21st June 2018
Call to Action: National Democracy Week
The inaugural National Democracy Week (NDW) is fast approaching and will bring together organisations from across the public, private and charity sectors for a week of unified national action. At a time of decreasing civic participation and a perceived lack of interest amongst some groups, it is a timely effort to increase democratic participation.
As we celebrate the Suffrage Centenary, NDW will be both a celebration of democratic landmarks- 100 years since women won the right to vote and 90 years since women won equal voting rights- and an opportunity to turn our attention towards under-registered groups across our society today. Government research suggests that young people, those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, British ex-pats and people with disabilities are some of the groups we should target. The right to vote has been hard-won and in the public sector, we have an obligation to encourage everyone who is eligible to vote to participate in our democratic process.
Dave Smith, spokesperson for the Electoral and Democratic Renewal Board said: “National Democracy Week’ will provide excellent opportunities for local authorities to unite in reaching out to under-registered groups across our society and help get their voices heard.”
Here at Stockton-on-Tees council, we will be using NDW branding, publicizing activities through a range of partners and using council communications to share planned events, bringing the community together and encouraging underrepresented groups to become active participators in the democratic system.
To target young people, we are offering support to school councils by providing ballot boxes, polling screens and assemblies to promote the importance of voting, being on the register and active citizenship within their school communities. We are also working in partnership with Stockton Youth Assembly to encourage our young people to make themselves heard by participating in the UK Youth Parliament’s ‘Make your Mark’ ballot.
The LGA’s ‘Be a Councillor’ campaign aims to increase the pool of talent from which councillors are elected and encourages people to stand as candidates in future local elections. We are promoting the campaign with partners across the borough to diversify future candidates, sending the key message to under-represented groups that ‘Councillors are ordinary people like you, so you could become one too!’
We have also enlisted the help of our Mayor to promote democratic engagement. Our summer Citizenship Ceremony will be themed around NDW and delegates will be given an interactive presentation promoting the various ways that they can make their voices heard. As many delegates will be from BAME backgrounds, this is a great opportunity for us to spread the message through their community links. We are also liaising with local faith groups and community groups to arrange visits to the Town Hall where we will raise awareness of the role of the Mayor, the ‘Be a Councillor’ campaign and how they can get involved in local democracy.
For our Chief Executive, Neil Schneider, NDW is about reaching out to under-represented groups and giving them a stake in the community; “We all desire to live in a place where people feel happy, safe and healthy, where everyone can prosper and grow to fulfil their potential. I believe National Democracy Week provides an ideal occasion for councils to focus on encouraging and enabling everyone in their community to get involved in helping to make that a reality.”
Indeed, encouraging democratic engagement is about more than getting people to the ballot box every so often; it is about building an inclusive environment where everybody feels that their voices are heard and they are well represented. National Democracy Week is an opportunity for you to think about what your organisation is doing to create this environment in your place. Think about how you can target under-registered groups, identify existing public, private and charity sector events which you could utilise and strengthen partnerships that will support you in reaching out to all members of your community.
Margaret Waggot, Assistant Director of Administration, Democratic and Electoral Services, Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council