David Garcia on Thu, 2 Dec 2021 15:06:57 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> The Jersey Assembly

The Jersey Assembly


Last week the Island of Jersey, a self-governing (so-called) ‘crown dependency’ of Britain, approved the principal of assisted dying on the Island. Although there are still obstacles, it was a momentous decision with implications for the whole of Britain where assisted dying is still illegal.  This was big news in the UK but what was less well covered was the fact that the debate in Jersey’s parliament was called in response to 78% of a citizens’ jury, ruling in favour of changing the law.


The Jersey example is just the latest of a gathering wave of citizen’s assemblies addressing a wide spectrum of contentious political questions from constitutional change in Iceland and Canada, to abortion in Ireland and to reaching Net Zero in France and the UK + many other examples. The ways in which Citizens’ juries are recruited and work have become increasingly sophisticated. Deliberative methods with important and well received on-line aspects and richly developed partnership with stake-holders and experts now have a rich history. There is an accumulation of cases showing that this movement is far more than a utopian fad. But that is how it is treated. Although not a panacea they do offer a vision beyond the hyperpartizan politics that is challenging liberal democracy around the world. To an extent we can see this as recasting “the traditional relationship of power between experts and citizens.. democratising expertise..” (Fishkin 2000)


But what is so striking fact about the Jersey example was that although the parliamentary decision was extensively covered in the British news media the crucial role of the citizenry was barely mentioned. I am not suggesting a conscious conspiracy but I am beginning to wonder whether there is not a strong unconscious bias against the emergence of participatory deliberative democracy ? Are political journalists and commentators so addicted to conflict as the default setting for democratic politics that alternatives seem well just to ‘bloodless’, and so barely worth discussing as.. its just not *real* politics? Is bias the political equivalent of the old journalistic adage “if it bleeds it leads”?    


The current political climate where, as William Davis put it “crisis in knowledge and the crisis in politics is one and the same thing” is leading many to ask: whether it might be time to give up on the task of deciding on more or less valid contributions to public knowledge. This arises in the main because we are not sure what we mean by ‘public knowledge’ any more. Where do facts go to become public facts? (other than the courts, elections or focus groups). It is at least worth debating whether or not it is in citizens’ assemblies that knowledge and politics meet in the most generative way. And if there is any truth in this why this movement is still so far below the public radar?


David Garcia





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