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Democratic lives in the 21st century

Panel discussion hosted by Commonwealth Local Government Forum, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance and LSE Cities

In contrast to the optimism of the 1990s, today’s democracy is suffering from anxieties at the local, national and supranational levels. Globalisation, geo-political power shifts, the changing role and structure of governments and institutions, the rise of populism and new technologies that mediate the political process have all contributed to these anxieties. These processes have also been accompanied by complex dynamics of conflict and development, citizenship and sovereignty, and increasing inequalities and marginalisation of groups of people within and between societies.

Many have emphasised the importance of community voice and decentralisation in the name of stronger democracy. Governments can reflect the priorities and interests of citizens through innovations such as participatory governance and budgeting. Since 2015 Governments have signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda2030), global targets on climate change, disaster risk reduction, financing development and urbanisation. At a national and local level they are working to develop the necessary structures and decision making processes to protect and enhance democratic accountability, and to make multilevel governance a reality.

What are the main challenges facing democracies today? How can citizen-centric governance tools address some of these challenges? What impacts do governance innovations have on the way our cities and nations are governed? What multi-level governance systems should be deployed? How can we ensure the key democratic value systems are going to be protected in the future? Building on insights drawn from International IDEA’s Global State of Democracy and CLGF’s Commonwealth Local Government Handbook, a panel of experts and practitioners reflected on these and other challenges to democracy in the 21st century.

Photography courtesy: Rick Barry of Broken Shade Photo

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  • Helen Clark

    Helen Clark

    Helen Clark is Patron of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF), former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Administrator of the United Nations Development Program. First elected to Parliament in 1981, Helen was re-elected to her multicultural, inner city Auckland constituency for the tenth time in November 2008. Between 1987 and 1990, she was a Minister responsible for first, the portfolios of Conservation and Housing, and then Health and Labour. She was Deputy Prime Minister between 1989 and 1990, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and of the New Zealand Labour Party from 1990 to 1993, and then Leader of the Opposition and of the Labour Party until becoming Prime Minister after the 1999 General Election, serving three successive terms until 2008. Following her premiership she was appointed in April 2009 the Administrator of the United Nations Development Program and the Chair of the United Nations Development Group, which she held for a full two terms to April 2017. Prior to entering the New Zealand Parliament, Helen taught in the Political Studies Department of the University of Auckland. She graduated from the University of Auckland with a BA in 1971, and an MA with First Class Honours in 1974.

  • Yves Leterme

    Yves Leterme

    Yves Leterme is the Secretary-General of the intergovernmental organisation International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). Prior to working at International IDEA, Yves served as Prime Minister of Belgium (2007 to 2011) and then as Deputy Secretary General of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris (2011 to 2014). Before serving as Prime Minister, Leterme held a variety of political posts in Belgium. After starting his career as an Alderman in his home town of Ypres, he became a Member of Parliament in the Chamber of Representatives, Group Chairman and leader of the opposition, Secretary-General and Chairman of the CD&V party, Minister-President and Minister for Agriculture of the Flemish Government, Federal Senator, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of the Budget and Mobility, and Minister of Foreign Affairs. During Yves’s tenure as Prime Minister, Belgium held the Presidency of the European Union. Yves has also worked, inter alia, as a deputy auditor at the Belgian Court of Audit and as an administrator at the European Parliament. Yves has degrees in Law and in Political Sciences from the University of Ghent.

  • Darrell Bradley

    Darrell Bradley

    Darrell Bradley is President of the Belize Mayors’ Association Board Member for CLGF, and former Mayor of Belize City. Darrell is also an attorney and partner at Bradley Ellis & Co. and adjunct faculty at the University of the West Indies Belize and Wesley College. Darrell was formerly a Director of Youth for the United Democratic Party, Vice President of the Bar Association of Belize and member of the Board of Directors of the Central Bank of Belize. Darrell holds Bachelor’s Degrees in sociology, international studies and law and a Master’s Degree in public administration.

  • Tony Travers

    Tony Travers

    Tony Travers is Director of the IPA and also of LSE London.  He is a professor in the Department of Government. His key research interests include local and regional government and public service reform. He has been an advisor to the Communities & Local Government Select Committee and also to other Parliamentary committees. He has published a number of books on cities and government, including Failure in British GovernmentThe Politics of the Poll Tax (with David Butler and Andrew Adonis); Paying for Health, Education and Housing: How does the Centre Pull the Purse Strings (with Howard Glennerster and John Hills); The Politics of London: Governing the Ungovernable City and, most recently, London’s Boroughs at 50. He has chaired a number of official commissions, including the Independent Commission on Local Government Finance in Wales and the London Finance Commission.

  • Helena Zaum

    Helena Zaum

    Helena Zaum leads Microsoft UK’s CityNext program for smart cities. Helena is passionate about the positive impact which technology, sensitively applied, can have on communities and cities of the future. During 10 years with Microsoft, Helena has worked in various roles across start-ups and commercial organisations serving the public sector and local government customers on digital transformation.  Prior to Microsoft, Helena managed a number of large change programmes and is well versed in the importance of the people side of change and transformation. Helen has both a BA and an MSc in Modern Languages from the University of Oxford.

  • Michael McQuarrie

    Michael McQuarrie

    Michael McQuarrie is Associate Professor in the Sociology Department at the London School of Economics and Political Science.