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A FUTURE

FOR POLITICS
Ways to reform our polical system,
by the UK’s leading think tanks
Edited by Tim Finch and Carey Oppenheim, ippr

©ippr2009
CONTENTS

Contributingthinktanks..................................................................... 4

Introduction.......................................................................................... 5
TimFinchandCareyOppenheim,ippr

Don’tjustblametheMPs................................................................. 11
JulianAstleandAlasdairMurray,CentreForum

Theroleofcitizensaftertheexpensesscandal .............................. 18
DanielLeighton,Demos

Anti-politicsandthecrisis................................................................ 27
SunderKatwala,FabianSociety

Remakingpolitics.............................................................................. 36
RickMuirandGuyLodge,ippr

Insearchofreform,notgimmicks ................................................... 43
NeilO’Brien,PolicyExchange

Timetoturnpoliticsonitshead...................................................... 52
JessicaAsato,Progress

Fitforgovernment............................................................................. 60
NickBosanquet,Reform

3
CONTRIBUTING THINK TANKS

CentreForumisanindependent,liberalthinktankseekingtodevelop
evidence-based,long-termpolicysolutionstotheproblemsfacingBritain.
www.centreforum.org
Demos isathinktankfocusedonpowerandpolitics.Itsearchesforand
communicatesideastogivepeoplemorepowertoshapetheirownlives.
Demos’svisionisademocracyoffreecitizens,withanequalstakeinsociety.
www.demos.co.uk
TheFabianSociety developspoliticalideasandpublicpolicyontheleftof
centre.Thesocietyisademocratically-constitutedmembershiporganisation
affiliatedtotheLabourPartybuteditoriallyandorganisationallyindependent.
www.fabians.org.uk
TheInstituteforPublicPolicyResearch(ippr) istheUK’sleading
progressivethinktank,producingcutting-edgeresearchandinnovativepolicy
ideasforajust,democraticandsustainableworld.
www.ippr.org
PolicyExchange isanindependent,non-partisaneducationalcharity.Itworks
withacademicsandpolicymakersfromacrossthepoliticalspectrum.Itis
particularlyinterestedinfreemarketandlocalistsolutionstopublicpolicy
questions.
www.policyexchange.org.uk
ProgressistheNewLabourpressuregroupwhichaimstopromotearadical
andprogressivepoliticsforthe21stcentury.
www.progressonline.org.uk
Reformisanindependent,charitable,non-partythinktankwhosemissionis
tosetoutabetterwaytodeliverpublicservicesandeconomicprosperity.
www.reform.co.uk

Theviewsexpressedinthispublicationdonotnecessarilyrepresentthoseofthe
contributors’organisations.

ThisbookletwasfirstpublishedinNovember2009.©ippr2009
Copy-editing,designandproductionbyGeorginaKyriacou,ippr

4
INTRODUCTION

Tim Finch and Carey Oppenheim, ippr

Itissafetosaythat,whateverelsedividesthethinktanks,weareunitedinbelieving
thatthepracticeofpoliticsisvitalforagoodsocietyinwhichindividualscanthrive.
Soitiswithparticulardismaythatipprandtheotherthinktankshaveseenthe
expensesscandalunfold.Initsdarkestdepths,asthereputationofpoliticianshassunk
toanabysmalnadir,therehasbeenlittlecomforttobedrawnbyanyonewhocares
aboutpoliticsandthinksthatitmatters.Politicsinthepublic’smindhasbecomenot
thesolutiontothemanyissuesthatconfrontus,buttheproblem.Trustinthepolitical
processandinthosechargedwithmakingitworkcollapsedandthemuchoverused
word‘crisis’didnotseemhyperbolic.
Andyetasthefinancialcrisisoffereduptheopportunitytolookafreshathowour
economyisstructured,sothepoliticalcrisishasstimulatednewdiscussionsabout
changesandreformstoourpoliticalsystem.Oncepeoplehadstoppedreelingfromthe
immediateshockoftheDailyTelegraph’srevelations,ideassuchasProportional
Representation,electingtheHouseofLords,givingmorepowertotheCommons,state
fundingofparties,compulsoryvoting,openprimariestoselectparliamentary
candidates,decentralisingpowertolocalbodiesandchangingourrelationshipwiththe
EuropeanUnionstartedtobedebatedwithrenewedvigour,afteryearsinthe
doldrums.Therewasarealsensethatsuchreforms,sooftenfrustratedbyinertia,the
powerofvestedinterests,andtheargumentthatotherissuesweremorepressing,
couldactuallybeimplementedthistime.Awindowforreformhadbeenblownopen.
Surelytheprocesscouldnotstoponcetheexpensessystemhadbeencleanedup?
Perhapssomerealgoodcouldcomeoutofthemess?
Certainlythepoliticaljunkiesthoughtso–intheearlysummerof2009thereform
agendawaseagerlydiscussedinpamphletsandontheblogosphere,atseminarsand
meetings.Onlinepetitionsweresetupandcampaignsstarted.However,itwasnot
clearwhetherthewiderpublic–indignantastheywereaboutMPs’greed–werefired
upbythisreformingzeal.AsProgressputitintheiressay,politicalreformhasalways
sufferedfroman‘imageproblem’.Duckhousesandpornfilmsareonething;
ProportionalRepresentationandthecommitteesystemquiteanother.
Perhapsmoresignificantly,asothernewsreplacedtheexpensesscandalinthe
headlines,thesenseofexcitementthatrealreformwaspossiblewasreplacedbythe
familiarfearthatthepoliticalleadershadalreadylostinterestandturnedtheir
attentiontoothermatters.Therewasaparallelwiththecreditcrunchagain:theworry
wasthatoncetheimmediateairofcrisishadliftedtherewouldbeadepressingdrift
backto‘businessasusual’.Bythetimeofthepartyconferences,politicalreform
seemedtoberatheroldnews.
Ofcourse,sincethenwehavehadthedoubledipintheexpensesscandal,withtheSir
ThomasLegg’sreviewofexpensesre-ignitingafirestormthatseemedtohavedied
down.Butevenso,thefocushasallbeenon‘whoclaimedwhatforwhat’and‘how
muchtheyshouldpayback’ratherthanthebiggerpoliticalquestions.Thereisstilla
dangerthatwiderpoliticalreformwillbelostinallthefurore.

5
Introduction

Itisinexactlythesesituationsthatthinktankscanplayanimportantrole.Wearenot
sodrivenordiverted(oratleast,shouldnotbe)bythemarchofeventsorfastmoving
newsagendas.Fascinatingasallthesqualiddetailofexpensesis,weshouldbeableto
riseaboveitandmaintainthemomentumfordemocraticreform.
ItwasinthisspiritthatipprapproachedcolleaguesinotherleadingUKthinktanks
withdifferingperspectivestocontributetheirconsideredthoughtsonthesubject.The
resultisthisshortvolumeofessays.
Itisimportanttomentionattheoutsetthatfixingthesystemisnotenoughinitself,as
indeedanumberofcontributorspointoutintheiressays.Theexpensesscandalwas
notjustaconsequenceofinadequatepoliticalmachinery;itwasasymptomofa
discreditedpoliticalculture.Muchhasbeenwritten(inthisvolumeandelsewhere)
aboutthedistancethathasopenedupbetweenpoliticiansandthepeopletheyserve–
asevidenced,notleast,byfallingvoterturnoutandthecollapseinpartymembership.
Toachieverealrenewalinthedemocraticlifeofthiscountryweneedtoreversethe
dangerousdisengagementbetweenpoliticsandpublic.Theproblemisthatthemost
difficulttimetorenewyourvowsiswhenonepartnerintherelationshiphascheated
ontheother.
Weacknowledgethatthereisadeeper,wideragendahere,butdonotallowourselves
tobedivertedbyit(ordispiritedbyitsimmensity).Thisisavolumemoreaboutideas
forfixingtheessentialplumbingofourbodypoliticthanitisaboutrevivingitsguiding
philosophy.Wehavedelimitedourscopepartlytomakeconfrontingitlessdaunting,
butalsotogiveourselvesafightingchanceofcomingupwithideasthatarerealistic,
pragmatic–doable.
Ininitiatingtheproject,wewantedtolookattherangeofideasthatourcontributors
cameupwith,butinparticularwewereinterestedtoseewhatsortofconsensusmight
emergearoundthemostdiscussedareasforreform.Ifitistruethatfromtheruinsof
theoldsystemwecouldbuildanewJerusalem,whichelementsofitsarchitecture
couldbeconstructedfromasharedvision?
Asyouwillseeinreadingtheessays,wedonotallagreeoneverything–theleast
surprisingelementoftheproject.Toextendourmetaphor:thereformsthatsomebuild
up,othersknockdown.Anynewsystemthatwejointlyconstructedwouldnotfitthe
perfectdesignofanyoneofus–insomecasesthemosttreasuredelementwouldbe
missingaltogether,inothersthecompromisesolutionwouldhavetobecobbled
together.Butwearenotleftwithaheapofrubble.Farfromit.Thelevelofconsensus
onmanyareasisimpressive–andperhapsheartening.Itiscertainlythecase,we
wouldargue,thatthereisenoughheretoestablishanagendaforreformwhichcould
beseenasabasisforabroadconsensusonthewayforward.
Forastart,thereisgeneralagreementthattheexpensesscandaldidrepresenta
seminalcrisisinconfidenceinourpoliticalsystemwhichdemandsmorethanjusta
cleanupoftheFeesOfficeandaclear-outofMPs.Therewassomeconcern
(notablyfromtheFabianSocietyandCentreForum)thattheoutrageamong
sectionsofthepublicandpresswasoverdone,ifnotdownrighthypocritical,and
thatthecrisisisindangerofbeingmanipulatedbythosewhoarefundamentally
‘anti-politics’.Nonetheless,thosevoicingthisnoteofcautionareaseagerasthe
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ippr

restofthethinktanksinwantingtoseesignificantreformsacrossanumberof
areas.
Thereisastrongagreement,too,abouttheneedforgreatertransparency.Asthe
FabianSocietyargues,itwasthetransparencyofferedbytheFreedomofInformation
Actwhichexposedtheexpensesscandalinthefirstplace,albeitintheteethof
parliamentaryresistance;andasseveralcontributorspointouttransparencyinMPs’
affairs,postthescandal,isnowadonedeal.Noargument;and,tothislimitedextent,
problemsolved.Thelatestanalysesofexpenses(seeHencke2009)suggestsclaims
havedroppeddramatically.Butwegenerallyagreetoothattransparencyand
accountabilityneedtoextendwellbeyondParliament.Allthosepaidbyandspending
taxpayers’moneyshouldbesubjecttodemocraticscrutinyandbeaccountablefor
theiractions,includingseniorcivilservantsandthequangocracy.Ideasincludefixed-
termappointments,subjecttoparliamentaryhearingandapproval.
Anotherareawherethethinktanksaremoreorlessofonemindistheneedto
strengthentheroleofParliamentinrelationtotheExecutive.Astrongercommittee
systemisadvocatedbyall.IdeasincludegivingSelectCommitteessomeroleininitiating
legislation,aswellasinholdingministersandotherseniorofficialstoaccount.Standing
expertcommitteestoimprovethedetailedscrutinyofgovernmentlegislationarealso
backed.ThereisgeneralagreementthattheMPs’roleasnationallegislatorsshouldbe
re-invigorated,andsomewayfoundtoallowthebestpoliticianstobuildacareerasa
parliamentarianthatcommandsrespectandfulfilsambition.
Itisfairtosay,perhaps,thatwewouldallliketoseeoursystemproduceitsownTeddy
Kennedys–politiciansofnational,eveninternationalstandingnotbecauseoftheir
roleingovernmentbutbecauseoftheirroleinthelegislature.Allofuswould
sympathisewiththelamentofProgressthatatpresenttheonlyMPsthatanyone
takesanynoticeofareministersormavericks–andwhilethe‘socialworker’element
oftheconstituencymembershouldnotbedisparaged,itisoverwhelmingsomeMPs,
draggingthemdownintoaninappropriatelevelofminutiae,anddivertingthemaway
fromtheircrucial–andprimary–roleofscrutinisinglegislation.
WhileweallwanttoseeParliamentstrengthenedwithrespecttotheExecutive,we
allalsoargue,albeitwithdifferentdegreesofemphasis,thatpowerneedstobe
distributedoutofWestminster.Weareallmoreorlesslocalistsnow,itseems,
thoughitisinterestingtonotethatwhilesomearguethattheproblemofcentralism
islargelystructural(CentreForum)othersseeitasanissueofpoliticalculture
(PolicyExchange).Still,givingmorepowerstodemocraticallyelectedlocal
authoritiesisgenerallypopular–thoughtheextenttowhichthisdevolutionshould
includegivinggenuinefiscalautonomytolocallyelectedpoliticiansisnotasclear.
Wearegenerallyofmind,too,withperhapsoneexception,inwantingtoseeincreased
citizenpower,throughcitizens’initiatives,petitionsandreferendums.Demosputsthe
needforenhancedpopularsovereigntyandex-post accountabilityofelected
representativesbycitizensfrontandcentreofitscontribution,drawingonclassical
andrevolutionaryconcepts,suchaspublicaccusationsandcitizensconventions.Most
oftheotherthinktankssharesomeenthusiasmforgreateractivecitizenparticipation
–notleastindrawingupthereformagenda–thoughCentreForumbreaksrankshere
7
Introduction

