Monday, 12 April 2010

The End of "New Politics" (Again)

Admittedly the last post was rather downbeat. To explain, I had just realised that there was no point in casting my vote. My democratic spirit was at an all time low as I planned an escape route from Lanarkshire while revelling in my pre-election apathy.

However, today is different. For one, its stopped raining. And for another, Gordon Brown delivered his speech on new politics. I'm sure there's a causal relationship between the two.

“It is time to see an end to the old politics” began Brown, not realising that by definition this means that Labour must lose the election given that they've been in power since 1997.

The Brown narrative was clear enough: connect the economy, climate change and social policy with democratic renewal. We will not “master [these] big challenges... unless the legitimacy of our democracy is fully restored”.

It's a tenuous link – remember the British take on revolt is gesticulating unprompted on Question Time – but let's stick with it.

A vote for Labour will guarantee the “most comprehensive programme of constitutional reform in this country for a century”. Reform includes:

- Ban MPs from working for lobbying companies.
- Introduce a US-style recall system to allow voters to remove their MPs if they are guilty of financial misconduct and parliament fails to act.
- The electorate will be given a new right to petition the House of Commons to trigger debates on “issues of significant public concern”.
- “Charting a course to a written constitution”.
- Give the Parliament a “free vote” on reducing the voting age to 16.
- Introducing fixed term Parliaments.
- Referendum on changing the electoral system and reforming the House of Lords.
- The abolition of the term “new politics” under the 2006 Terrorism Act.

Undoubtedly Labour has a decent track record on constitutional reform having delivered devolution and beginning reform of the House of Lords. Nevertheless, these recent attempts to renew our democracy represent opportunism more than ideals - a progressive fag paper between Labour and the Tories, and perhaps an attempt to sway some Lib Dem voters too.

Why should the British electorate trust Labour to deliver on constitutional reform when thus far they have failed to do so? After three terms haven't they missed countless opportunities to create a “new politics”?

Either Labour strategists are banking on voter amnesia or they fancy their chances in a toe-to-toe brawl on democratic renewal with the Conservatives. And why wouldn't they? For all the localising mantra of Cameron and Co – as Brown pointed out – they have successfully blocked attempts by the UK Government to reform our democratic structures.

Perhaps the most important, if unspoken, point of Brown's speech is to more closely align Labour with the Lib Dems in the potential event of a hung parliament. Certainly, this wouldn't be the first ideological nod and a wink in this campaign. Already we have saw Vince Cable and the Chancellor agree on many issues in the “Ask the Chancellors” debate, signing as they were off the same philosophical hymn sheet.

Oh and I was joking about abolishing the term new politics, unfortunately.

Barry McCulloch
Policy Manager

Thursday, 8 April 2010

The Election of a "Safe Parliament"

The show-piece of our demoralised democracy has been announced. That's right, 6 May will witness the UK General Election and as ever it will be outshone by TV soaps, with many of us prioritising a social life over watching a blow-by-blow account on the Beeb (BBC).

Of course, for many rationality isn't part of the decision-making process – we are already bitten by the political bug – and we will follow the ensuing political theatre with relish, popcorn, TV dinners and sardonic wit.

The first few days of the campaign haven't disappointed: photo op's with “constituents” who looked far too happy to see a politician on their doorstep; countless kissed babies; chapped handshakes; and industrial visits with porcelain white hard hats.

In reality it has all been a bit of an anti-climax as everyone already knew that the 6 May would be the chosen date and thus had been on an election footing. The first day was like any other as the SNP still maintained, with a straight face, that there “challenging” target was 20 seats against a chorus of “more nats, less cuts”. Indeed, even the Tories were at it with David “taxi” McLetchie claiming that the “Cameron effect” in Scotland would amount to 11 seats.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems were bathing in the electoral spotlight and avoiding whenever possible to go into details of what their terms and conditions would be to become a coalition partner in a minority government. And lastly, Labour continued its negative strategy splendidly. “If you don't vote for us, the Tories will get in”. A rather redundant soundbite in Scotland it has to be said.

Yet the real story of the first few days came from the desks of the Electoral Reform Society (ERS); not the campaign trail. According to the ERS “25 million safe seat voters will not see a contest” with 383 MPs “elected for life”. Indeed, in large parts of the country the winner could be announced today. In Scotland, for example, only 23 constituencies are swing seats with more than 60% of seats safe. ERS Chief Exec Ken Ritchie said:

These winners will take their seats in Britain’s Safe Parliament. Voters will never be able to boot these MPs out under our present system. They form a class of MPs that are, quite simply, elected for life... 2010 offers a tale of two elections – and two electorates. One that matters, and one that doesn’t. And for over 25 Million of us, who just happen to live in safe seats, this contest is already over”.

British Democracy in action: you gotta love it.

Barry McCulloch
Policy Manager