Citizens Assemblies are a powerful tool community organising uses to publicly seek commitments from politicians which can then be used to hold them to account. Assemblies are primarily events for our member institutions to join together and collaboratively approach decision makers. A Citizens Assembly is not a hustings, an election debate or a partisan political rally. We don’t invite questions from the floor. Instead we hear powerful testimonies and stories from leaders of our member institutions. These stories are focused on priorities our member institutions have agreed to work on together and are often the result of a local listening campaign to determine these issues.
The political candidates we choose to invite to respond to these issues on stage with us are selected by considering what their likelihood of success is, judged on objective considerations, such as how parties in the area have performed in recent local and national elections, and even how bookmakers are reporting the candidate’s odds of winning.
Our schedule includes contributions from leaders, music and drama as well as hearing the responses from candidates. It’s a practical necessity to limit candidates joining us on stage.
A key message from the chair of every Assembly we run is to remind the audience that there are other candidates standing for election, and the event is not partisan. Importantly the final message of every Assembly is to remind audience members that their duty is to take part in the political process and to encourage others to join them in doing so, rather than proscribing who anyone should vote for.
We are always happy to explain this position to any candidate and are proud of the long history we have of delivering important Citizens Assemblies.
Neil Jameson, director, Citizens UK said: “Yesterday more than 800 people from diverse institutions including universities, trades unions, mosques and local charities, celebrated their membership of Greater Manchester Citizens, the newest chapter of the national community organising movement, Citizens UK, by attending a Citizens Assembly at The Lowry Theatre.
“The Assembly was not a husting, an election debate or a partisan political rally. There are no questions from the floor, our agenda has already been agreed by community leaders from member organisations well in advance, instead our leaders share powerful reflections and personal testimonies around issues that we believe need to be improved to create a better and more inclusive society. The politicians in attendance heard moving stories of homelessness, hate crime and in-work poverty.
“For impartial reasons we invited only three of the candidates standing in the Mayoral elections to attend; Sean Anstee, Jane Brophy and Andy Burnham. These candidates were chosen after looking at how the parties performed in recent elections at local and national level which are subject to election by voters within Greater Manchester constituencies. We also considered the odds calculated by Ladbrok es and Paddy Power which suggest these three candidates are the front runners by a clear margin. This is a strategy that Citizens UK has used in its long history of running local and national Citizens Assemblies. All the other parties and candidates were of course recognised in the programme and by the chair at the event itself. I also personally explained this position to Will Paterson, the Green Party candidate.
“Yesterday we took the decision to ask a ticket holder to leave the event. Staff at the event repeatedly described the nature of the event to the ticket holder, who vocalised that she didn’t agree with the format of the event. The lady then headed towards seats nearest the stage and those set aside for the leaders and politicians who would be taking part in the Assembly. This behaviour concerned our staff enough that she was asked to leave and when she resisted was ushered out of the theatre. More than 800 other people attended the event without incident, and importantly all three candidates agreed to work together with Greater Manchester Citizens should they be elected. On reflection, it would have been a better decision to have a member of staff sit with the lady throughout the event rather than insist she leave. We wish all the candidates in the Greater Manchester Mayoral Election the best this week and encourage everyone to use their vote on Thursday and be part of the political process.”