Celebrating National Democracy Week

Excuse us while we just finish hanging this bunting…

Yes, wave the flags and toot those vuvuzelas: it’s National Democracy Week, a new initiative to celebrate the democratic process and encourage democratic participation.

And thanks to some extra-curricular work by one of the mySociety team, we’re now able to celebrate it in a quite exceptional way. Longstanding  developer Matthew has used his own free time to import historic House of Commons debates from 1919-1935 into our parliamentary site TheyWorkForYou. With this work, he’s extended the site’s value as an easy-access archive of parliamentary activity even further.

You can check it out now by visiting TheyWorkForYou, searching for any word or phrase, and then sorting the search results by ‘oldest’. Or, pick any MP active during 1919-1935 and search for them to see every speech they made in Parliament.

Please let us know if you find anything of interest! For developers who use TheyWorkForYou data to power their own sites and apps, the extended content will also be available via TheyWorkForYou’s API.

“No one sex can govern alone” – Nancy Astor

This is the first National Democracy Week, and it has taken, as its theme, the anniversary of women’s suffrage: as you’re sure to have heard by now, 2018 is the centenary of (some) women getting the vote* in the UK.

We wanted to celebrate by highlighting some of the big milestones of women’s participation in Parliament, but there was just one problem.  TheyWorkForYou only contained House of Commons debates as far back as the 1930s — while, for example, the maiden speech of Nancy Astor, the first woman to speak in Parliament, was in 1920.

So it’s a big deal that Matthew’s imported this early data into TheyWorkForYou, and we’re all the more grateful because he did so on his own time. It’s something we’ve wanted to do, but not had the resource for. You can now browse, search or link to Commons debates right back to 1919, and find not just women’s contributions, but a whole wealth of historic parliamentary content. Result!

What you can enjoy this week

We’re going to take this opportunity to highlight, through a week-long series of posts:

  • Tomorrow, our researcher Alex will be highlighting some of the ways people have used our data and APIs to explore issues of gender and representation and describe some of our future plans in this area. This also gives us the opportunity to point out where you can access all our lovely, juicy data, should you want to do something similar yourself.
  • Finally, as a weekend bonus, we’ll be blogging on the various organisations which support women within our own sphere of Civic Tech.

We’ll add the links in for each day’s content as it goes live.

Since our sites TheyWorkForYou and WriteToThem in the UK, our activities with the Democratic Commons, and the support we give to partners in other countries are all, at heart, aiming to make democratic participation easier, we are, of course, all over this event. We hope you’ll enjoy the week!

*We can have another celebration in 2028 for the remaining women.


  1. Barnaby Jackson

    This is a great initiative. I use MySociety regularly esp. TheyWorkForYou and WriteToThem in lobbying my MP.

    How do you envisage the participatory element of “democracy” in future Parliaments?

    Do we identify a political system as “democratic” simply by virtue of it convening “free & fair elections” and passing laws?

    Will it be likely that reform of the House of Commons and the Lords’ scrutiny procedures will involve greater use of citizens’ assemblies, and might that be more easily achieved by starting small, i.e. settling local matters at a parish, district and county level?

    AI and robotic machinery is supplementing & replacing many jobs humans do today. Machine learning may accelerate this exponentially. How do we then decide what our future prospects are, and how might we help each other lead meaningful, ecologically sustainable lives?

  2. Bruce Montague

    It cannot be a true democracy where the second house is filled with unelected people with their own agendas and financial business interests.
    Until the House of Lords becomes an elected body, Britain – Britain being a concept originated in 1607 – is merely a subjugated monarchy. We are all subjects: not citizens.

  3. Alexander Parker

    It is good to read the comments above and I fully agree with them. I have not been able to read the full text from MP as clicking on does not seem to work for me and I am not sure to move as suggested. Can you help
    A. Parker

    • Hi Alexander,
      Are you trying to click from one of our emails, or on the TheyWorkForYou website? Perhaps you could drop a line to support@theyworkforyou.com with some precise details of the issue and they will be glad to investigate.

  4. Democracy finally died when Theresa May met with her cabinet and sold out 17,4 million British Voters.
    There can no true democracy in Britain whilst the House of Lords and our royalty who meddle with our Government are still in place!

  5. I agree with C Pearce except where he? asserts that our royalty meddle. Perhaps we could hear some statistics comparing how often members of the Royal Family vote and/or lobby against business ‘interests’. How many votes did members of the House of Lords get in their attempt to halt Brexit?

    If you want to ‘celebrate’ democracy, try celebrating that we’re still trying to get it.

    Here are some basic changes that need to be made. All the ‘political’ life peers in the House of Lords need to be removed. And it shouldn’t become an ‘elected’ chamber. It had no mandate from the electorate but it still tried to be ‘the government’. Think what a horror it would be if it had any cause to think it did have a mandate. Was there ever an occasion in modern times when the hereditary peers acted with such hubris?

    And the House of Commons needs to be changed as well. The guiding principle being that it is composed of employees! ‘Representative’ democracy and ‘direct’ democracy are just words. The fault is the concept of ‘parliamentary sovereignty’. How can employees suggest that they are sufficiently ‘sovereign’ that they can ignore their employers? We need a system whereby, if a sufficient number of people want a say, MPs should just do as they are told.

    From the 2016 Referendum, we would be out of the EU by now. And it wouldn’t be getting any money, it’s nationals would be treated like any other third country nationals, we’d have all our resources back and the list goes on. Covering every concession May gave away.

  6. Edwin Heminsley

    I am struggling to understand why coming out of Europe is so difficult and devisive. We (the populace of the UK) voted to come out.
    I don’t remember going in to Europe was a problem when I voted to join the ‘Common Market’
    I find it incredible that those who voted to stay in are so desperate to thwart the will of the people !!!???

  7. I have to say that I am a little baffled by the responses to this post (and I am commenting now as myself, not as a representative of mySociety). Readers seem to have got as far as ‘there’s a new initiative called National Democracy Week’ but no further, before they felt moved to comment on the perceived failings of democracy.

    Did no-one read further to see the main thrust of the post, which signposts the historic content added to TheyWorkForYou, and a week’s worth of content on women in democracy?

    • Dear Myf, allow me to explain. The responses are pointing out the irony of a government-sponsored Democracy Week timed to coincide with the Establishment’s outrageous betrayal of the voting public. Not until we have proportional representation and House of Lords reform can we pride ourselves on our democracy. Meanwhile, the people really running the country have decided we’ll remain in their EU-funded comfort zone, and the plebs can do nothing about it while our first-past-the-post voting system is a two-horse race. They Work for You? Yeah, right!