Posted Under: Civil Liberties,Democracy,Human Rights
After 4,500 submissions and 100,000 votes, the POWER 2010 pledge has finally been revealed.
1. Introduce a proportional voting system.
2. Scrap ID cards and roll back the database state.
3. Replace the House of Lords with an elected chamber.
4. Allow only English MPs to vote on English laws.
5. Draw up a written constitution.
I, and others writing for this site, have drawn some criticism for our broad support for the deliberative process of the POWER2010 campaign. However, for me, this moment was always going to be crunch time. Can I comfortably put my name to POWER2010’s finalised pledge as chosen by members of the British public? Well, let’s go through each in turn.
1. Introduce a proportional voting system: By far the most popular suggestion. Indeed it formed the core of my idea for POWER2010. Any democratic reform has to start with proportional representation. A two-party state is only twice as democratic as a dictatorship, after all, and if we are to see a new kind of politics in this country, it has to include new voices from across the political spectrum. There are those who would argue that proportional representation will only let the extremists in. But curtailing democracy to keep the likes of the BNP out is not the correct answer to their challenge. Rather it is part of the problem as people feel increasingly alienated from the political process when forced to choose between two parties whose policies often appear indistinguishable. Red, blue and yellow just won’t cut it anymore. I want to see a rainbow Parliament and in this, I fully support POWER2010’s aim.
2. Scrap ID cards and roll back the database state: Whilst not so much a reform of the political system, this is still, in my view, a very necessary demand. At best ID cards are a pointless expense. At worst they are part and parcel of New Labour’s systematic erosion of civil liberties and human rights. Together with DNA databases retaining the records of thousands of people never convicted of any crime, anti-terror laws, detention without trial and an explosion of CCTV, they represent an alarming trend. I am not paranoid enough to suggest that they amount to a police state, or even that in and of themselves ID cards will curtail the everyday freedoms of the British public. However, in a democratic society, it is important to resist these small steps towards the removal of basic freedoms while we can. Because once they’re all gone, it’s too late to speak out. For this objective, POWER2010 gets another tick from me.
3. Replace the House of Lords with an elected chamber: It is a startlingly anachronistic aberration that in a democratic society with a bicameral Parliament, we can have an upper house that is unaccountable to the people. The second step to mending Britain’s broken political system, I have always argued, is to have a directly elected upper house and I am behind POWER2010 all the way on this point.
4. Allow only English MPs to vote on English laws: Devolution has done wonders for the Scottish and the Welsh. However it has left the largest part of the United Kingdom without its own legislative body. Banning non-English MPs from voting on English laws, however, has always seemed to me a messy and incomplete answer to the problem. Moreover, it sends the message that the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is primarily the Parliament of England. It would be better, in my opinion, to have a separate English Parliament, or to devolve powers regionally. In any case, this issue has never been high up on my list of priorities. I was surprised by the number of votes the suggestion received, but mine certainly wasn’t among them.
5. Draw up a written constitution: Always a tricky issue if one’s not sure exactly what would be in this written constitution. Historical example, however, and in particular the American case, tends to show that written constitutions are more a means to constrain democracy rather than enable it. Often used to prevent the ‘tyranny of the majority’, written constitutions, with a few notable exceptions, reign in the power of far-reaching reform. In any case, I do not believe that the problem with British politics, and the public’s engagement with it, is our lack of a written constitution and I would be tempted to say, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Well, that’s my humble opinion on the POWER2010 pledge. And to paraphrase Meatloaf, three out of five ain’t bad. I have, therefore, decided to support the POWER2010 pledge, with a few caveats. None of these reforms will come easy, however. Unless we see a hung parliament with Labour desperate to court the Lib Dems, it may well take more than one election to see the most important democratic reforms through. And the true test of POWER2010’s effectiveness will be in its staying power after the General Election. It cannot afford to be another Make Poverty History, or a flash in the pan playing with people’s expectations. In politics as in sex, no one likes a quick finisher.