Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Election 2010: Where the Parties stand on Political Reform

Just in case you think you've stepped into somewhere unbiased and impartial, I should tell you that this blog does wear its Liberal Democrat heart on its sleeve. What you are about to read will be fair, but it's going to have more than a smattering of subjectivity.

That said, it doesn't take too much investigation to unravel where each of the main parties is coming from on political reform. These include issues like cleaning up party funding, so that parties aren't beholden to their paymasters. The Labour Party is bankrolled to the tune of millions by the Trade Unions, many of whose members pay a political levy. When I was a union member in the 1990s, I opted out of that because the second last thing I would ever want would be for my money to go into Labour's coffers. The last thing, of course, would be to see any of my money going to the Tories. I find it bizarre that a political party in a modern democracy is comfortable with allowing one of its major donors to hold high office within the party and to sit, unelected, in our Parliament when he is domiciled, along with his heart, in Belize for tax purposes. The Liberal Democrats in contrast are not beholden to any particular interest groups.

There have been some all party talks going on since 2007 to try to iron out a way forward on party funding, the Hayden Phillips talks. Recently published minutes show that neither Labour nor the Tories were willing to cut their ties to their respective paymasters.

Gordon Brown today announced what he called "the most comprehensive programme of constitutional reform for a century". A century ago, we were on the verge of the Parliament Act which directly came out of Tory Lords refusing to pass the Liberal Government's People's Budget of 1909 which started the process of introducing the Old Age Pension. The bland package announced by Brown today tinkers at the edges - fixed term parliaments, and, get this, a referendum on a mild change to the voting system and getting rid of hereditary peers. Labour seems to forget that it got a fairly whopping mandate in 1997 for an elected House of Lords - and didn't bother to do anything about it. And Brown was very wrong when he said this was the greatest reform in a century. I reckon women getting the vote was possibly a bit more of a game changer myself.

What I find interesting about Labour is that it's generally considered changes to the way Westminster runs as something to be held at arms length, at the end of a very long spoon which you only use when you go to sup with the Devil. Anything that gives away real power from the centre is regarded with great distrust. However, Gary Gibbon said on Channel 4 News tonight that the reason for Labour's interest in political reform is because they want to win back Liberal minded voters who left them for us over the Iraq war. That's right. It's a cynical, politically opportunist move generated by data from focus groups. End of.

Oh - I forgot to say that Labour also want to stop MPs lobbying. If you're wondering why, google "Stephen Byers cab".

As for the Tories, bless them, they've decided they want to give people the right to sack corrupt MPs. If they're so committed to that idea, why did they not vote for it when the Liberal Democrats proposed it in Parliament? They want a "mainly elected" second chamber. Oh, and they want to cut the number of MPs by 10%. That seems to be that. This is the party that had to be dragged kicking and screaming to accept the devolution that Scotland and Wales desperately wanted. By their nature, they don't really want to change the old established power. Anything you hear from them on political reform is from a desire to be seen walking the walk and is only skin deep. They will reform as little as they can get away with.

As for the SNP, as far as I can see, they don't have a policy for reforming Westminster. Their 2005 manifesto (remember that snappy title If Scotland matters to you make it matter in May) is silent on these issues. I can't imagine this year's will be any different - if it's not independence they don't want to know. Yet another reason they are irrelevant in Westminster terms.

Finally, we Lib Dems are for fixed term Parliaments, real proper Single Transferable Vote which gives maximum power to voter, minimum power to party machine and will breathe new life into our political system, transparent and open party funding, giving people the right to sack corrupt MPs, a fully elected House of Lords. Thing is, when I first got involved in politics during the 1983 election, all but the sacking of corrupt MPs were our policies then. And they weren't new ideas 26 years ago. The principles of decentralisation, giving power to people, increasing the legitimacy of Parliament, stopping the Government manipulating constitutional matters to its advantage - all that is in our DNA as Liberal Democrats. Nick didn't make up these policies on the back of a fag packet after listening to a focus group - it's part of what the Liberal Democrats and predecessor parties have always stood for.

His speech today outlined these issues and again emphasised how the real choice in this election is between the Liberal Democrats and those pesky Labservatives.

He raised this issue at the last PMQs of the Parliament amidst a cacophany of catcalls, with the occasional crash of toys being thrown out of prams and the popping sound of dummies being spat out, on both Labour and Conservative benches in the Kindergarten of Commons. "You've failed. It's over. It's time to go." he said to Cameron as much as Brown. Amen to that.

1 comment:

Bernard Salmon said...

What gets me about what Brown said today is that he appears to think we've all got the memory of a goldfish. So he's now in favour of fixed term parliaments, is he? So when a government minister talked out Lib Dem MP David Howarth's fixed term parliaments bill as recently as a couple of years ago, presumably that was nothing to do with Brown.


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