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Full Council Discussion On Citizens’ Assembly Petition Postponed By Coronavirus

Published on: 26 Mar, 2020
Updated on: 28 Mar, 2020

A full Guildford Borough Council debate on the petition demanding a citizens’ assembly for the climate crisis has been postponed until late July at the earliest and possibly until October because of coronavirus.

The petition, submitted by Extinction Rebellion (XR) supporter Jessie West, wanted residents to be more involved in policymaking by convening a citizens’ assembly, but also to help speed up tackling the borough’s carbon emissions.

A number of councillors had expressed interest and support in holding a citizens’ assembly but the promise to have an early debate in April has now been dashed by the measures that are being imposed by the government to fight the Corvid-19 virus.

Guildford Borough Council’s offices at Millmead have closed to the public.

Guildford Borough Council said the meeting scheduled for April 7 had been cancelled following the announcement that the council offices at Millmead had been shut.

The statement said: “The Leader of the Council, Caroline Reeves and all of the leaders of the other parties that make up the council have met today and were unanimously agreed that it is important that this petition should be heard with full public access and engagement.

“Should we find ourselves in such a restricted situation in July we intend to postpone until October 6.”

About 1,000 people protested in Guildford last year at inaction by government and local authorities over climate change. Photo – Mandy Millyard.

Jessie West said: “It is, of course, disappointing but it is crucial that we do everything we can to minimise the spread of coronavirus.

“It has been enlightening to see how quickly our society can affect change to tackle a crisis. We hope that when the immediate danger of coronavirus is over, we can harness the powerful and inspirational sense of community spirit into renewed efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

“Globally we’ve seen pollution clearing from previous hotspots, wildlife returning to major cities and air quality rising dramatically. In Guildford, we have been noticing birdsong as the traffic eases, and clearer skies at night thanks to reduced light pollution.

“There is significant public feeling behind this petition. We are pleased that the council recognises this and remains committed to hearing the petition with full public access and engagement.”

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Responses to Full Council Discussion On Citizens’ Assembly Petition Postponed By Coronavirus

  1. John Perkins Reply

    March 27, 2020 at 9:34 am

    We elect councillors to represent us and trust their popularity means in some way they will reflect the general majority view. The actions they subsequently take are accepted by most because their authority is democratically legitimate.

    A “Citizens’ Assembly” would be at best an unelected pressure group dominated by those who feel most strongly that their views are the only ones that are correct. XR members might be vociferous and well-organised, but they are still a tiny minority.

    The petition claims “We do not need another slow moving local authority committee”. In other words it calls to replace the elected council by an unelected authority.

    If, as Jessie West claims, “There is significant public feeling behind this petition” then why did only 235 people sign it? No single councillor was elected in 2019 by such a small number of supporters.

    • B Smith Reply

      March 27, 2020 at 11:33 am

      John, You appear to have misunderstood the basics of a citizens assembly (CA).

      The members of a CA are chosen by an INDEPENDENT body (have a look at Involve or Sortition Foundation) – it has absolutely zero Extinction Rebellion involvement – or any other party with a vested interest, this is the entire point of a CA.

      The CA process chooses a truly representative subset of Guildford constituents, to precisely represent Guildford’s demographics of gender, age, income – all paid for their time to ensure everyone selected can attend.

      Councillors are paid £6k and expected to do a 2nd full time job. This does not give representation. It simply ends up with mostly retired, high earners, who (whilst we might trust them to make decisions) are not truly representative of the borough.

      A CA does not replace the council. It is a way to cross the divide between council and community and ensure that we tackle an existential crisis in a way the whole borough deems fair (and CAs historically show people voting for the greater good instead of along party bias lines).

      There have been huge breakthroughs of politically deadlocked issues using CAs, such as abortion and gay marriage in Ireland and LGBTQ rights in Poland.

      Also, as a side note, there was also a paper copy of the petition, and online combined with paper version passed the maximum threshold of 500 votes to warrant debate at full council meeting. So for 7 weeks of collecting signatures it seems there is definitely public support.

      Hope that helps, stay safe in lockdown everyone.

      • John Perkins Reply

        March 27, 2020 at 1:37 pm

        A body declares its independence, so it must be so. Perhaps some of the decisions taken recently by independent planning inspectors can be used in support of that argument.