invoicingmorescepticismabouttheefficacyof‘powertothepeople’,arguingthatitis
aroutetopolicyincoherence.
AstothesortofMPswewant,therewasratherlessagreementonthat,thoughitis
fairtosaythatwewouldallliketoseeMembersofParliamentdrawnfromawider
circlethanatpresent.CentreForumridesgallantlytothedefenceofthemuch
maligned‘careerpolitician’,arguingthatthereisgoodreasonwhytheyoftenriseto
thetop.Inessence,theirargumentisthatgoodpoliticiansmakegoodpoliticians,and
talentinbusinessoranotherwalkoflifedoesnotnecessarilytranslateacross.The
FabianSocietymeanwhilearguesthatinseizingpowerfromthe‘politicalclass’we
needtobeclearwhowearegivingitto(andwhattheywoulddowithit).Thereisno
enthusiasmfortheolddaysofMPshavingoutsidejobsandkeeping‘clubhours’at
Westminster–butthereisageneralsensethatdoinganotherjobfirst,oratleast
enteringtheCommonsratherlaterinlife,wouldbenobadthing.Thatsaid,itis
probablytruetosaythatallthethinktankswouldagreewithouripprcolleagueswho
sayintheiressaythattheanswertoourproblemsiscertainlynota‘Parliamentof
EstherRantzens’.
Thereisgeneralsupportfortheuseofprimariesasawayofchoosingparliamentary
candidates.Progressishugelyenthusiasticaboutprimaries,andarguesthatissuessuch
asthehighcostcanbeovercomebysettingspendinglimits.Othersaremorecautious–
themaincaveatbeingthattheredoesneedtobearolereservedforpartymembers,
otherwisepartymembershipwillwitherstillfurther.Thisinturnleadstoanarea,and
animportantone,wheretherearequitestrongdifferences.Parties:goodorbad,
problemorsolution?
PolicyExchangeidentifiesoverlystrongpoliticalpartiesasthe‘biggestpartofthe
problem’,whiletheFabianSocietyandReformmountequallystrongdefencesof
partiesaskeyelementsofourdemocraticsystemandfortheirroleinaggregatingthe
differing,andsometimescontradictory,viewsoftheelectorateintosomesortof
coherentpolicyprogramme.PolicyExchangewouldripoffthepartyrosettesandmake
parliamentarycandidatescampaignasindividuals.Inthisway,theyargue,wewould
getmoreindependent-mindedMPswhowouldstandupfortheirconstituents’
interests,ratherthantoeingthepartyline.CentreForumsuggeststhatvotingreform
(moreofwhichlater)wouldproducegreaterindependenceamongMPswithoutthe
needfor‘independents’assuch.
DespitethesedifferencesthereiscommongroundthatMPsshouldhavemore
controlovertheparliamentarytimetableandbestrongerinholdingthe
Governmenttoaccount.Thereisbroadconsensustoothatreducingthesizeofthe
‘payrollvote’bycuttingthenumberofMPswhocanbeministerswouldbeauseful
stepinrestoringabetterbalanceofpowerbetweenExecutiveandlegislature.But
thentheconsensusbreaksdownagainoverhowmuchcontrolpartyleaderships
shouldexertovertheirMPs.PolicyExchangesaystheyhavea‘stranglehold’;the
FabiansquotePhillipCowleywhohasdescribedthisas‘cobblers’,showingthat
MPsinrecentyearshavebecomenotmoresupine,butmorerebellious.
Nowwearegettingtotheareaswherethereisnoagreement.Compulsoryvoting?Not
anissueformost,althoughipprcomesoutstronglyinfavour(withsupportfrom
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ippr

Progress)asawayofaddressingtheverylowturnoutamongpoorandyoungpeople,
andPolicyExchangestronglyagainst.AnelectedHouseofLords–well,thereissome
agreementthatmorereformisneeded,butexactlywhatreform?
Allofusseemtohavedifferentideasanddifferentdegreesofenthusiasm.
CentreForumbacksfullelectionasthe‘leastbadwayforward’,butwantsallpeers
tobeindependentofparty;theFabianSocietywantsafullyelectedhouseviaaPR
system;andforProgressanythinglessthanafullyelectedsecondchamberwould
be‘chickeningout’.ReformwouldleavethefuturecompositionoftheLordstoa
referendum,whilePolicyExchangesayselection–atleastonthesamebasisasthe
Commons–wouldleadto‘disastrousgridlock’–thoughtheyarepreparedtoaccept
anelectedelement.Onthisissue,thethinktanks’differencesbegintoshow
throughmoreclearly–evenmoresowhenitcomestostatefundingofparties.
CentreForumbelievesalowcapondonationsiskeywithacasefortaxreliefona
portionofthosedonations.PolicyExchangeandReformaredeadagainst.Afterall,
theyargue,itwasstatefunding(intheformofallowances)thatgotusintothis
mess.
Interestingly,theissueofEuropeisnotmuchdiscussedatall(mostoftheessayswere
writtenbeforetheIrishReferendumontheLisbonTreaty,itshouldbesaid),andwhere
itis,thedividinglinesareperhapsmorenuancedthanwemighthaveexpected.There
aresomeareasofconsensus,notablytheneedformuchbetterscrutinyofEuropean
legislationinWestminster.MostofusseemtothinkareferendumontheUK’s
relationshipwithEuropewouldbeagoodidea–theonlyproblemiswearenot
arguingforthesamereferendum.
AndfinallythereisProportionalRepresentation.Herethefaultlinesarepredictable
andprobablymoreorlessunbridgeable.Thesinglemostimportantchangeforsomeis
asideshoworstepinthewrongdirectionforothers.Reformarguesforcefullythat
throughfirst-past-the-postBritaingetsthegovernmentitwants;justasforcefully
CentreForumarguesthatthecurrentsystemis‘grotesquelyunfair’.CentreForum,
Demos,theFabianSociety,ipprandProgressallcomeoutforPR.PolicyExchangeis
firmlyopposed.
Aboutthebestwecancomeupwithinthewayofajointpositiononelectoralreform
–andeventhismaybestretchingthings–istosuggestthatwemightjustagreethat
theoptionofPRbeputtothepeoplethroughareferendum.Wewouldcertainlybe
campaigningondifferentsides,however.Andwewouldprobablydisagreeontiming
aswell.
Apowerfulcallforreform
Where,intheend,doesthisleaveus?Itisourbeliefthatthecollectedviewsof
theseseven,diversethinktanksamounttoapowerfulcallforrealreform.We
must,ofcourse,acknowledgethatabunchofthinktanks,howeverdiverse,are
goingtocomeatthisissuefromaparticularperspective.Wearequintessential
insiders,membersofthe‘politicalclass’which,assomeoftheessayauthorspoint
out,isalmostasdistrustedanddislikedastheMPswhohavetakenthebruntofthe
public’srighteousfury.

9
Introduction

Wecannotdenywhoweare–allwecansayisthatevenwe,withourumbilicallinkto
Westminster,wereshockedbytheextentoftheexpensesscandal–soifnothingelse,
thisstandsasourcontributiontosortingoutthemess.
Itistruethatwecannotclaimtospeakforaparticularlywideconstituency–wespeak
onlyforourselves.Butofcoursewedonotformourviewsorexpoundoursolutionsin
avacuum.Webelievethatwhatisbeingespousedinthisvolumerepresentsapretty
goodsynthesisoftheviewsofthosepeoplewhoarepoliticallyinterestedandengaged
inoursociety,ifnooneelse.Assuch,wewouldhopethatthoseinapositiontomake
thepoliticalreformhappen–MPs,peersandthepoliticalleadersinparticular–willbe
galvanisedbythispublicationtokeeponwithreform.Ifthethinktankscanagreeon
whatamountstoasolidagendaforchange,thereisnoreasonwhythepoliticalparties
cannotdoso.Thenextstepwouldbetomovefromgeneralareasofagreementtoa
specifictimetableforaction.Again,thisshouldbepossible–indeedwewouldargueit
wouldbeagravebetrayaloftheelectorateifitdidnothappen.
Thethinktanksaregenerallyunitedthatalthoughtheexpensesscandalhasdone
severedamagetoourpoliticalsystemandtothepublic’srespectforpoliticiansand
politicsmoregenerally,theworstreactionwecouldhaveinthefaceofthiscrisisisto
despairandtodonothing.Andthosewhobroughtustothispassstillhaveachanceto
starttheprocessofreform.
Thesepagesarenotgivenovertoscathingattacksandwitheringscorndirectedatour
politicians.Indeed,thereisconsiderablesupportandunderstandingshownforagroup
ofpeoplewhowegenerallyregardashardworkingandhardpressed,evenifthey
havemessedupbigtimeoverallowances.Inthisspirit,thepoliticians–particularly
thoseatthetopoftheirparties–cantakeourideasastheadviceof‘criticalfriends’–
peopleinterestedinseeingthemsucceed,noteagertoseethemfail.Butthisvolume
alsorepresentsachallenge–achallengetoseizethisopportunityforreform,notto
duckitortofunkit.
IfthisParliamentaddsafailuretotakestepstowardsseriousreformtoitsrecordof
abusingtheallowancesandexpensessystem(andscandalouslytryingtocoveritup)
thenitwillsurelygodownasoneofthemostreviledinhistory.If,however,itusesthe
nextfewmonthstoworktogethertobringinrealreforms,itsreputationcouldbe
redeemedconsiderably.Politicianshavealotontheirplatesinthenextfewmonths–
rebuildingtheeconomy,tacklingthepublicdebt,makingprogressonclimatechangeto
namebutafew–butallthethinktanksinthisvolumewouldconcurinsayingthat
advancesontheseissuesandotherswillnotbedelayedorsetback–indeeditwillbe
expedited–iftimeisfoundtodiscussandagreetheprogrammeofdemocraticreform
thatissolongoverdue.
TimFinchisDirectorofStrategicCommunicationsandCareyOppenheimCo-Directorof
ippr.

