openDemocracyUK Debates

openDemocracyUK hosts debates across a variety of topics. Links to current debates can be found below, plus details of past debates.

10 January 2013


  • The Northern Powerhouse
  • There is an Alternative
  • The Great Charter Convention
  • Modernise: deprivatise
  • PAST

  • LocalismWatch
  • Liberalism in a neoliberal world
  • Unearthing Europe CCIG UK election 2015
  • Scotland's Future
  • Devalue or Else! 
  • Democratic Wealth: building a citizens' economy
  • Re-birth of the Nation: challenging 'global citizens'
  • SPOTLIGHTS (brief series)

    Prevent Strategy (2011-2012)

    On the controversial 'Prevent' strategy, that aims to stop terrorism before it occurs by working with Muslim communities, including groups linked to extremism. Covering the 2011 UK government review of the strategy, and beyond.


    OurBeeb: the future of the BBC (2012)

    Launched in May as an independent section of openDemocracy, ourBeeb.com was an indepedent section of openDemocracy, partnered with OurKingdom, running from May to October 2012. It was a digital challenge to the old order, and a debate on the future of our BBC. It began by seeking to make the appointment of the BBC's incoming Director General, George Entwistle, truly transparent and accountable to the public. It ended having been justified - Entwistle had left the post under a cloud, after the McAlpine-Savile scandal.

    When we began OurBeeb, we argued that this 2012 was a critical year for public service broadcasting, and that the challenges of massive cuts and rapid technological change must be addressed head on. After the demise of Murdoch, we called for a debate on the future of our most important cultural institution. That year saw the destabilisation of the BBC, and a challenge to the institution to regain the trust of its public. 

    We hope to continue the OurBeeb project, as we believe it is more needed than ever. We are seeking the funding to do so. If you have any ideas or input on this, please email: [email protected]

    Edited by Dan Hancox. For the full editorial and advisory team, see the About section

    Dan Hancox is a freelance writer for The Guardian and others, interested in radical politics, protest, and pop culture in Britain, Spain and beyond. His books include Utopia and the Valley of TearsFight Back! and Kettled Youth.

    Uneconomics (2012) 

    The Uneconomics debate ran for nine months during 2012, and featured nineteen articles and interviews. Part of its purpose was to usher in a greater diversity of critical and analytical perspectives on economic matters, from academic disciplines that don't typically get a public hearing. It sought to broaden public debate regarding economic institutions and policies, and challenge elite views of the financial crisis. Highlights of the debate were two interviews, one with Andy Haldane, Executive Director for Financial Stability at the Bank of England, and another with David Potter, founder of Psion, both of which provided fascinating and critical perspectives on financial governance, from those 'inside' the establishment. 

    See William Davies' concluding overview.

    Edited by William Davies

    William Davies is Academic Director of The Centre for Mutual and Employee-Owned Business, University of Oxford. His weblog is www.potlatch.org.uk.

    Great British Summer? (2012)

    The Great British Summer of 2012. Will it go down in history by that name? For so it was 'sold' or 'offered' to the British public and the world (which term is most fitting is a key question for this series). 

    In these months, we were told, Britain would reinvent itself. The giants of the Olympics and Paralympics straddled the season, but this was also following the Spring of the Royal Wedding, the summer of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and - sandwiched in amongst them like cucumber in white sliced bread (or is it now organic multi-seed) - the Wimbledon Tennis Championships and the Proms. OurKingdom spent the season challenging the official narrative of these events- scrapping the sandwich for a start, and calling for haggis pakora. We opened the series by asking a question: Who owns the Great British Summer? If the people, which public(s)? Is it British? And can we really call it ‘Great’?

    Edited by Jamie Mackay and Niki Seth-Smith

    Jamie Mackay is a freelance writer based in Venice. At the time of the debate he was an Assistant Editor at OurKingdom, based in London. 

    England Riots (Aug – Sept 2011)

    Readers responded to 45 articles and videos in just over a month of intense coverage, including: Patricia Daley on her experiences as a young black woman in Hackney, Justin Baidoo-Hackman on stop and search, Nick Smith caught on the Walworth Road, John Berger’s childhood... from policing city spaces to the history of riots and why they didn’t happen in Wales. 

    Edited by Ryan Gallagher and Niki Seth-Smith

    Ryan Gallagher is a freelance journalist. He worked with the Frontline Club on wikileaks and blogs at rjgallagher.org.uk

    For England's Sake! (2011-2012)

    Why does England lack political representation, when Scotland and Wales have their own parliaments? Why is English nationalism associated with intolerance, rather than with an inclusive pride and patriotism? Why is Westminster maintaining its silence on the English question, with a referendum on Scottish independence on the horizon? Why are 'English' and 'England' inconvenient words for politicians?

    In late 2011, it was high time to start asking these questions - not only of unionists and English nationalists, but of all citizens, regardless of their national identity.

