Civil society enquiry will harness dissent to practical democratic change

By staff writers
July 27, 2009

An event to explore the role of civil society associations in creating and supporting spaces for dissenting voices, both in the UK and globally, will take place in a major London church tomorrow.

The Carnegie UK Trust Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society in the UK and Ireland is being backed by OpenDemocracy ( and a range of other groups.

In 2007, the Carnegie UK Trust Inquiry undertook an extensive futures exercise to explore the possible future threats to and opportunities for civil society, looking out to 2025.

Contributors to the 'futures' work highlighted the marginalisation of dissent and diminishing spaces for public deliberation as key concerns.

Tomorrow's event will draw on these concerns and consider the various ways in which dissent is marginalised resulting from factors such as threats to civil liberties and anti-terror legislation, the behaviour of media or self-suppression on the part of civil society associations themselves.

Momentum for civic political action has grown dramatically in recent weeks, following the MPs' expenses scandal and calls for radical voting and constitutional change - which the main parties seem intent on smothering, while employing the rhetoric of change for their own purposes.

The Carnegie / OpenDemocracy meeting can be seen as part of a wider mobilisation including the February 2009 Convention on Modern Liberty and the newly-launched Real Politics: Open Politics Network coalition, which Ekklesia is involved

Key questions that the speakers will address tomorrow will include: What are the roles of civil society associations in enabling dissent? Where are the key areas where dissent is marginalised? What factors enable or inhibit dissent? What practical steps should be taken to support spaces for dissenting voices?

The event will be chaired by Anthony Barnett (founder of, Co-Director of the Convention on Modern Liberty and Co-Chair of Real Change: The Open Politics Network).

Speakers include: Kumi Naidoo (Visiting Fellow at the Carnegie UK Trust, Honorary President of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and Co-Chair of the Global Call to Action against Poverty campaign), Sunny Hundal (Editor of Liberal Conspiracy, journalist, commentator, blogger and activist), the Rev Malcolm Carroll, (Greenpeace campaigner and Baptist minister) and Fran Bennett (Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of Oxford and independent consultant).

The Inquiry has hosted two other events on the theme of dissent, in Dublin and in Glasgow. Findings from these events can be found at the Inquiry web pages, under 'Marginalisation of Dissent' (

The latest enquiry is taking place at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, from 4.30pm - 6.30pm, on Tuesday 28 July 2009.

For last minute booking possibilities please email Catherine at . To find out more about the Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society, visit

Meanwhile, Ekklesia is helping with the Real Change initiative to gather a range of small, local 'focus groups' of around 5-10 people across the country - with the aim of coming up with creative ideas for the renewal of democracy.

It is intended that faith and church groups will be involved in the process, alongside other kinds of civil society organisations and networks. If you are interested in participating, please write to simon(dot)barrow(at)ekklesia(dot)co(dot)uk.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.