A Short History
Charter 88 began as a special edition of the New Statesman magazine in November 1988, to be swiftly followed by a newspaper advertisement in the Guardian Newspaper signed by 348 people. It was a protest to challenge establishment complacency about the health of our democracy. People were invited to ‘add your names to ours’ and make a donation towards future ads. They did so in their thousands.
A year later the idea became an organisation, born of public demands. It had two aims - to lobby and persuade within the existing system and to build a powerful mass movement for change. It is widely credited for creating the political mood that lead directly to the constitutional reforms - devolution to Scotland and Wales, a Freedom of Information Act and the Human Rights Act - following New Labour’s election win in 1997.
The New Politics Network was established in December 1999 following the transformation of Democratic Left. Democratic Left was the legal successor organisation to the Communist Party of Great Britain.
A think tank concerned specifically with issues relating to democratic renewal and popular participation in politics, the Network’s most prolific project was on party funding reform.
In 2004, Charter 88 and the New Politics Network set up a joint working relationship to make the most of their resources. This lead to, among other things, the establishment of the Elect the Lords campaign. The two organisations decided to formalise their working relationship in 2006 and, following an all member ballot of both organisations, decided to merge as Unlock Democracy in November 2007.
Unlock Democracy also incorporates two other organisations: Active Citizens Transform and POWER 2010. Active Citizens Transform was established in 2004 by former executive director of Friends of the Earth Charles Secrett and campaigner Ron Bailey. It’s main project was Local Works, the eventually successful campaign for the Sustainable Communities Act 2007. Active Citizens Transform merged into Charter 88 in 2006.
POWER 2010 was established by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust to campaign for democratic reform for the 2010 UK general election. It merged into Unlock Democracy in June 2010.
For more about Unlock Democracy’s past - and future - buy our anniversary book: Unlocking Democracy: 20 Years of Charter 88.