    This 10 month debate was not about Last Night at the Proms or chicken tikka masala; there was no such attempts to patronise. This was about England, and the right to build a self-aware and self-determining nation.

    Edited by Gareth Young

    Gareth Young (alias Toque) is a member of the Campaign for an English Parliament and convener of What England Means to Meand Anthem4England. He lives in Devon with his wife and daughter.

    Networked Society (2011)

    It is now broadly recognized that the 'network society’ and its tools have given rise to a new breed of social movements and actors which themselves have created innovative tactics, strategies of protest and mobilizing identities (such as the 99% in the US and the Indignados in Southern Europe). When I started editing OurKingdom's Networked Society debate, no-one really saw this coming. Having been conceived of immediately after the wave of student occupations in the United Kingdom during the Winter of 2010 we weren't quite sure what kind of content we’d get or what was around the corner. As we now know, it transpired to be rather a lot.

    We believe that the debate did a good job of keeping up with what were, and remain, chaotic and inspiring events. We are also very happy to have provided a platform for highly relevant content from elsewhere on the internet such as @piercepenniless @DSG_DSG and @SFTMC. 

    See Aaron Peters’ walk back through 2011: "Goodbye year of new movements: bring on 2012 and Occupy Everything". 

    Edited by Aaron Peters 

    At the time of the debate, Aaron Peters was a P.hD candidate at Royal Holloway, University of London, investigating the changing nature of social movements and political contention in the ‘Network Society’. He was co-editor of ‘Fight Back!’ and as a student activist he is interested in the role of new technologies and online organising in the anti-cuts movement.

    Power and the Media (2011)

    The Power and the Media debate was founded on the premise that the major media needed to confront the profound disruption they were facing. Hosted the year before the News International hacking scandal and the subsequent Leveson Inquiry threw the mainstream media into a state of crisis, it argued that scandal and failure was undermining the sector's authority, while their business models were in disarray. 

    It asked many questions. Among them: How is information currently organized, and how should it be organized? What are the existing media good at, and what do they fail to deliver? What reforms are necessary if we are to have the information we need for democratic citizenship?

    Edited by Dan Hind

    Dan Hind is the author of ‘The Threat to Reason: How the Enlightenment Was Hijacked and How We Can Reclaim It’, ‘Common Sense: Occupation, Assembly and the Future of Liberty’ and ‘The Return of the Public: Democracy, Power and the Case for Media Reform’. He is on Twitter as @danhind.

    Capitalism and the University (2011)

    This debate was launched in the hiatus between the demonstrations, walkouts, occupations and rallies that greeted the trebling of tuition fees and David Willett’s White Paper that was designed to embed private operators and intense competition into the sector. 

    The intention of the section was to highlight the various ways in which neoliberalism has been inscribed into the fabric of university life as well as the system of higher education as a whole. We dealt with the implications of both serious policy proposals, like those in the White Paper (and its historical antecedents), as well as the more ridiculous developments like the venture by the celebrity academics-turned-shareholders in the New College of the Humanities. We highlighted the unwelcome intrusion of ‘Big Society’ discourse into research funding as well as the creeping instrumentalisation of research culture in the last twenty years and, in particular, focused on the impact of corporate agendas on research in the natural sciences. Several articles reflected on the continuing student struggles including the redefinition of the concept of student power, the emergence of the student as consumer, the role of occupations and even a student perspective on the remit of the incoming Director of the LSE. We only managed to touch the tip of the iceberg of a growing number of alternative higher education projects, epitomised by the Social Science Centre and the Free University. 

    The determination by pro-market forces to re-write the rules of higher education—to instrumentalise research, to commodify students, to quantify student satisfaction, to privatise provision and to monetise the system as a whole – continues. We intend this debate to be a resource, held as it was at a pivotal time of policy formation, debate and struggle around the future of British higher education.

    Edited by Des Freedman & Michael Bailey

    Des Freedman is a Reader in the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of ‘The Politics of Media Policy’ (Polity 2008) and co-editor of ‘The Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance’ (Pluto 2011).

    Michael Bailey is Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Essex. He is the author or editor of ‘The Uses of Richard Hoggart’ (2011), ‘Mediating Faiths’ (2011), and ‘Narrating Media History’ (2008). He has held visiting fellowships at Goldsmiths, the LSE and at the University of Cambridge.

    Happiness Debate (2011)

    The debate ran over the course of 2011, featuring sixteen articles from a range of policy thinkers, academics and critics. It interrogated the underpinnings of the government's new interest in our happiness, reflecting on what this might mean, how happiness is measured, and whether our wellbeing should be a concern for policy in the first place. A highlight of the happiness debate was an interview with Geoff Mulgan, former head of Tony Blair's policy unit, now Director of NESTA and a founder of Action for Happiness. These articles remain a valuable online resource for those seeking to think critically and widely about the emergence of a policy paradigm, which places our mental wellbeing at its heart. 

    See Davies' reflections on the debate, written at the conclusion of the series.