10
DON’T JUST BLAME THE MPS

Julian Astle and Alisdair Murray, Centre Forum


Theself-employed,andthoseworkinginlow-paidjobswithnoexpenseaccounts,will
havelookedonwithincredulityastheylearntofthelengthstowhichMPswentto
‘pad’theirexpenses.Butmostpeopleworkinginabigorganisation,beitpublic,
privateorvoluntary,willknowofcolleagueswhoarenolessprofligateintheir
approachtoexpenses.LikeMPs,manyofthesewhitecollarprofessionalshavecome
toviewtheseclaimsasanintegralpartoftheirremunerationpackage–aviewthat
stemsfromexactlythesamesenseofentitlementthattookrootinParliament.Itwas
probablythisgroup–flyingbusinessclassanddiningonthecorporateaccount–that
StephenFryhadinmindwhenhetoldtheBBC’sNewsnight programmeinMay:‘I’ve
fiddledmyexpenses.Weallhave.Youhave.Itjustisn’tthatimportant.’
How,then,shouldwefeelaboutMPsthatmilkedthesystem?Theappropriate
responseprobablyliessomewherebetweenFry’scasualindifferenceandtheself-
righteousindignationoftheDailyTelegraph’sleaderwriters.Certainlythereweresome
MPswhowereguiltyofstraightforwardcorruption–lyingaboutthedesignationof
theirprimaryresidencesorclaimingfornon-existentmortgagepayments.Suchpeople
shouldnotbeinpoliticsandcomethenextgeneralelection,mostnolongerwillbe.
ButitisimportanttorememberthatthemajorityoftheMPsembroiledinthe
expensesscandaldidnotactuallybreaktherules.Theirbiggestcrimewascolludingin
theoperationofasystemsolaxandsoopaquethat,moreoftenthannot,therulesdid
notneedtobebroken.
Ifwewantourpoliticstobeaboutpublicserviceratherthanpersonalenrichment,we
woulddobettertofocusonchangingthesystemthanthepeopleworkingwithinit.
Butweshouldnotkidourselvesthatreformoftheexpensessystemalonewillsuffice.
Ifwewantrealguaranteesforthefuture,wewillhavetotackletheunderlyingcause
oftheexpensesscandal:thelackofdemocraticaccountabilitythatallowedacultureof
arroganceandimpunitytotakerootinthefirstplace.Inshort,weneedtoensurethat
MPsaretrulyanswerabletothosetheyaretheretoserve.
Representativedemocracystillworks
Receivedwisdomhasitthatthepoliticianwhopromisestogivemorepolitical‘power
tothepeople’isontoasure-firewinner.Butitisfarfromself-evidentthatsuch
promisesare,infact,sensibleordesirable.Representativedemocracyrequires
politicianstorepresenttheviewsandinterestsoftheirconstituentsasbesttheycan
whilerecognisingthatthoseviewsandinterestscanconflict,notonlywitheachother,
butalsowithanMP’spersonalbeliefsand/ortheviewsandinterestsoftherestof
society.Someoftheideasthatpoliticianshavepromotedinrecentmonthsandyears–
givingcitizensthepowertoinitiatelegislation,imposeorrejectpolicythroughthe
greateruseofpetitionsandplebiscites,orevento‘sack’anMPif5percentofvoters
inagivenconstituencydemandaby-election–poseadirectchallengetothe
principlesofrepresentativedemocracyandrisk,givingundueweighttowellorganised
orwellfundedpressuregroups.
Ifpoliticiansaretotakethedifficultandpainfuldecisionsthatwillbeneededifweare
tomeetthebig,long-termpublicpolicychallengesfacingthecountry(thinkclimate

11
Don’tjustblametheMPs

changeorenergysecurity),itissurelybetterthattheyaregiventhefreedomtopursue
apolicythatmaybevigorouslyopposedbyanactiveminorityoreven,onoccasion,a
majority.ThedeathoftheManchesterroad-pricingschemeinareferendumin
December2008providesagoodexampleofjusthowdifficultitistomakerealpolicy
progressonthebasisofplebiscite.BygivinglocalpeopleavetoovertheGovernment’s
transportpolicy,short-termconsiderationsandparochialconcernswereallowedto
trumpthesignificantlong-termsocietalbenefitsthatwouldhaveaccruedfromthe
extensionofpay-as-you-driveschemesacrossthecountry.
Noneofthisistosaythatpoliticiansknowbest,ofcourse.Simplythattheyshouldbe
giventhechancetoimplementtheirpolicyagendaand,fourorfiveyearslater,to
standforre-electionontheirrecord.Thealternativeapproach,inwhichvoters
regularlyreceiveissue-specificballotpapersthroughtheletterbox,usuallyleadsto
democraticdysfunction,asthepeopleofnear-bankruptCaliforniahavediscoveredto
theircost.Thelesson,accordingtoFinancialTimescolumnistJohnKay,isclear:‘Ifyou
askpeoplesimplequestionsthatcanbeansweredyesorno,you’llgethonestanswers.
Butthereisnottheslightestreasonwhytheseanswersshouldadduptoacoherent
policyprogramme’(Kay2009).
Indefenceofthepoliticalclass
Somearguethatpoliticiansshouldhaveexperienceofthe‘realworld’andshould
thereforefeelfreetopursuearangeofoutsidecommercialinterests.Anditis
certainlytruethatifParliamentcontainedmoreformerdoctors,teachers,soldiers,
farmers,businessleadersorbankers,manyoftheimplementationproblemsthat
arisewhenlegislationisdrawnupbypeoplewithlittleornofrontlineexperience
mightbeavoided.
Butthisisanargumentforpeopleenteringpoliticslater,notforMPsmaintainingan
extensivelistofoutsidecommercialinterestsonceelected.Weknowfrom
experiencethatasysteminwhichpoliticiansdohalfaday’sworkoutsideParliament
beforescurryingovertotheCommonsfora2:30pmstart,leadstoanumberof
seriousproblems.
First,thereareconstantquestionsaboutpotentialconflictsofinterest.Second,it
takespoliticiansawayfromtheirprimarydutytotheirconstituents.Andthird,it
resultsinalegislaturethatconvenesattimesthatmostmothers(andfatherswho
wishtoseetheirchildrenoccasionally)wouldfindunacceptable,andthatpeople
withnooutsideinterestsorindependentwealthfindunaffordable.
Whatismore,theassumptionthatpeoplewhosepreviousexperienceispolitical
havelittletooffershouldnotgounchallenged.Itisnocoincidencethatthe
MilibandsontheGovernmentside,orCameronandOsborneontheConservative
side,haveallreachedseniorpoliticalpositions,whilemanyoftheircolleagueswith
more‘realworld’experience,havenot.NodoubtArchieNormanthoughtpolitics
wouldbea‘doddle’afterrunningagiantretailerlikeAsda.Buthe,likeagoodmany
othersbeforeandafterhim,foundthatreachinghighofficeinpoliticsrequiredan
entirelydifferentskillsetfromthatwhichworksinbusiness.Politicsisabout
influencing,persuadingandcommunicating.Businessisaboutcommandandcontrol.

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CentreForum

PracticalmeasurestostrengthenParliament
Theromanticmythoftheindependent-mindedpoliticianbravelyholdinggovernment
toaccountwhileshapingkeylegislationshouldnotbeoverstated.Membersofthe
HouseofCommonshavealwaysrepresentedawiderangeofinterests–andtalent–
whiletheExecutivehaslongfoundmyriadwaystoassertitsauthority.Butthereis
littledoubtthatinrecentdecadestheaveragebackbenchMPhasseenhisorherstatus
erodedincomparisonwiththeExecutive.Thedemandsofmodernpolitics,withits
emphasisonunityandrapidreactiontoarollingmediaagenda,hasfurther
marginalisedtheroleofbackbenchMPs.
YetavibrantandeffectiveHouseofCommonsremainscentraltothehealthofour
democracy.Intheshortterm,MPscouldintroduceaseriesofpracticalreformsthat
wouldhelpredressatleastpartiallytheimbalancebetweengovernmentand
Parliament.
First,theindependenceofSelectCommitteesshouldbeenhancedbymakingthe
selectionofchairssubjecttosecretballotratherthancontrolledbythewhipsasis
currentlythecase.TheCommonsasawholeshouldsetitsowntimetable,astheHouse
ofLordsalreadydoes,whileensuringtheGovernmentisgivensufficienttimetocarry
throughitslegislativeprogramme.Thepartiesshouldalsopermitmorefreevotes.
Second,itisvitaltoreducethesizeoftheGovernment.Therearenowaround140paid
andunpaidgovernmentpositions,including26whips,ensuringthattheGovernment
wieldsfartoomuchpatronagepoweroverMPs.
Inthelongerrun,thereisaneedtoconductavigorousdebateaboutwhetherthe
separationbetweentheExecutiveandlegislatureshouldbecomemoreformalised.
Britishpoliticsisincreasinglyquasi-presidentialinscopebutdoesnotpossessthe
checksandbalancesthatareintegraltomostpresidentialsystems.Onesuchcheck
couldbecreatedbyallowingtheCommonstoscrutiniseandpotentiallyblock
ministerialappointments.
ElectingtheHouseofLords
Atatimewhengovernmentsareunderincreasingpressuretorushthroughimportant
legislation,itisvitalthattheHouseofLordscontinuestofulfilitsscrutinyroleinan
atmospherelesspartisanthantheCommons.Todothis,itwillneedtodrawonawide
rangeofexpertiseandpossesssomeindependencefromthepartysystem.
However,thereislittleagreementonhowtoachievethisgoal.Atpresent,thepower
ofappointmentresideswiththeGovernment:aclearconflictofinterestwhichtoo
oftenhasledtotheennoblingofpoliticalmediocrityforreasonsofexpediency.Some
havearguedthatthistaskcouldbefarmedouttoanindependentauthority.Butthis
wouldinvariablyraisequestionsabouttheprejudicesofthe‘greatandthegood’on
thenewbody.Therewouldalsobesomethingdeeplyunpalatableaboutanunelected
quangoappointingpeopletoplaysuchanimportantroleinthedemocraticprocess.
TheelectionofLordsisthereforethe‘leastbad’wayforward.Theobjectionsthatare
normallyraisedtoademocraticchoiceofpeersarehardlyinsurmountable.TheLords’
secondarystatustotheCommonscanbeclarifiedinlaw.Itwouldbestraightforwardto
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Don’tjustblametheMPs

