Gurumurthy

I think of real interest. I know many of you here are involved in lots of practical experiments, so we’d love to keep the conversation going about what we’re learning together and what the way forward looks like. So thank you very much for joining and to join us for some drinks.

Martin Wolf

As you know, Nicholas, the Fenians lost the Peloponnesian War and the Roman Republic was divided in military dictatorship.

Nicholas Gruen

Exactly. Exactly.

Ravi Gurumurthy

So it’s hard, isn’t it?

Martin Wolf


Nicholas Gruen

That’s right.



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