How could we accelerate the reform of democracy and especially achieve a wider political consensus in Britain? What changes would be required to end adversarial politics, which is the backbone of the rising wave of populism? In a nutshell we need to abandon a democratic system, in which a minority of voters can create not only a majority government but can also ignore the wishes of the majority of voters, because their votes were dispersed. That is the situation prevailing in the Anglo-Saxon world, where adversarial politics rules the day. In Europe, where most countries have coalition governments, the situation is not much better, perhaps with the exception of the Scandinavian countries. That of course requires an appropriate electoral system linked to the system of executive powers, which enable such a politics of consensus. The main elements in such a system is a very active role of the president, who plays the role of an arbiter. The positive consequences of such a consensual politics, are evident everywhere in the Scandinavian countries, all of which are in the top 10 most contented nations in the world, with Finland being the happiest country three two in a row and again selected the happiest country in the world in 2021.
The advantage of such a system lies in its ability to introduce legislation with long-term commitments, such as in health and education, or as is the case in Sweden and New Zealand, agreeing 3-year budgets. Governments are formed much more quickly, and the legislation is also passed faster than in coalition governments although usually not that fast as in the single party majority rule, like in the UK.
However, that system does not guarantee that any legislation, which sometimes may be urgently needed will pass through the Parliament very quickly. Additionally, the consensual politics must engage the electorate throughout the whole term of the parliament and not only during an election. Today, using the latest technology we can merge the best features of representational democracy with a direct democracy as a Consensual Democracy. Such democracy must also include some additional arrangements, such as those proposed by the Consensual Presidential Democracy (CPD), and fulfil these criteria:
- Consensual politics must start with the consensus reached at the level of an ordinary citizen. For that we need an entirely new mechanism which will enable citizens to take part in the legislation process throughout the term of the parliament. This can be done by selecting citizens randomly for a specific task and debating it within a Citizens’ Assembly, or for a specific time – serving throughout one term of the parliament in its second chamber – the Citizens’ Chamber.
- Any legislation to be passed by the parliament must require a double majority. This means there must be a proportional representation electoral system, which will allocate the mandates to the Parliament proportionally. Like in any parliament any act to be legislated will require the support of the majority of MPs. But the double majority principle would also require that the act gets the support of the majority of the voters
- Key role in such a system is played by a strong President, which is the main counsellor and arbiter between the parties. He helps the Parliament to pass the legislation with the support of ad hoc coalitions, which may be different for each act of Parliament
- The President must also have exceptional legislative power applied mainly in emergencies, when he can issue executive order to pass emergency laws, which must be approved later on by the Parliament
But how can we implement such a consensual politics at a citizens’ level? As it happens, we can apply some elements of this new type of democracy in the Conference on the Future of Europe (COFE), which started in May 2021. Over 10 months it is to debate hundreds of new policies, some of which may require constitutional changes, or even a new Constitution. There are already over 1,000 events planned with tens of thousands of participants, and nearly 5,000 ideas published on the Conference’s digital platform. But how can then this massive amount of information be turned into coherent proposals delivered not only quickly in a succinct form but also in a conciliatory, rather than in an adversarial way?
A solution that Sustensis is proposing is linked to probably the most advanced AI-driven solution for political debates called POLIS, used in such countries as the USA, Canada, Australia, UK, or Taiwan. To explain how it works, imagine that you have signed an on-line parliamentary petition. When you sign such a petition it is understood you fully agree with it. Since you cannot modify the petition’s wording in any way, the only other option than to disagree is to abstain. But it does not have to be like that and POLIS helps in this respect.
However, to achieve a consensus, you need first to understand what you are to debate, i.e. the subject matter. Therefore, we have merged the POLIS solution with our own Structured Content Debating approach creating Consensual Debating. Thus Consensual Debating has two components: Structured Content and POLIS Debating. We have now applied that unique Framework to the COFE Conference by creating a dedicated website Euro Agora, where over 80 structured topics related to improving the European Democracy are debated. They are logically grouped into 8 main topics: Values and Responsibilities, Consensual Democracy, Citizens Assemblies, Federalism, Constitution, Parliament, Elections and President. This allows even hundreds of thousands of participants to debate thousands of topics related to 10 themes of the Conference simultaneously and come to an agreement in a consensual way about 100 times faster (in a day or two rather than in months).
Consensual Debating may play an important role in a new style of democracy, such as Consensual Presidential Democracy, since it allows for blending of a representative and a direct democracy. However, to have a real impact on a country’s politics, it needs to be accompanied by a legally binding procedure, as it has been done in Taiwan or Canada, so that a parliament discusses the initial proposal or a petition and then implements a legislation.
Overall, Consensual Debating could solve several problems in modern democracies, such as:
- It raises significantly the participation in politics giving people real influence on the outcome of a proposed legislation
- It achieves consensus on a proposed legislation by continuously redefining the initial wording of a proposed new law by the participants. This allows them to adapt gradually their views to the views of the largest group and therefore, achieving much broader political consent through a better understanding of the issue, since the initial wording of the proposed legislation changes to reflect the views of a growing majority.
- It is the best antidote against fake news. People learn from each other, and if they find themselves in a really small minority, they can then gather more information to understand the issues better and perhaps change their mind.
- It can replace referenda and make the decisions such as on Brexit achieved with a far wider consensus.