establishcampaigningruleswhichforbidrunningonapartyticket.Shornofparty
labelsandtheconstituencylinkofMPs,thereislittlereasontobelievethattheLords
wouldbecomeheavilypoliticisedorathreattotheCommons.
TheindependenceofthenewLordscouldbeprotectedbyfixinglonger-termlimits
thantheCommons–perhaps12years.Therelativestabilityofthebodycouldalsobe
ensuredbyelectingathirdoftheLordseveryfouryears,ideallyongeneralelection
dayattheendofeachfixed-termParliament.Thereisalsonogoodreasonwhywe
needthe700-plusPeerswehaveatpresent.Achamberwith360members–electedin
groupsof120–wouldsuffice.Theelectionscouldbephasedinoverthefirst12years
ofoperation,givingtheexistingLordsthechoiceofrunningoraperiodofgracein
whichtostanddown.
Increasingaccountability
Localismthatworks
TheexperienceofScotlandandWalesexposesthemythoftheUK’suniquely
‘centralisedpoliticalculture’.Experienceshowsthatoncepowershavebeenhanded
overtoasub-stateauthority–explicitly,asaresultofanagreedconstitutionalreform,
peoplequicklyadjusttothenewreality,understandwherepowerandresponsibility
nowlieandbehaveaccordingly.Differenttiersofgovernmentmaytrytoblameeach
otherwhenthingsgowrong,butvoters,journalistsandcivilsocietygroupstendto
knowwherethe‘buckstops’.Ourcentralisedpoliticalcultureisaproductofour
centralisedpoliticalsystem,nottheotherwayaround.
Sotherealquestionisnotwhetherlocalismispossible–itis–butwhetheritis
desirable.Ultimately,thiscomesdowntowhatsortofcountrywewanttolivein.
Despitepayinglip-servicetothelocalismagenda,successiveConservativeandLabour
administrationshavetendedtohoardpowerinWhitehall,creatingapoliticalsystem
that,inrevenue-raisingterms,isnowthesecondmostcentralisedintheEuropean
UnionafterMalta.IntheConservatives’case,thiscentralisinginstinctstemsfroma
profounddistrustoflocalgovernment;inLabour’scase,fromastrongbeliefinthe
abilityofthecentralgovernmentbureaucracytodeliversocialprogresswhileironing
outgeographic(andother)inequalities.
Theliberalapproachisdifferent.Itrestsonthepluralistprinciplethatpowershouldbe
widelydispersedandexercisedasclosetothepeopleaspossible.Thismeans,for
example,allowingthepeopleofScotlandtocreateforthemselvesadifferentsocial
compactfromthatwhichexistsinEngland.IftheScotswantenhancedservicesinreturn
forhighertaxes,thatistheirprerogative.Andthesameshouldgoforthelocalities.
Theprocessof‘localising’ourpoliticsisnotonethatcontrollingministersin
Westminsterwillfindcomfortable:givingpeoplefreedominevitablymeansgiving
themthefreedomtomakemistakes.Butovertime,thebenefitsof‘competitive
localism’–sofamiliartopolicymakersinfederalcountriesliketheUnitedStates–
wouldmakethemselvesapparentasthedifferentcommunities,towns,cities,regions
andcountriesoftheUnitedKingdomwatchedandlearnedfromeachother’spolicy
innovationsandexperiments,andstrovetooutperformtheirneighbours.Suchamodel
should,ifgiventimetodevelop,leadtoageneralratchetingupofstandards.
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Weshouldbeundernoillusionsofthedifficultiesinvolvedinachievingsuchachange.
Allowinglocalcommunitiestofashiontheirownlocalpolicyresponsestolocal
circumstancesmaysoundlikecommonsense,butforapoliticalcommunityobsessed
witheliminating‘post-codelotteries’itwillrequireabigshiftinoutlook.
RenewingtherelationshipwithEurope
TheproblemsthatbesettheBritishpoliticalsystemaremirroredinEurope.Thereare
manyreformsatEUlevel–notleastamoredirectlinkbetweentheEuropean
ParliamentelectionsandtheelectionofthePresidentoftheEuropeanCommission–
thatwouldbedesirableinthelongerterm.Butgiventhelackofappetiteamong
governments–andevenmoreso,voters–forafurtherboutoftreatyreform,theEU
isbetterofffocusingonworkingwithinitsexistingtreatyframeworkandimproving
itsrecordondeliveryatthisjuncture.
However,theUKcantaketwoconcretestepstobetterholdtheEUtoaccountand
resolvethequestionofitsrelationshipwithEurope.First,Parliamentneedstoimprove
itsscrutinyrecordofEuropeanlegislation.TheSelectCommitteesshouldhavean
opportunitytocommentondraftlegislationbeforetheGovernmentreachesadecision
intheEU’sCouncilofMinisters.MPsshouldalsobepreparedtomakeuseofthe
provisionsintheLisbonTreaty(andemploytheseinkindevenifthattreatyisnot
ratified)toforcetheEuropeanCommissiontoreconsiderlegislationthatstraysbeyond
itsremitorisnotjustified.
Second,Britain’srelationshipwiththeEUhasbecomesodysfunctionalthatonlya
referendumonmembershipcanprovideclarityofdirection.Thereluctanceof
governmentsoverthelasttwodecadestoclearlyexplainorengagepositivelywith
EuropehasdamagedBritain’spositionwithintheEUandunderminedtheconfidence
oftheBritishpublicinthebenefitsofEurope.
AreferendumontheLisbonTreatywouldonlyfurthercloudratherthanclarifythis
relationship,leadingtoanambiguousansweronacomplexsetofquestions.A
referendumonmembershipwouldgivebothsidestheopportunitytoairtheirarguments
andanswermorefundamentalquestionsaboutBritain’sfutureroleinEurope.
Reformingthewaypoliticalpartiesoperate
Statefunding
Britishpoliticalpartieshavebecometooreliantonthemoneymen.Thishasledtothe
widespreadperceptionthatasmallnumberofindividualsholdunfairswayoverparty
policies,orareseekingspecialfavourfromtheGovernment.Butafurtherincreasein
directstatefundingwoulddolittletoforcepartiestore-engagethepublic.Thiswould
bebetterachievedbycappingdonations.
Acapondonationsat,say,£10,000wouldnotonlylimitthepotentiallymalign
influenceofafewverywealthindividualsonthebodypolitic.Itwouldmeanparties
seekingmoneyfromthemanyratherthanthefew,somethingthatwouldforcethem
tolookbeyondtheirownmemberships.Tohelp,thereisacasetobemadeforatax
reliefondonations,sayuptohalftheleveloftheoverallcap,treatingpolitical
donationsmorelikedonationstocharitiesandothercampaigninggroups.
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Don’tjustblametheMPs

Acaponconstituencyspendingacrossaparliament,combinedwithacaponnational
partyspending,shouldencouragepartiestoengagemorewidelythantheydoat
present.Withbothdonationsandspendingcapped,politicsmightjustbecomeabattle
ofideasonceagain.
Primaries–apartialsolution
Primariescouldproveausefultooltoopenupthecandidateselectionprocessinsome
constituencies.Partiesshouldbeencouragedtoexperimentfurther.Butitremainsto
beseenjusthowmanyvoterswouldparticipateoncethenoveltyhadwornoff–the
dangeristhatinmanyplacesparticipationwouldbereducedtoasmallcabalofalready
engagedparticipants.Primariesarealsoexpensiveandunlesscandidatesaregiven
someformofequalmonetarysupport,theyriskdiminishingratherthanbroadening
representation.AsystemofrecallcouldalsoplayaroleinensuringthatsittingMPsare
moreaccountablefortheiractions,althoughthetermswouldneedtobecarefully
definedtopreventabuseandprotectMPsfromtheeffortsofwellorganisedminorities
determinedtodestabilisethem.
Ultimately,however,theonlyrealwaytoloosenthegripofthepartymachineryisto
reformthevotingsystem.Votingreformwouldallowtheelectoratetodistinguish
betweencandidatesfromthesameaswellasdifferentparties.Itwouldalsogive
smallerpartiesafarbetterchanceofupsettingthestatusquo,extendingrealchoice
anddiversity.Inaddition,itwoulddrasticallyreducethenumberofsafeseats,
increasingtheaccountabilityofMPstotheirconstituents.
ProportionalRepresentation–thecentralreform
Inouropinion,votingreformshouldbetopoftheagenda.
First,theminorissues.Thereisacaseforloweringthevotingageto16,thoughitis
highlyunlikelytoleadagreatriseinparticipationrates.Movingpollingdaytothe
weekendandexperimentingwithe-votingandotherpollinginnovationsmightalso
makesomedifferenceatthemargins.Thereislittlegoodcause,however,tointroduce
compulsoryvotingasittendstomask,ratherthanaddress,theunderlyingproblemof
voterapathy.Peopleshouldhavethefreedomnottoexercisetheirvoteandpoliticians
shouldheedthemessageofthosewhochoosenottogotothepolls.
Totackledisengagementwiththepoliticalsystem,weneedabroadersetofreforms
thatobligethepartiestore-engagewithallpartsoftheelectorate.Andthekeytothis
changeisProportionalRepresentation.
ThatthecurrentsystemofelectiontotheHouseofCommonsisgrotesquelyunfairis
unarguable.Whileeverypost-wargeneralelectionhasthrownupitsowndistortions
andinjustices,somehaveillustratedthepointmorestarklythanothers.In1983,for
example,theSDP/LiberalAlliancereceived3percentoftheseatsinreturnfor26per
centofthevote,whiletheLabourparty,whichgainedfractionallymorevotes(27per
cent),receivedninetimesasmanyseats(209,or32percent).Ittook32,776votesto
electeachConservativeMP,40,463votestoelectaLabourMPandanastonishing
338,302votestoelectaLiberal/SDPMP.Thingsmayhaveimprovedabitinrecent
elections,butin2005itstilltooknearlytwiceasmanyvotestoelectaConservative

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MPasitdidaLabourMP,andnearlyfourtimesasmanyvotestosendaLiberal
DemocrattoWestminster.
Whatismore,thecurrentfirst-past-the-postsystemhastheeffectofcreatinglarge
numbersof‘safe’seats.Intheleasteventfulelectionofrecentyears(in2001)only27
seatschangedhandsoutof659,thoughtheaverageinrecentdecadeshasbeencloser
to50.Butthatstillleaves600seatswherenochangetakesplace,insomecasesfor
decades.
Supportersofthechallengersintheseseatsarestatisticallymorelikelytoberunover
andkilledonthewaytothepollingstationthantheyaretoseetheirpreferred
politiciangetelected.Littlesurprise,then,thatmillionsofvotersareturningaway
frompolitics,withvoterturnoutfallingfrom84percentin1950to61percentin
2005.Littlesurprise,also,thatthepartiesareincreasinglyturningawayfromvoters,
targetingtheirresourcesandtheirpoliciestothehalfmillionorsoswingvoterslucky
enoughtoliveinaswingseat.
Somearguethatnoneofthisreallymatters–unlessyouareaLiberalDemocrat,that
is.OrrathertheyusedtountilsomerecentresearchcameoutshowingthatMPswith
safeseatsabusedtheexpensessystemfarmorethanMPsinmarginalseats.This
shouldnotsurpriseuseither:ifyouarecertaintoholdyourseat,youareunlikelyto
spendmuchtimeworryingwhatyourconstituentsthinkaboutyou.Whichprovesthe
pointthatpoliticiansareconstantlytellingeveryoneelseinthepublicsector:
accountabilityiskey.Wantapoliticsthatmakeseverypoliticianaccountable?Create
anelectoralsystemthatmakeseveryvotecount.
Astowhichproportionalvotingsystemswouldrepresentanimprovementonthe
currentone,theanswerissimple:allofthem.Butthesingletransferablevote(STV)or
Jenkins’AV[AlternativeVote]-pluswouldgetour(firstpreference)vote.
JulianAstleandAlasdairMurrayareDirectorsofCentreForum.
KayJ(2009)‘Truedemocracyisnotjustabouttakingpart’,FinancialTimes,28July