    Edited by William Davies

    Blue Labour (2011)

    After Ed Miliband became leader of the Britain's opposition Labour Party in 2010, a debate over its policy began under the term 'Blue Labour'. It now has its own website http://blue-labour.blogspot.com/ and an eBook, Labour Tradition and the Politics of Paradox, edited by Maurice Glasman, Jonathan Rutherford, Marc Stears and Stuart White. The issues raised were of great intrinsic importance, in political terms the thinkers and politicians involved were trying to lay the basis for a way forward for the Labour Party that broke with Blairism and New Labour, renewing the party's appeal to its traditional supporters and providing a credible electoral framework for the next general election. While the Blue Labour 'moment' has passed, the agenda has made its mark on Miliband's party and their bid to return to Britain's helm in 2015. 

    Edited by Niki Seth-Smith

    A news journalist, creative writer and editor, Niki Seth-Smith previously worked for The London Magazine and The Statesman (India). She currently works full-time for OurKingdom as Co-Editor.

    Scottish Spring (2011)

    On 5 May 2011 Scottish voters gave the Scottish Nationalist Party, the SNP, an outright majority in their parliament at Holyrood, Edinburgh, under their leader Alex Salmond. The SNP said in their manifesto that they would hold a referendum towards the end of the parliament. In the aftermath of this astounding result, OurKingdom held a debate to ask: What is the meaning of this dramatic turn for Scotland, for Britain as a country, for the United Kingdom as a state, and for the other nations, especially England? What are the forces and energies being stirred and how may the political parties respond? OurKingdom continually covers the shaping constitutional and democratic implications of the UK's national question, but this was a moment for a dedicated high intensity debate, as we welcomed 'The Scottish Spring'.

    Britain After 5 May (2011)

    May 5th, 2011, was a pivotal day for Britain, democratic reform, the fate of the Union and the party political landscape. The resounding 'No' to the referendum on introducing the Alternative Vote system arguably killed the electoral reform agenda in Britain for at least a generation. While those who believed a fairer voting system was needed and possible, whether for AV, PR or some other system, licked their wounds, the Union was rocked by the astonishing victory of the Scottish National Party north of the border. So while the archaic and peculiar status quo of British representative democracy was enforced, the grip of the traditional Westminster parties loosened, if it didn't break. The Lib Dems faced a crisis of identity and purpose reflecting directly on their role as the junior partner in power. Meanwhile, the Conservatives were emboldened by the local election results, increasing tensions in the Coalition. We published 28 articles in the direct aftermath of 'vote day'. The Scottish content went on to become our longer debate, 'Scottish Spring'. 

    Students and Higher Education (2010-2011)

    This debate began was kicked off with the publication of Fight Back! A Reader on the Winter of Protest (free to download) edited by Dan Hancox, a collection of essays, articles and reports from the ground, arguably the first book to grapple with the student movement that was reaching an apex at the time. The debate had no formal editor, but was influenced greatly by Guy Aitchison, then a Co-Editor of OurKingdom and active in the UCL occupations and broader movement against the tuition hikes, privatisation of higher education and cuts such as the removal of the Education Maintenance Allowance. We were one of the only platforms linking voices within and without the burgeoning student movement at the time (we saw this in the stats as OurKingdom's readership doubled with a new constiuency of readers and contributors). This period, and its relation to the growth of the anti-cuts movement, was a pivotal moment for the protest of this generation, when forces were stirring, and Occupy was yet to appear on the scene. 

    The Big Society Challenge (2010-2011)

    Cameron's Big Society was conceived before the formation of the Coalition as the 'shaping idea' behind the the Compassionate Conservatives project. In government, and faced with the realities of the economic crisis, the 'big idea' appeared in danger of being swallowed by circumstance. Sold as fostering genuine community empowerment, the Big Society was increasingly being seen as a smokescreen for cutting back the size of the state. This was a turning point for the party, and for Labour's finding its identity in opposition. This debate asked figures from the left to respond to the Big Society project, including Tessa Jowell MP, Matthew Taylor of the RSA and Will Straw, then of ippr.

    Edited by Niki Seth-Smith

    Referendum Plus (2010-2011)

    This series takes us from the day when the date for the AV referendum was leaked to the press (July 2, 2010), through the No and Yes! campaigns with their bottom-up passion and energy, to the emergence of the Purple People, the frantic last weeks and the resounding No vote, and finally to the reflections - many bitter and frustrated - on the management and co-ordination of a lost chance for democratic reform. 

    Arguably the AV referendum has killed British interest in electoral reform at least for a generation. It turned many more away from the pursuit of political reform via Westminster, accelerating an already current trend. The rejection, and the argument that the referendum terms already predicated defeat, forced the Liberal Democrats to examine their purpose and role as junior partners in the Coalition. With global perspectives, incisive analysis, historical overviews, striking personal testament and intimate reflection, the series takes the reader through the ups and downs of what was Britain's first chance since 1997 to significantly change the system by which the UK elects its representatives. 



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