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Demo for democracy

Nick Clegg addresses crowd marching for electoral reform.

By Anthony Barnett

A demonstration today brought together a range of democratic reform groups, blogs, campaigns and organisations at the instigation of Guy Aitchison, George Gabriel and others. It gathered in Trafalgar Square and then marched to Smith Square, where the Lib Dems were meeting to decide on their strategy.

Word went out that a delegation could go and meet Nick Clegg to hand in a petition. Over 1,000 voices cried “No” — he had to come out. “You serve us,” suddenly arose as a chant. Clegg came. I think this was a historic first: a major party leader being summoned by a crowd and speaking to it.

It was both friendly and determined. Many on the left think there is no political basis for the Lib Dems to close a deal with the Tories. But there is: a Freedom Act to roll back the threat to liberty from the database state and a referendum on PR, which the Tories can campaign against. Of course, Labour can offer more, but not with Gordon Brown at the helm.

The role of the demonstration was both radical and practical. Clegg can’t now agree to the mere “inquiry” on electoral reform as offered by Cameron as his payment for a deal. To do so would ruin him. We don’t need another inquiry — we need a referendum.

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Anthony Barnett is the founder of openDemocracy and co-edits its British blog, OurKingdom.