17
THE ROLE OF CITIZENS AFTER THE EXPENSES SCANDAL

Daniel Leighton, Demos

TheFrenchRevolutionaryMirabeauobservedthatelectedrepresentativeshavea
tendencytotransformthemselvesinto‘akindofdefactoaristocracy’whichclaims
autonomyforitself.HiscontemporaryMadameRolandunderlinedthepointwhenshe
declared‘representativegovernmentsoonbecomesthemostcorruptofallifthepeople
ceasetoscrutiniseitsrepresentatives’(Rosanvallon2008).Andthenineteenthcentury
MPRobertWallaceobservedoftheBritishpoliticalsysteminhiserathatitwas
composedof‘twotraditionaloligarchies…managingthemembersofitsparliamentary
followingthroughadexterousblendingofmenace,cajoleryorreward’(citedin
Sutherland2007).
Allthreewouldsurelyhavefeltvindicatediftheyhadbeenaroundtoobservethe
currentMPs’expensesscandal.Theobviousriposte,ofcourse,isthatthepeoplehave
thevoteastheultimatesanctiontoridthemselvesofwaywardrepresentatives.Yet
therearestronggroundsforarguingthatelectoralmechanismsarenecessarybut
woefullyinsufficient.
Themostpertinentquestiontoaskinthewakeoftheexpensesscandalisnot‘howcan
werestoretrustinParliamentandourrepresentatives?’but‘howcanwegivecitizens
morecontrolandoversightoverParliamentandtheirrepresentatives?’Thisopensupa
neglectedterrain,oftenmissedincallstoreformtheelectoralsystem,astohowwe
decentralisepowerorincreaseparticipationindecision-making,sothatcitizenscan
holdtheirrepresentativestoaccountfordecisionsthattheyhavealreadymade,rather
thanthosetheypromisetoundertake–socalled,ex-post accountability(Blaug2008).
TherushbyallpartyleaderstointroducesomesystemofrecallformiscreantMPs
indicatesaninchoatesensethatgreaterex-post accountabilityisneeded.Our
preferencewouldbeforasystemthatdrawsonclassicalmodelsofpublicaccusation,
enablescitizenstopubliclysanctionparliamentariansorministersbetweenelections
butthat,unlikerecall,wouldnotneedtobeinitiatedatconstituencylevel.This
republicanperspective,groundedasitisinthenotionofpopularratherthan
parliamentarysovereignty,providesadifferenttakeonthequestionofrestoringtrust
inParliament.Itsuggeststhatasimportantasproposalstostrengthenthepowerofthe
ParliamentovertheExecutivemaybe,thesearesecond-orderissuescomparedwith
theneedtoputParliamentinitsplaceinrelationtocitizens.
ThequestionoftheultimatesourceofauthorityintheBritishConstitutionisfamously
obscuredbythedecaying,butstillcentral,doctrineofparliamentarysovereignty.We
needtoclarifyandrestoretheprimacyofcitizensovertheinstitutionstowhichthey
delegatepower.Citizensratherthantheirrepresentativesshouldbetheprimary
decision-makerswhenitcomestoreformsofthedemocraticprocess.Whatemerges
fromthisrepublican-inflectedperspectiveisthatcitizensneedtogofrombeingthe
occasionalauthorisersofpoliticalpowertotheownersandcustodiansofit.
Accountabilityandtheoverburdenedvote
Accountabilityinvolvestheex-post judgementofthepastperformanceofpublic
officialsorpoliticians.Itinvolvesbothscrutinyandsanction.Scrutinyentails
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examinationandevaluation,whereassanctionentailsempoweredactiononthebasis
ofsuchevaluation.ThekeymechanismforthepublictosanctionMPsinmodern
representativedemocraciesisthevote.Yetinbetweenelections,scrutinyandsanction,
theoreticallyatleast,areexercisedbyarangeofotheragents–byParliamentover
government,judgesoverParliament,byseniormanagersoversubordinates,andina
morediffusewaybythemediaoverthestateingeneral.
Itisworthexploringthenatureoftheelectoralmechanisminmoredetailtoclarifythe
sortofaccountabilityitaffordscitizens.Inelections,thecitizenryactsasaPrincipal
thattheoreticallybothscrutinisesandsanctionselectedofficialsastheirAgents.Yet,in
thewordsofBlaug,‘thisisquiteaparticularkindofPrincipal/Agentrelationasit
involvestheauthorisationex-ante[i.e.beforetheevent]ofanempoweredand
autonomousagentthatcanruleoverpeople’(2008:105).Electionsthuscombineex-
ante andex-postaccountabilityinonemove:citizensbothauthorisenewleadersto
governandexpressajudgementonincumbentperformance.
However,when,aswasthecasewiththeexpensesscandal,adivideopensupbetween
citizensandthepoliticalclass,thevoteisafairlybluntinstrument.Thisisespecially
thecaseintheUKwherepowerisfusedbetweentheExecutiveandthelegislature,
makingamockeryofthenotionofaseparationofpowers,andwheretheelectoral
systemcreatesthehugedistortionsbetweenvotescastandseatsgainedbythe
majorityparty.
HowarewetointerpretthefactthattheLabourgovernment’sshareofthevote
droppedinboththe2001and2005generalelections,butinthefirstitwona
‘landslide’andthesecondithadamorethanworkablemajority?Wastheelectorate
sanctioningitforitsperformanceinofficeorauthorisingittocontinueasbefore–or
bothatonce?Thetruthisthatunlessthereisahungparliamentthesanctionof
dwindlingsupporthasnoimpactontheauthorisationofpowerforanotherfouryears.
Whileelectionsprovideauthorisationex-ante,itislesscleartheycanprovideeffective
ex-post accountability.Thevoteisthereforeoverburdenedwithadualfunctionthatit
cannoteffectivelyperform,whichinturncreatesapoliticalcultureandpolicy
environmentthatinfantilisetheelectorate.Yearsoffrustration,resentmentand
despairneedtobebuiltupbeforeapartyisremovedfromgovernmentbyan
apparentlymanicswinginthemoodoftheelectorate.Onesetofelitesisexchanged
foranother,buttheconductoftheelitesonceinofficerarelychanges.
CanPRrescuethepoliticalclassfromitself?
Couldachangeofvotingsystembearthedualburdenofaccountabilitymore
effectively?Thereareanumberofpositiveeffectsthatmightcomewithamoveto
ProportionalRepresentationbuttheyareunlikelytodealeffectivelywithproblemsof
ex-postaccountability.EvenapartialformofPRsuchastheJenkinsAV[Alternative
Vote]-pluscouldchangetheunwarrantedwinner-takes-alleffectoffirst-past-the-post
elections.Thiscouldhaveanumberofindirectbenefits,notablyifcoalition
governmentforcedamoreconsensualandconsistentstyleofpolicymaking.Ifone
partycannotguaranteethepassageofitspreferredlegislationitwillbeforcedto
bargainwithcoalitionpartnersorsupportpartiesinordertolegislate.Bydispersing

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Theroleofcitizensaftertheexpensesscandal

poweramongmorevetoholders,PRmightprovideafunctionalequivalenttothe
separationofpowersthatislackinginthecurrentfusionofexecutiveandlegislature.
InturnPRmightopenupthepoliticalprocessbeyondthetwogreatpolitical
oligarchiesthathaveoccupiedParliamentforthelastcentury.
However,thosecallingforPRasadirectresponsetotheexpensescrisismissthe
fundamentalproblemitbroughttolight.Whereaspreviousscandalshaveprimarily
affectedthegoverningparty,theexpensesscandalaffectedthepoliticalclassasa
whole.Itreflectedaworryingtendency:‘thattherealdivideinBritishpubliclifeisno
longerbetweenthemainparties,butbetweenthepoliticalclassandtherest’(Oborne
2008:xvi).MPsfromdifferentpartieshavemoreincommonwitheachotherthan
theyhavewithvotersandlikeanyspecialinterestgroupthepoliticalclassfightshard
tomaintaincontroloveritsownregulations,payrates,pensionsandmeansbywhichit
isheldtoaccount.
Theexpensesscandalpowerfullyrevealedthissenseofseparationbetweenpolitical
classandthepublic.Italsorevealedaprofoundsenseofpowerlessness:thevotecan
sanctiononefactionofthepoliticalclass,butitcanneverservetosanctionitasa
wholeandbythetimeanelectioncomesarounditmaybetoolatetodoanything
aboutspecificactsofmalfeasance.Inallrepresentativesystems,onceelecteda
politician’sprimaryloyaltyandaccountabilityaretohisorherparty;between
electionsalltheincentivesandsanctionsonconductarepossessedbytheparty
leaderships.Inthissensepoliticiansarenodifferenttoanyoneelse–theyrespond
rationallytotheincentivesandsanctionstheyexperiencewithintheirenvironment.
Theproblemisnotwithpartiespersebutwiththeirmonopolyovertherulesofthe
game.Themostsensibleresponseisnottotrytoturnhumanbeingsintoangelsbutto
removethemfromobviousconflictsofinterest.
WhileOborne’sacerbicaccountofthepoliticalclassisconvincing,itoverplaysthe
noveltyofthephenomenon:itmisseshowitisaconsequenceofthedemocratisation
ofthegentlemanlyeighteenthcenturypoliticalarrangementshepinesfor.Despite
aimstocreateamoreequalandlesscorruptsystemthepoliticalclasshasbecomea
self-perpetuatingoligarchythatjealouslyguardsitsprivileges.Itispossiblethat
primariescouldenhancepopularcontrolofpoliticiansbygivingthemstronger
incentivestobeloyaltotheconstituencythatselectedthem.Yettheexpensesscandal
arguablyrevealstheneedforcitizenstofindaspaceandrolewithinthepolitical
processthatisnotdesignedorpremisedonthelogicofthepartysystem.
Democraticdualism:authorisationandoversight
Therehasbeenapersistentconcernsincethebirthofmoderndemocracyto
compensateforthedysfunctionsofelectoralrepresentationandthe‘arrhythmia’of
theballotbox.Perhapsthemostwellknownintuitionalmanifestationofsuch
democraticdistrustistheRecallandInitiativeprocedures,somecombinationofwhich
isusedin27states.
Throughoutthemodernerareformershavecalledforsupplementaryprocessestothe
vote,throughwhichcitizenscouldcontrolofficeholdersinmassdemocracies.Thiswas
lessaboutmassparticipationindecision-makingandmoreaboutensuringarolefor

20
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citizensinoverseeingrepresentativesaftertheyhadgainedthelegitimacyoftheballot
box.Thesemechanismssoughttoenlistthecapacityofthecitizensinajudicialrather
thanalegislativecapacity.AsRosanvallonputsit,theconcernwas:‘Toinstitutionalize
socialvigilanceandtounderstandsovereigntyintermsofadynamicandpotentially
conflictualrelationshipbetweenarepresentativepowerandapowerofoversight,both
emanatingfromthepeople’(2008:92).
Theroleofthepublicaccusation1 inthedemocraticimagination
Whiletheneedforlimitationsongovernmentpowerhasbeenaconstantofmodern
democracies,suchstructuralchecksandbalanceshavebeenliberalratherthan
democraticininspiration.Thisistosaytheyhavesoughtnottoenhancethe
sovereigntyofcitizensoverrepresentativesbutpreventanall-powerfulgovernment
encroachingonindividualliberties.Thishasmeantthatliberaldistrusthasbeenmore
successfullyinstitutionalisedandthattheexpressionofdemocraticdistrusthas
mutatedandevolvedoutsideformalinstitutions(Rosanvallon2008).
Throughouttheeighteenthandnineteenthcenturiesreformersconsistentlydrew
inspirationfromtheaccountabilitymechanismsexercisedintheAthenianPeople’s
Courtandthe‘tribunesoftheplebs’intheRomanrepublic.Bothinstitutions
empoweredcitizenstolaunchpublicdenunciationsagainstofficials,whichwouldthen
beputtoajuryofcitizenstodecide.Thedenunciationenabledanycitizenstoinitiate
anaccusationofmalfeasanceagainstofficeholders,includingmilitaryleaders.
Sanctionscouldinvolveanythingfromcommendationtoostracismandexecution
(Blaug2008).AndduringthefledglingyearsoftheAmericanandFrenchRepublics
reformerssoughttograftancientaccountabilitymechanismsontothevotetocontrol
theemergingclassofprofessionalpoliticians(seeRosanvallon2008).
Theexpensesscandalisanexampleofhowtheexpressionofpopulardistrustis
channelledandoftendistortedbyascandal-hungrymediawhichcannotbeheldto
accountforitsownconduct.TouseMachiavelli’sterminology,itishardtodistinguish
betweengenuinedenunciationsand‘calumnies’thatunjustlyruinreputationsand
careers.TheTelegraph’scampaignofterroroverthepoliticalclasseswassoeffective
becausethepoliticalclasscolludedincoveringuptheirexpenses.Yetbeyondthe
generalelectionthereisnoinstitutionalroutebywhichcitizenscanexpress
dissatisfactionorsanctionsontheirownterms.Bygoingthestandardrouteof
appointingacivilservanttoreportonanewexpensessystem,theGovernmenthas
failedtogivethepopulacean‘opportunitytoventtheiranimus’againstthepolitical
class.MPs’combativeresponsetotheLeggreviewsuggeststhatasolutiononrepaying
expenseswillbeyetanotherclosedcompromisewithinthepoliticalclass.
TheghostofpopularsovereigntyintheUK 1.InrepublicanRome
thosebringingfalse
Allconstitutionspremisedontheconsentofthepeoplearebesetbyparadoxesof accusationor
authorityandownership.LaughlinandWalkerdescribethisparadoxasultimately ‘calumnies’warranted
beingputontrial.
beinggeneratedbythe‘tensionlinking–andalsothequestionoftheprioritybetween Machiavelliargued
–aconstituentpower(the‘people’)andconstitutionalform,politicsandlaw’(2007: thatcalumnieswere
‘asinjurioustoliberty
1).Yetsuchquestionsareparticularlydifficulttopose,letaloneanswer,intheUK. asaccusationsare
Althoughthemodernconceptofconstituentpowerwasfirstarticulatedbythe beneficial’.

