Half measures won’t halt Labour’s slide
Even as a Green candidate, I want to see Labour revive. But for that to happen, Brown must adopt bold political reform
Democratic reform can save Labour
A radical programme of political democratisation will revive support for Labour and expose David Cameron as an opponent of democracy
By Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner
The Guardian – Comment is Free - London – 11 June 2009
Gordon Brown has eleven months to legislate serious democratic reforms to Britain’s clapped out, discredited political system. If he succeeds, he will go down in history as one the greatest reforming Prime Minister’s of all time and, against all the odds, he might just win the next election.
Gordon, you can do it. Stop dithering. Be bold. The public wants change. Now is your big chance to do the right thing, and to win back public support and confidence in your party and government.
Forget the mostly vague, superficial, half-hearted reforms you have promised so far. Bring forward legislation for serious, meaningful political changes, like a fair voting system, an elected second chamber and a written constitution and Bill of Rights.
Act now, Gordon. Make politics serve the people. Ensure that it becomes more open, accountable and representative. Restore public trust. Reposition Labour as the party of democracy, with immediate legislation for major political reform. By doing this, you can box David Cameron into a corner and expose him as an opponent of democratic change with a phoney commitment to “people power.”
These are the positive moves that Gordon Brown could make, in order to seize the political initiative. But like David Cameron, he talks about change without concrete proposals and without a specific timetable for delivering change.
The reform ideas currently being touted by Brown and Cameron will leave the political elite, and the two main parties, firmly in control. Their reform ideas are mostly tinkering. Not good enough. The whole system is rotten and needs fundamental transformation.
Gordon Brown and New Labour will only be taken seriously as reformers when they announce serious changes to the way the political system operates. Here are 10 ways to reinvigorate British democracy (and perhaps also reinvigorate Labour’s electoral fortunes):
1. Fair votes to ensure a truly representative parliament and a government with majority public support. It is time we ended the scandal whereby a succession of both Labour and Conservative governments since 1945 have won a majority of seats based on a minority of votes.
We could adopt the Scottish electoral system for Westminster elections. This would retain constituency MPs, but have additional ‘top up’ MPs to ensure proportionality between the number of votes cast for a party and the number of seats gained by that party.
2. A written Constitution and Bill of Rights to limit the power of the state and protect the rights of the citizen.
3. Replace the monarchy with a democratically elected head of state, modelled on the low-cost, purely ceremonial Irish presidency.
4. An elected second chamber, preferably chosen by a different election system to the House of Commons. There could be multi-member constituencies representing the different nations and regions that comprise the UK, with alternate / preferential voting (1, 2, 3) and with voters being required to vote for an equal number of male and female candidates to ensure gender parity in the new chamber.
5. The right to recall MPs. This would enable electors to force a recall election at any time, if sufficient numbers of registered voters (say 25%) are dissatisfied with their MPs performance and sign a recall petition.
6. Abolition of the royal prerogative, which gives the Prime Minister sweeping powers similar to an absolute monarch. These powers, such the power to declare war, should be transferred to MPs and require parliamentary approval.
7. Strengthen the powers of select committees to enable backbench MPs to hold the government in check. This would include the right of MPs to elect the members and chairs of select committees, with every MP being guaranteed a place on a select committee so they all have specific areas of legislative work. It would also involve sufficient staff to service the committees to make them more effective, and require all government appointments to be subject to confirmation hearings by the relevant select committee.
8. Abolition of unelected quangos (invariably appointed by political patronage) and the transfer of their powers to democratically elected and accountable local or regional government bodies.
9. Creation of a federal Britain, possibly with an English Parliament or, even better, the devolution of power in England to regional assemblies with similar powers to the Scottish Parliament, in order to bring decision-making closer to the people.
10. Greater powers for backbench MPs to introduce legislation and to determine the parliamentary business programme. This is one reform that Gordon Brown has - to his credit - promised to bring forward.
In these hard economic times, with public finances under strain, such reforms are easy options and cost next-to-nothing; yet they are key to reviving the democratic process by which we can, through legislative measures, restore our economy effectively and fairly.
Why am I giving this advice to Gordon Brown and the Labour Party? After all, I am standing against Labour in the next general election, as the Green Party parliamentary candidate for Oxford East.
Well, the difference between the Greens and the other parties is that we are less tribal. We don’t single-mindedly put our party first. Parties are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. We Greens place the highest value on ideals and policies. We are willing to work with any party that supports greater democracy and accountability in politics.
If Labour and the other parties legislate democratic reforms, we Greens will support them, even if they might gain political advantage by following our advice. What is good for the people of Britain and the world is more important than what is good for our party - or any party. Over to you, Gordon Brown.
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