        I agree that party politics is not necessarily conducive to good government, but it can be countered by a good system of proportional representation.

        Appointed bodies of local representatives existed 100 years ago in another country – they called them Soviets.

        500 votes is less than 1 in 200 of the electorate.

  2. Jim Allen Reply

    March 27, 2020 at 3:45 pm

    I fear this would be another layer of committees.

    So we would have citizen assembly (communist?) alongside the parish councils (democratically elected) talking to borough council (democratically elected to be deaf in most respects) county council and then Enterprise M3 allocating money for expansion (a quango with no democratic function) and central government.

    If the borough listened to parish and community there would be no need for CA’s nor quangos.

    Sort the problem, not make it worse and more complicated.

  3. S Peters Reply

    March 30, 2020 at 10:24 am

    For those who clearly don’t understand what a Citizens’ Assembly is, here’s a handy link –

    They’re not “communist”, they’re not “another committee” and they’re not an “unelected pressure group”. Citizens’ Assemblies are representative of the local community they’re drawn from, and take information from local democratic bodies and experts on the subject they’re tackling to reach a consensus on the best way to resolve the issues. They’ve been used to enormous effect on sensitive issues like abortion in Ireland and gay rights in Poland, side-stepping political deadlock and inertia in a way that the large majority of the population agrees with.

    There is no more existential a threat to humanity than the climate crisis, yet we’ve seen just how little our councils are doing. GBC took more than four months just to agree Terms of Reference for its climate change committee and has committed £250,000 a year to tackle the issue. Compare that to £4,000,000 to replace a bridge that still functions perfectly well.

    Councillors will naturally be reluctant to take the drastic action demanded of them by climate science, including several expert teams at the University of Surrey. Many, such as Cllr Mike Goodman at Surrey County Council, appear completely unaware of what climate change or the scientific consensus on the urgent measures to tackle it are.

    Citizens’ Assemblies enable our representatives to gauge the public feeling and take the necessary actions without fear of political suicide and with accountability. Current action is falling far, far short of what’s required – these assemblies could be our best hope of actually doing what we need to tackle the climate crisis.

    • John Perkins Reply

      March 30, 2020 at 11:17 am

      For those who clearly don’t understand how Citizens’ Assemblies function in the face of an existential crisis, I recommend the book Chernobyl History of a Tragedy by Serhii Plokhy.

      Just because S Peters thinks there is “no more existential a threat to humanity than the climate crisis” doesn’t make it so.

      What about plastic waste? What about loss of biodiversity? What about over-population? What about pandemics (and not just the current one)?

      Only a tiny minority is obsessed by climate change, and its academic proponents are as fallible as everyone else.

    • Jim Allen Reply

      March 30, 2020 at 11:23 am

      “There is no more existential a threat to humanity than the climate crisis”.

      So the virus problem which has shown clearly that the most existential threat is individual’s personal health and hygiene doesn’t get a look in?

      Clean air by no flights and no traffic congestion across the world, as a result of the virus is not relevant.

      Just how are these representatives selected? By vote or volunteer? And when gathered, are they are a ‘conference’ a ‘committee’ or a ‘meeting’ of a group?

      Attempting to re-define words which cover such ‘gatherings’ does not get away from the fact. A meeting of people is a group. A meeting around a table with one personal controlling the group is a committee, and to ‘join’ this group or meeting as a representative you either volunteer (unelected) or get elected by public process.

      Perhaps keeping to the Oxford English dictionary in defining the definition of words is less misleading than attempting to redefine the meanings to hide what is actually required – by this unelected non-volunteer non committee.

      A citizen assembly is a group of unelected individuals who act outside the recognised framework of UK life, planning disruption when appropriate to the majority of people going about their lawful business. Sorry, that’s Extinction Rebellion, nothing to do with any citizens right of assembly.

  4. Stuart Barnes Reply

    March 31, 2020 at 9:13 am

    I cannot think of anything less needed than another talking shop such as a “Citizens’ Assembly” – especially in the current circumstances.

    No doubt if such a body ever came into being it would spend its time (and our money?) discussing the possibility of yet more referenda on Brexit and closing down even more of our normal activities because of the “threat of the climate crisis”; rather than things which might be relevant to the lives of people living in this area.

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