21
Theroleofcitizensaftertheexpensesscandal

LevellersinthemidstoftheEnglishCivilWar,itfailedtogainanyrecognitioninthe
1688Settlement.ThelatterhasbeendescribedbyLaughlinasrestingonadeliberate
obfuscationbygoverningelites:‘theinvocationofpopularsovereigntybutlocated
onlyinaparliamentaryformandthecharacterizationofthisrevolutionarychangeas
beingdesignedtorestoretheancientconstitution’(2006:42).Thequestionof
constituentpowerhasbecomesodeeplyburiedthatMPsliterallydonotthinkit
exists.Theexpensesscandalisonlythemostbanalconsequenceofaconstitutionthat
isparasticuponthenotionofpopularsovereigntywhilerefusingtoformally
aknowledgeit.
Overtime,vestingsovereigntyinthe‘CrowninParliament’hasrestedonafurther
obsfuscation,whereinthepowerofthecrownhaspassedtothehandsofthePrime
MinisterandgovernmentwithinParliament.Thedoctrineof‘parliamentary
sovereignty’hasbeendemocraticallydentedwiththeadventofuniversalsuffrageand
hedgedfromabovebytheEuropeanUnion.Yetrecognitionoftherightofthepeople
toelecttheirrepresentativessaysnothingabouttheirroleinmodifyingorradically
alteringthedemocraticandconstitutionalrulesofthegameinwhichrepresentatives
operate.Preciselybecauseparliamentarysovereigntyoccludesthepeopleas
constituentpower,itprovidesnomeansofarticulatingclearandconsistentprocedures
wherebycitizenscouldorshouldbepartytofundamentalchangestodemocraticrights
andprocesses.Yetthisispreciselywhatiscalledfortoday.
Animmodestproposal:citizensasownersandcustodiansofthepolitical
system
TheexpensesscandalandMPs’bemusedreactiontothepublicangeritgeneratedis
indicativeofbasicconfusionovertheroleandstatusofcitizensinthepoliticalorder.
Thiscrisisofpoliticalownership,whileamplifiedinasocietyofmoreindividualised
anddemandingcitizens,hasbeencenturiesratherthandecadesinthemaking.Gordon
Brown’sattempttoaddresscitizendisengagementanddistrust–fromtheGovernance
ofBritain paper(HMGovernment2007)tothecurrentconstitutionalreformbill–
singlyfailstoconfrontthisconfusion.Theprocessof‘tamingtheprerogativepowers’is
longoverdueandtobewelcomedbuttherelationshipbetweencitizenandParliament
issidesteppedagainandagain.
Thefirststeptopreventingrepresentativesfrombecomede-factoaristocraciesisto
recognisecitizensastheformalownersoftheirconstitution.Todothisweneedto
reclaimtherepublicandistinctionbetweenconstituentpower ofthepeopleandthe
institutionscreatedtorepresentandactonbehalfofthispower.Followingtheradical
reformersoftheeighteenthcenturyanewconstitutionalsettlementshouldrecognise
thepowerofrepresentationandoversight,withbothstemmingfromthepeople.This
callsfordirectandpublicformsofaccountabilitythatenablethepeopletorehearse
anddisplaytheirsovereigntyoverrepresentatives.Whilethevoteauthorisesthe
representativestoactonthepeople’sinterests,thepowerofoversightandsanction
needstoremaindistinct,visibleandthreateningafterthefactofauthorisationto
ensurethattheydo.
TotheextentthataBritishBillofRightscouldbeaboutbuildingonratherthan
underminingtheHumanRightsAct,theprocessofwritingoneshouldnotsimply
22
Demos

catalogueexistingrightsandobligations.Rather,itshouldbeseizedontospecifynew
rightsandobligationofpoliticalownershipandoversight.Havingmadethepeoplethe
ownersoftheconstitution,innovativenewmechanismsbywhichtomakethemthe
custodiansneedtobeexperimentedwith.
Whatmightsuchmechanismsandprocesseslooklikeandwhatshouldtheyfocuson?
Isuggesttwodistinctcategories:newmechanismstoinitiatepublicaccusationsand
newproceduresforcitizencontroloverdemocraticrule-making.Inbothinstances
citizenswouldbeempoweredintheircapacitytomakebindingjudgementsinthe
pubicinterestratherthandirectlyparticipatingineverydaylegislation.Thisisdistinct
fromthenotionofcitizenjuriesasconsultativebodiesonissuesofpublicpolicy.While
suchprocessescanhaveafunctionalutilityinimprovingpolicymakingtheydolittleto
empowerthecitizenasanoverseeroftheirrepresentatives.
Publicaccusations
Anewaccusationsystemcouldreplace,parallelorbecomepartoftheformalinquiries
andcommissionsthatarecurrentlylaunchedbypoliticiansintotheirownconduct,
ofteninresponsetomediapressure.Atpresenttheseoftenexacerbateratherthen
diffusedistrust.Taketheexampleofthemultipleinquiriesthathavebeenheldtodate
ontheIraqWar.Regardlessofthevalidityofthejudgments,thefactthatthePrime
MinistersetsthetermsofreferencesandappointstheInquirymembersgivesthe
perceptionthattheywereriggedfromtheoutset.Infusingtheseprocesseswith
randomlyselectedcitizenswouldenablethecreationofanindependentjudgmentthat
wouldcreateanalternativefocusforpublicdebate.
Citizenscouldinitiatepublicaccusationsthroughapetition:ifareasonablyhigh
thresholdofpublicvoteswerereached,ajuryofrandomlyselectedcitizensanda
judgewouldbeindependentlyappointed.Publicsanctionscouldrangefromhighly
symbolicblackmarksonthereputationofthosedeemedguiltytoamodernequivalent
ofpoliticalostracism,whereinpoliticianscouldbebannedfromtakinganyformof
publicofficeinthefuture.
AswasthecaseintheAthenianandRomanrepublics,apublicaccusationsystem
shouldincorporate‘twostepaccountabilitydevices’which‘holdtoaccountthose
officialswhoholdofficialstoaccountfornogoodreason’(Elster1999:274).Theissue
offalseorfrivolouschargespresentedaseriouschallengetothelegitimacyofthe
accusationprocessinbothAthensandRome.Bothpolitiesexperimentedwitha
numberofwaystolimitfalsecharges,principallybyimposingcostsonthecitizen
bringingtheaccusation.Theseincludedfinesandfuturebansonmakingaccusation.
Democraticrule-making
Theimmediateresponsefrompartyleaderstotheexpensescrisiswastoshowerthe
electoratewithdemocraticgiftsfromabove–fromrecallandinitiativesontaxto
electoralreform.Yetthequestionofhowcitizensshouldvotefororremuneratetheir
representativesorthecapacitiestheyshouldhavetoaffectthepoliticalprocessare
questionselectedpoliticiansarenotinagoodpositiontoanswer.Theyhavean
inherentconflictofinterestbetweenpreservingtheirownstatusandtheirparty’s
prospectofretakingorregainingpoweranddecisionsthatmightenhancethe
23
Theroleofcitizensaftertheexpensesscandal

democraticprocessoverthelongterm.Thechoicebetweenpartyandcountryisnot
alwaysazero-sumgame.Yetthepressuretooptforshort-termgainisintense
withinthepartysystemsprevalentinmodernpoliticalsystems.Indeed,thereform
proposalsofferedbyboththeToriesandLabourareshotthroughwithpartisan
logic:theToriessay‘yes’toinitiativesontaxation,‘no’toareferendumonPR,
whereasLabourispromisingareferendumonPRbutonerestrictedtoachoiceover
thesingletransferablevote(STV).
Ratherthanhavingtojustifytheinclusionofcitizensinmakingdecisionsaboutthe
democraticprocess,theburdenofproofshouldbeonthosewhowouldseekto
excludethem.Certaincategoriesofdecisionrelatingtothedemocraticprocess
shouldautomaticallybypassrepresentativesandgotoaspeciallyconvened
assemblyof‘citizenrepresentatives’.Citizenrepresentativebodieshavebeen
definedasthoseinwhich‘membersareselectedorselfselected,orauthorized
throughinitialelectionalone–ratherthanfunctioningasprofessional
representatives’(Warren2007:50).
Theexemplarmodelofademocraticallylegitimatecitizenrepresentativebodyisthe
BritishColumbiaCitizensAssemblyonElectoralReform.TheCitizensAssembly,
initiatedin2004followinganelectionpromise,consistedof160randomlyselected
citizensempoweredtosetthetermsofreferenceonreferendumonwhetherthe
province’sSingleMemberPlurality(SMP)electoralsystemshouldbechanged.The
newelectoralsystemproposedbytheAssembly,aformofSTV,wasnarrowly
defeatedinareferendumin2005.Theoutcomeinthisinstanceislessimportant
thantheprocess.Thekeylessonsconcernthewayprofessionalpoliticianswere
screenedoutoftheselectionprocessforAssemblymembers,thedirect
empowermentofacitizenbodytosettheagendaandthepassingofthefinal
decisiontothecitizenryatlarge.
Wheretheresponsibilityforadministeringsuchprocessesshouldsitisanopenand
contentiousquestion.OnepotentiallocationcouldbethenewSupremeCourt.
Alternatively,anewarms-length‘OfficeofCitizensControl’couldbecreatedaspart
ofnewconstitutionalsettlement.Inthefirstinstancethereshouldbeaseriesof
discretecitizenassembliesempoweredtosettheagendaonarangeofdemocratic
processissues:whethertochangetheelectoralsystem,andwhethertoinstitute
recallandonbothfundingofpartiesandtheremunerationofMPs.Demoshelda
60-strongconventiononMPs’expensesinJune2009andparticipantsfromarange
ofbackgroundsnotonlycameupwitheminentlysensibleproposalsforreform,
theyalsoappearedtoimmenselyenjoytakingpart.
Itisimportanttonotethatneitheraccusationsnorcitizens’conventionsarelikely
totakeplaceonaregularbasis.Justasmostpeopleareonlylikelytoserveona
criminaljuryonce,itisunlikelythatcitizenswouldbeaskedtoserveinacitizens
assemblyorpoliticaljurymorethanonceintheirlifetime.Aswithcriminaljuries,
theireffectivenessislessaboutthenumberofpeopletakingpartsomuchasthe
typeofpeopletakingpart.Randomlyselectingcitizenrepresentativestooversee
suchprocesseswouldsymbolicallyandpracticallyprisethehandsofthepolitical
classawayfromthedemocraticprocessitself.

