The announcement from Justice Secretary Chris Grayling on Friday vowing to scrap the Human Rights Act should the Conservatives be re-elected comes across as a cynical move to claw back support. As UKIP hoover up defectors and donations from the Conservatives and only days ahead of the Clacton by-election. Now the party conferences are over, the race for power has begun in earnest.
It feels as if the main parties have forgotten the recent Scottish Referendum. A record-breaking 84.5 % of registered voters participated. The growing support for a ‘yes’ vote threw Westminster into turmoil and won enhanced devolutionary powers for Scotland. The Scottish people set their agenda on issues that mattered to a much wider electorate than ever before. It is heartening to see that those who were not previously engaged in politics are still involved: membership to political parties in Scotland has increased a rate not seen for 30 years.
In a parallel universe there is an authentic and non-partisan kind of people politics flourishing at The Forum. Cars sped above us on the Westway last Tuesday, oblivious to the first historic cohort of 23 community leaders from Romani, Latin American, Congolese, Polish, Kenyan, Iranian, Somali and Armenian communities who had gathered for our new Community Leadership Academy. Four of these leaders are young people aged between 17 and 18 and will be eligible to vote for the first time next year. Together we spent two hours dissecting, discussing and debating different theories of power.
During November, this talented group is going to run a listening campaign to find out what is most important to our different communities. Training in community leadership between now and December will lay down foundations for action next year. Building on our learning from this year’s local elections where some of this cohort were involved in registering nearly 5,000 people across London, leaders will take action on voter registration and turn out as well as external campaigns and events that are relevant the their communities. Over the next 8 months you will hear directly from the community leaders on the programme, so you can hear first-hand about their stories, struggles and triumphs.
Surely, the lesson from the Scottish Referendum is that when people have a realistic hope that their actions will make a difference they will engage with politics and they will act on scale. The leaders in our Academy give me a realistic hope that we can follow Scotland’s example. Together, we can help to elect fairer, more accountable politicians who are informed by a people’s agenda that is broad and diverse.
At the end of the session last Tuesday we asked everyone to think of a few words that described the session on power: encouraged to act, confident, free-flowing, informed, inspiring, useful, happy, intrigued, full of new ideas, rich, enlightened, looking forward to more, space where we can create altogether, powerful, motivating, honest, empowered, interacting, free, motivated.
photos by Simon Mooney