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US President Joe Biden was right to say in his inauguration week and repeat after that the greatest political battle we have to confront is between autocracy and democracy. While it is fashionable in some UK circles to mock the current President, would a British political leader be able to pitch a vision as clearly and for once leave tomorrow’s short-term headlines aside?

This defining battle has been played out ever more intensely over recent years. This is now seen at its rawest and most violent where Putin’s autocracy meets the new democracy of Ukraine. It is not, however, limited to this most extreme example, but is finding form across the democratic world, from the USA to India and Hungary, and to all stations between; and increasingly in the UK.

The UK was once the consummate model of informal democracy. Now, hidden behind the face of a clown, our country and democracy has been threatened by an embarrassing rump, unrecognisable to traditional One Nation democrats. Boris Johnson’s ideology owes less to Churchill, Macmillan, and Major and is drawn more from Trump, McConnell, and Bannon. The required reading is not so much Disraeli’s Sybil, but Margaret Atwood’s The handmaid’s tale.

The anti-democratic right think it is cool to imitate their US brethren. The imports include a contempt for debate and deliberation, a cynicism about truth and honesty, and the fixing of the political process. These fixes range from making it harder for your opponent’s supporters to vote, to curbing their civil and personal rights, to using diversion and misinformation through a largely pliant media, to weakening or even intimidating independent referees from the Electoral Commission and the UK Supreme Court. This is not the knock-about of party politics but steps – indeed strides – towards autocracy. Repairing these deliberate rips in our democratic fabric is the equal and onerous responsibility of democrats of all political parties and persuasions.

Of course the best and easiest time to strengthen and maintain the habits of democracy is not when it is in crisis, but as part of a culture of constant maintenance and evolution. It should be done purely because it is the right thing to do. Instead, there have been few of us who, in better times for democracy, acted without complacency and elitism. This bordered on neglect by failing to gently and consistently renew our democracy when we had the chance. Some of the powerful and influential even had the temerity to mistake their own entitled elevation for our collective arrival at ‘the end of politics.’ This blissful social and Christian democratic nirvana did not need thoughtful and sustained improvement, but just the occasional dabbling to the inherited ‘Rolls Royce residual process.’ The opportunities and moments available to Blair, Brown, Clegg, and Cameron were spurned. We now have the consequences, which become harder to put right as the populist and autocratic genies are out of the bottle.

While the task is more difficult than it needed to have been, it still has to be tackled. At the heart of that is restoring the health of our democratic ideology, putting back the pieces, but also having the self-awareness to understand what we must do to improve democracy itself. The battle between democracy and autocracy is not merely about being content to criticise autocrats abroad, it is about remaking democracy at home in the UK, in the USA, and in every democracy on the planet.

Making a transcending UK democratic coalition and basing it on a solid and practical democratic culture is the greater good that unites democrats of all parties. If we are lucky enough to get another chance – and that is by no means a certainty – democrats must act together to renew the ideology and practice of democratic governance and make it fit for purpose. It is the key to enable the resolution of all our other questions, up to and including climate change. It is a coalition of democrats, including Conservatives, many of whom have already acted with great courage at high personal cost, that has to be put together now and in public, so as to lessen the impact of misrepresentation in the final days of a General Election campaign.

Central to that mission is to win back the trust of voters. Polling shows us that in many countries there is an increasing disdain for democracy when compared to strong and clear autocracy. There is an innovative way to strengthen the fabric of trust. That is to build on one of modern democracy’s few success stories: deliberative democracy.

Over 600 successful Citizens’ Assemblies have taken place in recent years. Here a balanced microcosm of a population, independently selected, facilitated, deliberated, and resolved some of our most difficult political problems from abortion in Ireland to nuclear waste in Australia. Democratic renewal and climate change are popular issues amenable to deliberation too. Such questions often defeat whipped and lobbied legislators, yet they too can become liberated by partnering the legitimate and non-partisan deliberations of the public.

Deliberative democracy can make an impact even if isolated in one country. However, President Biden once again set out a vision for global democratic renewal by creating the Summit for Democracy. We should support this institution, as it now steps up from bureaucracy and boxticking to some hard work on deliberative democracy and Citizens’ Assemblies. This could include a global What Works Centre on deliberation, or the Summit’s own year round global Citizens’ Assembly on democratic renewal, or even pitching an inspiring declaration to reunite our democratic system of government with its electors around the world, and much more.

British, and indeed global, democracy is not dead, but you and I as democrats have to choose urgently and with courage the path to renewal.

Graham Allen is Convener of The Citizens’ Convention on UK Democracy and was previously a Labour MP and Chair of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform from 2010 to 2015. This article first appeared in our Centre Write magazine State shifting? Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: Heidi Fin]