24
Demos

Conclusion
WhiletheideathatsovereigntyresidesinthepeopleisnewterritoryforBritain’s
representativeinstitutions,itdrawsonthelongandrichtraditionofdemocratic
republicanisminBritain–atraditionthatshouldprovidetheanimatinglogicofanew
constitutionalsettlement.Whatwouldemergeisanewroleforcitizensinoverseeing
politicalpowerthatcouldenhancetrustinthepoliticalsystem,notleastbyreducing
thatpopulistmediabacklashthatoccurswhenMPsmakedecisionsinwhichtheyhave
aclearconflictofinterest.
Thiscallformoredirectcitizenoversightisnotintendedasapanaceatothemultiple
pathologiesofpowerthatbesetthecreakingWestminstermodelofdemocracy.Power
isandhasbeenfordecadesbothmassivelyover-centralisedandover-concentratedin
theExecutive.Addressingthelackofconstitutionalstandingforlocalgovernment
mustbepartofaconstitutionalreformpackage.EnshriningandobservingtheCouncil
ofEurope’sCharteronLocalSelfGovernmentwouldprovideonemeansofenacting
thischange.TheenhancedroleoflocalgovernmentwouldpotentiallyfreeupMPs
frombecomingconstituencysocialworkers.Yettheextenttowhichtheycouldbecome
respectedandtrustedrepresentativesofthenationrequiresaconfrontationwiththe
fetishisationofpowerinthefigureofthe‘crowninParliament’.Thisnotonlyoccludes
thefactthatallpowerhaspassedintothehandsoftheleaderofthemajorityparty
butalsoconflatesthepowerofrepresentativeswiththoseofthepeople.Focusingon
theproblemofcitizenoversightremindsusthatParliamentandthepoliticalclassneed
savingfromthemselves–andthatordinarycitizenscanandshouldplayakeyrolein
thistask.
DanielLeightonisaresearcheratDemos.
BentleyT(2005)EverydayDemocracyLondon:Demos
BlaugR(2008)‘Directaccountabilityattheend’inWhiteSandLeightonD(Eds)BuildingaCitizen
Society:TheemergingpoliticsofDemocraticRepublicanismLondon:LawrenceandWishart
BrownG(2009)SpeechtoLabourPartyConference,September
CameronC(2009)‘Anewpolitics:weneedamassiveradicalredistributionofpower’,TheGuardian,
25May
CleggN(2009)‘Barthegates.Nosummerholidaybeforetheoverhaul’,TheGuardian,27May
ElsterJ(1999)‘AccountabilityinAthenianPolitics’,inPrezworsksiA,StokesSandManinB(eds)
Democracy,AccountabilityandRepresentationCambridge:CUP
HMGovernment(2007)TheGovernanceofBritain Norwich:TSO
LaughlinMandWalkerN(eds)(2007)TheParadoxofConstitutionalism:ConstituentPowerand
ConstitutionalFormOxford:OUP
LaughlinM(2007)‘ConstituentPowersubverted:FromEnglishPositionalArgumenttoBritish
ConstitutionalPractice’inLaughlinMandWalkerN(eds)opcit
MarquandD(2007)Britainsince1918:ThestrangecareerofBritishDemocracy, Weidenfieldand
Nicolson
OborneP(2007)TheTriumphofthePoliticalClass PocketBooks

25
Theroleofcitizensaftertheexpensesscandal

RosanvallonP(2008) CounterDemocracy:PoliticsinageofDistrust Cambridge:CUP


SutherlandK(2008)APeople’sParliament Exeter:ImprintAcademic
WardC(2004)TheEnglishConstitution:MythsandRealitiesHartpublishing
WarrenM(2007)CitizenRepresentativesinDesigningDemocraticRenewalCambridge:CUP

26
ANTIPOLITICS AND THE CRISIS

Sunder Katwala, Fabian Society


Asacrisisofpoliticiansandanindictmentofa‘politicalclass’,theexpensesscandal
hasbeenwidelywelcomed,oftenexuberantlycelebrated.Asacrisisofboringold
politics,weseemtohavebarelytriedtogettogripswithitatall.
Therehasbeenlegitimateangerattheerosionofpublicservice,intertwinedwith
syntheticindignationfromthosedelightedtoseepoliticiansliveuptotheworst
caricaturesoftheirtrade.Theprurientopportunitytopickoverthetasteinfurniture
andsupermarkethabitsofthepoliticalclasseswaslegitimisedbythefactthatwewere
payingforitall.Theexposéwasajournalistictriumph,provedagainbytheinept
parliamentaryattemptstoredactwhatwasalreadypublic,whichhelpedthemediato
rediscoveritsownmonasticcommitmenttoexpensesprobity,andbeliefin
transparencyinallthings,save,ofcourse,theworkingsofafearlessfreepress.
Politicianshavebeeneagertoensurethatjusticeisseentobedone,thoughperhaps
lesscommittedtoprinciplesofdueprocessorequityoftreatmentshouldtheyprove
politicallyinconvenient.
Thereareconcretebeneficialeffectsincleaningoutcorruptpractices,changing
indefensiblerulesandchallengingasenseofentitlementwhichsawformerShadow
LeaderoftheHouseAlanDuncanrefertohisParliamentarysalaryas‘rations’.What
broaderorsystemicchangewillcomefromcallsfora‘newpolitics’islessclear.
GordonBrownhasnodoubtbeenremindedthata‘newconstitutionalsettlement’was
goingtobehisbigideatorestoretrustinpoliticsoncomingtooffice.However,the
spiritofdemocraticrenewalhasbeensomewhatdousedbywhathasturnedintoa
Whitehalltidying-upexercise,withlittletoexcitethemostengagedreformanorak,
stilllesstosendgreatswathesofthedisengagedrushingbacktoaballotboxnearyou.
DavidCamerontookupadouble-pagespreadinTheGuardian topledge‘themost
sweepingtransferofpower’inlivingmemory,whichturnedouttomeanrulingout
electoralreformand(maybe)consideringfixedelectiondates(Cameron2009).
SweepingrhetoriconlocalismiscombinedwithToryfrontbencherscampaigning
against‘postcodelotteries’.Theoppositiongivesnohintofproposinganythingofthe
scaleofanysinglepost-1997reform,suchasdevolutionorfreedomofinformation,
norindeedtheincrementalreformsofpreviousTorygovernments,suchasMacmillan’s
introductionoflifepeers,theintroductionofSelectCommitteesafter1979oreven
JohnMajor’ssomewhatunfairlymalignedCitizen’sCharter.
LiberalDemocratleaderNickCleggmayfeelsomewhataggrieved.Deniedeventhe
chancetocompetetobetoughestwithexpensesmiscreantsbytheminorscaleofmost
LibDemmisdemeanors,hisgoodpopulistargumentforarecesslock-inuntilMPshad
sortedoutreformwasignored.Thethirdpartycanclaimlong-standingcoherenceon
politicalreform,thoughthegreaterpoliticalchallengemaybethatestablishinganew
politicsofpluralismrequiresimperfectcompromisesandcross-partycooperationto
happen.
Thereisbroadsupportfortheideathatthiscrisiscreatesa‘onceinageneration’
opportunityforsignificantpoliticalreformbutlittleagreementonwhatthismeansor
confidencethatitwillbetaken.Manywillarguethatthissimplyshowsthatthe
27
Anti-politicsandthecrisis

politicalclassstilldon’t‘getit’.Therhetoricofsweepingreformmaybecombinedwith
effortstoworkoutwhatminimalreformswillsuffice.Yetthisisalsotoosimplean
indictment.Theresponsibilityforreformdoesnotliewiththepoliticiansandthe
politicalinstitutionsalone.Havetherestofusincivicsocietyarticulatedacoherent
argumentastopreciselywhatitisthatthepoliticalinstitutionsaresupposedto‘get’?
Naturally,acrisisofpoliticallegitimacyhasoftenbeenusedtoreinvigorateawide
varietyofpre-existingagendasforpoliticalreform.Wewillallthinkthatsomeofthe
proposalsmootedareimportant,necessaryandincreasinglyurgent–andthatothers
wouldbeadistractingstepinthewrongdirection.Allthatwedisagreeaboutiswhich
reformsbelongineachcategory.
Disagreementsaboutwhatshouldchangeshouldbenosurprise.Itisinthenatureof
politics.Buthowseldomthatisacknowledged,notleastbecauseitmightcomplicate
thelambastingof‘thepoliticians’fortheirstubbornandselfishrefusaltodowhat‘we,
thepeople’want.
Thetriumphofanti-politics?
Thecentralquestionforreformersthenbecomeshowtoseizepoliticsbackfromthe
politicalclassonbehalfofcitizens.PaulJudge,founderoftheJuryTeam,putshisfaith
inwhathecalls‘independentpeople’:‘Wethinkindependentpeoplecanmakegood
decisions.Weusethatmodelforjuries.Ifyouputagroupofsensiblepeopletogether
andshowthemthefacts,they’llmakegooddecisions’(Judge2009).Fromtheright,
supportersoftheminimalstatearguethattheConservativesshouldlearnfromthe
RepublicansintheUS:‘Aseriesof“anti-politics”policies,rangingfromtermlimitsfor
legislatorstolimitationsonbudgets,helpedtoestablishinthepublicmindthatatleast
someRepublicanswerewith“us”against“them”–with,thatis,thecountryagainstits
apparat.This,aboveall,iswhattheBritishConservativesneedtodo’(Carswelletal
2005).
ThePowerInquirymakesthecaseforliberalreform,arguingthatthecurrentvoting
systemisregardedbymillionsofcitizensasawasteoftime:‘Manycitizensfindparties
andelectionsunappealingbecausetheyrequireindividualstocommittoaverybroad
rangeofpolicieswithwhichtheymightnotentirelyagree...itisvitalthatclear
processesexistforcitizenstoinfluenceandchallengethespecificareasofgovernment
andpolicythatconcernthem’(ThePowerInquiry2006).
Thesearedifferentreformagendas,withdifferentpoliticalmotivations.TheJuryTeam
explicitlyeschewsideology.Iftheproblemwithpoliticsisthepoliticians,theansweris
toreplacethemwithnon-politiciansofhonestyandintegrity–MrSmithgoesto
WashingtonremadeasEstherRantzengoestoLutonSouth.
Thepropositionisthatallvotersofgoodwillwantarecandidatesofgoodwill.Ifonly
theycanbefreedfromtheconstraintsofparty,thetyrannyofthewhips,anyshared
orcollectivebodyofbeliefsoramanifestoofspecificcommitmentstovotersacrossthe
rangeofpolicy,theywillbeabletoarriveunhinderedinParliamenttorise‘above
politics’andgovernsensiblyinthecommoninterestsof‘thepeople’.

28
FabianSociety

Yet,foranemerginggenerationofConservativeParliamentarians,similaranti-political
grievancescanbeputtomorefocusedideologicalpurpose.ForDouglasCarswelland
DanielHannan,theanti-politicsargumentisnotsimplyananti-incumbencytactic,but
isexplicitlyadvocatedasawayfortheConservativerighttotake‘ourstandonthe
defenceoftheindividualagainstthestate’,underminingcollectiveprovisionand
promotingtheideaofshrinkingthestatesothat‘thecitizenshouldbeasfreeas
possiblefromstatecoercion’(Carswelletal 2005).Yetanuncannilysimilar‘themand
us’argumentisvoicedinsupportofabroadlyoppositemotivationbythePower
Inquiry.
Ithasbecomefashionabletoassertthatabetterinformedelectorateismuchmore
awareoftheweaknessesofpoliticiansandthepoliticalsystem.Asaresulttheyare
withdrawingfromformalparticipationinpoliticsandinsteadchannellingtheirenergies
intocommunityactivismandcampaigninggroups.Yettheoldpoliticiansmaintain
theirholdonthesystem,therebystoppinganeweraofdemocracy.
AsmycolleagueattheFabianSociety,TimHorton,haswritten:‘Ifthisistheproblem,
thesolutionisobvious:changetheinstitutions,changetheparties,getthepoliticians
intheirplaceandput“thepeople”inchargewithouthavingtoworkthroughthe
formalpoliticalstructures...etvoila!Wewillallcomerushingbacktoengageinanew
goldenageofcitizendemocracy.Ifonlyitwerethatsimple’(Hortonetal 2007).
Thattheargumentissopopularonleft,rightandamongthosewhorejectthose
categoriesaspartoftheproblemsuggestsatideofopinionrunningheavilyinits
favour.Inthatcase,thiscrisisoflegitimacyofourpoliticalinstitutionsisalso
highlightingadeeper,foundationalweaknessinourunderstandingofwhatpoliticsis.
Afalsehistory
Howdidwegethere?Everybodyknowsitisaboutthecorruptionofallthatwasnoble
inParliamentandpolitics.DanielHannanMEPrecentlylamentedintheDaily
TelegraphthatMPsnow‘contractouttheiropinionstothewhips’andthus‘ceaseto
representtheirconstituents’;this,hesuggested,wascontrarytotraditionsof
Parliamentthroughmostofitshistory(Hannan2009).
ThePowerInquirysimilarlyassertsthat‘thewhipshaveenforcedpartydiscipline
morefullyandforcefullythaninthepast’.ThisistheJuryTeam’scentralcomplaint,
too.Youmighthearthislamentinanypubintheland,andfromalmostevery
newspapercolumnist.
PhillipCowley,however,saysthatthisis‘cobblersfromstarttofinish’.Hegoeson:
‘Thisideathattherehasbeenadeclineinbackbenchindependenceisnotjustwrong,
itistheoppositeofthetruth’(BritishAcademy2007).Therewasalmostnobackbench
dissentatallinthe1950s.TheConservativegovernmentsafter1951lostone
Commonsdivisioninthirteenyears,comparedwithsixgovernmentdefeatsduringthis
Parliament,whileonlyonedivisionineveryfiftyduringthe1950ssawany 1.Afulllistof
backbenchervoteagainsthisparty;bythe1970soneineveryfivedivisionsdidso. Commons
governmentdefeats
TheMajor,BlairandBrownerashaveseeneverincreasinglevelsofbackbench canbefoundat
independenceandNewLabour’ssupposedly‘supine’backbenchesturnouttobethe www.election.demon.
co.uk/defeats.html
mostrebelliousinpost-warParliamentaryhistory1.
29
Anti-politicsandthecrisis

Thismythicalhistoryisunlikelytomakeforasuccessfulfoundationstoneforcallsfor
astrongerParliament.
Misunderstandingpolitics–andforgettingthatnoteverybodyagreeswithme
Thepopulistcaseforreformisequallyweakinitscontemporaryunderstandingof
whatpoliticsisabout.
What,forexample,arewetomakeofthePowerInquiryargumentthat,‘Formillions
ofcitizensitseems,votingissimplyregardedasawasteoftimebecausethecandidate
orpartyyoufavouriseithernotstandingorhasnochanceofvictorywhilethe
candidateorpartythatdoesstandachanceofwinningispositivelydisliked’?There
arecertainlylegitimatecriticismstobemadeofanelectoralsystemwhichgivestoo
littlevoicetosmallerparties,orgivesdisproportionatepowertothelargestparties
whentheyhaveapluralityofthevote.Butthiscomplaintgoesmuchdeeperthanthat.
AcandidateIpositivelydislikecanonlyhavemorechanceofwinninganelectionthan
myownfavouriteiftheyhavemoresupport fromotherpeople.Noelectoralorpolitical
systemcanaddressthegrievance,howeverirritating,thatotherpeopledon’talways
agreewithme.
Thefailuretounderstandpoliticsasnotonlyabout‘havingmysay’butalso
aggregatingpreferencesandnegotiatingdisagreementdrivesmuchofthefrustration
with‘formalpolitics’.ThePowerInquiryfindsthatthepoliticalpartiesareoften
unattractivebecauseoftheir‘broad-brush’approachwhilecampaigngroupsare‘much
morefocusedandrequireonlythatanindividualsupportschangeinonearea’.True–
sowhowillthenaggregateandtrade-offthesenoisy,clashingdemands?
Thecaseforpoliticsrestated
Inhisseminalworkof1962InDefenceofPolitics,BernardCrickarguedthatonly
politicscanfindoutwhatthepublicwantsandreconcilethesedifferent,and
sometimescontradictory,demands.Butitwillalwaysdosoimperfectly,andthis,as
AndrewGamblehaspointedout,leadstodisappointmentorevencynicism:
Democraticpoliticswilloftenbescornedbymanyonleft,rightandcentre
becauseitissomessy,unprincipled,approximateandbecausepoliticiansso
oftenappeardevious,evasiveanduntrustworthy.Theynevermeasureupto
expectations.Crick’shardpointisthattheyneverwill,andinexpectingthemto
doso,wefindourselvesperpetuallydisillusioned,whichiswhysomanypeople
disengagefrompoliticsaltogether,seekingcomfortelsewhere. (Gamble2004)
ThisargumenthasbeendevelopedinrecentseparatecontributionsfromGerryStoker
(2006)andMegRussell(2005),whoeachconsciouslydevelopCrick’sarguments,
particularlytoexaminehowaconsumeristsocietyseemstofinditincreasinglydifficult
tounderstandthecollectivenatureofpoliticaldecision-making.Negotiationand
compromisecanbetime-consumingandboring.Thatiswhymanypeopleleavepolitics
totheexperts–untilaparticularissuebothersus.Thenthetestistheconsumeristone:
didIgetwhatIwantedonceIbotheredtoturnup?Ifnot,‘thesystem’hasfailed;
‘politicsisbroken’.Yet,asRussellargues,thecentralpointisthat‘politicsdoesnot
alloweveryonetogetwhattheywant’.

30
FabianSociety

Thecurrentdebateaboutthepoliticalcrisismayberatifyingatriumphofanti-politics
overpolitics,asastronglymediatedpublicdiscourseincreasinglystrugglestotellthe
differencebetweenthetwo.Thismaynowbeacentralbarriertoseriousengagement
inaprojectofpoliticalreform–andespeciallytothechancesofreformssuccessfully
increasingengagementandreversingalienationinanenduringway.
Thisisnottoarguethatreformisnotnecessary.Itis.Northatthecurrentpolitical
responseisadequate.Ithasnotbeen.Thedilemmaisthatnoreformagendacould
satisfythosediscontentswhicharevoicedagainstacurrentcropofpoliticiansandthe
formalpoliticalinstitutionsascurrentlyconstituted,iftheyoftenturnouttobe
essentiallyprotestsattheinherentlimitationsofpoliticsitself.Theriskisofasterile
stand-offanddialogueofthedeaf.Thepoliticalclasswillbesatirisedaswishingto
dissolvethepeopleandelectanother,asacycleofcrisis,reform,disappointmentand
crisisdeepenspoliticaldisenchantment.
Indeed,reformhelpedtogetushere.Theprincipleoftransparencyhasbeenextended:
forthefirsttime,weknowwhogivesmoneytopartiesandwhatMPsspendon
expenses.Butgreatertransparencywillnotincreasepublictrustinthepoliticalprocess
ifwhatisrevealedlackspubliclegitimacy.Thetransparencygenieiswellandtrulyout
ofthebottle–andcouldhardlybereversed.
TheLabourgovernmenthasoftenbeencaughtintheconsequencesofitsownhalf
measures.OnMPs’expensesthereislittleexcuse:sunlighthasactedasadisinfectant
andtheprinciplesofamorelegitimatesystemarenotdifficulttodefineorimplement.
But,elsewhere,noalternativetoadiscreditedstatusquomaycommandsufficient
publicconsensustoendure:thereis,forexample,nopublicconfidenceinpolitical
competitionbeinglargelyfundedbyrichindividuals,corporatedonationsandtrade
unionsyetneitheristheresupportforanyalternativesystem,particularlyonethat
makesanygreaterdemandsonthepublicpurse.
Reformtostrengthenpoliticalengagement
Theanswertothepoliticallegitimacycrisisispolitics.Therecanbenomagicbullet
solutiontowhatisprimarilyaquestionofpoliticalcultureandpoliticaleducation.
Buttheoverridingpriorityshouldbetopursuepoliticalreforminawaythatis
engagingandeducativeofthenatureofpoliticsitselfandthatbringsabout
practicalresults.
Thisstrengthensthecaseforaconstitution-makingmomentinBritishpolitics–and
fordoingsothroughsomeformofcitizens’convention.
Thismaynotwork.Theill-fatedEuropeanConstitutionalTreatyarosefromsimilar
motivations,backin2001,thoughthelackofaEuropeandemos presentedan
additionallayerofdifficulty.Butitmustbeworthtrying.Perhapssuchabodycould
bepartiallyindirectlyelectedfromdemocraticinstitutions,partlyelectedandpartly
selectedbylottery.Thepreciseformthatthistakesmatterslessthanitsethos,breadth
ofengagementasafocalpointforpublicdebate.Ultimately,thecentraltestofpolitical
engagementcanonlybetheextenttowhichthosewhoseviewsdonotprevailonany
particularissuedobelievethattheirviewswerefairlytakenintoaccountindrawingup
thenewrulesofthegame.
31
Anti-politicsandthecrisis

ChallengecriticstoengagewithstrengtheningParliament
Perhapsmoreimmediately,thereisasignificantopportunitytostrengthenParliament’s
powersofscrutinyovertheExecutive:theelectionofanewSpeakerandthe
appointmentofTonyWrightMP–acommittedreformer,effectiveSelectCommittee
chairandstrongpublicadvocateforParliament–tochairaninquirytomake
recommendationsonCommonsreformisapositivesign.
AparliamentaryreformagendacouldincludeputtingExecutivepowersexercised
underRoyalPrerogativeonastatutorybasissoensuringthefullrangeofExecutive
actionsareopentoparliamentaryscrutiny;makingSelectCommitteestylepre-
legislativescrutinythenorm;givinggreaterpowerstoinitiatedebatestobackbenchers
andSelectCommittees,includingafocusonensuringtopicalissuesareregularlyaired
intheHouse;strengtheningthepowersofSelectCommitteesbyremovingthewhips’
controlovertheirmembershipandroutinelydebatingtheiroutputsmorefullyinthe
fullChamber;andmoreeffectivescrutinyanddebateofEuropeanlegislationthrougha
collaborativeprocessinvolvingbothWestminsterchambersandBritishMEPs.Several
otherareasforreformhavebeenmooted,includingduringtherecentelectionfor
Speaker.
However,changesofthisnaturearesurelynot–bydefinition–likelytosatisfythe
manyhighlyvocalchampionsofastrongerParliamentwhoappeartobeentirely
oblivioustotheworkingsofParliamentandtoarecentParliamentaryhistoryentirely
atoddswiththeirheartfeltnarrativeofalostgoldenage.
Still,suchareformagendashouldbepursuedonitsmerits.Themoresubstantiveitis,
themoreitmightdosomethingtochallengetheprevailingmythofaneverweaker
Parliament,thoughevenanaccurateaccount‘fromwithin’islikelytobedismissedas
specialpleading.Again,thebestapproachwouldgobeyondthenewSpeaker’srolein
improvedpubliccommunicationbyseekingtomaximiseexternalengagementwiththe
Parliamentaryreformprocess,forexamplethroughpublichearingsthatseektoengage
externalexpertsandreformersinthechallengesofbringingaboutreform.
Experimentwithdirectdemocracy,butconnectittorepresentative
institutions
Callsformore‘directdemocracy’shouldnotbedismissed.Takentoextremes,thesecan
offeranincoherentRossPerot-stylefantasyofapush-buttondemocracy.Butthese
toocould,despiteanti-politicalmotivationsfortheiradvocacy,alsohaveapositive
pro-politicseducativeeffect.
Moreeffortshouldbemadetointegratedirectandrepresentativedemocratic
institutions.TheweaknessoftheDowningStreetpetitionmechanismisthatalarge
numberofsignaturessimplygeneratesanofficialdefenceofexistingpolicy.Abetter
approachcouldbedevelopedfromthePetitionsCommitteesinScotlandandWales:a
certainnumberofsignatureswouldgenerateCommitteeconsideration,orafull
Commonsdebate.
Inanyevent,ourpoliticalsystemincreasinglyincorporatessomeelementsofdirect
democracy.Althoughthe1975referendumontheEuropeanEconomicCommunitywas

32
FabianSociety

largelyanexerciseinpoliticalmanagement,thedevolutionreferendumsinScotland,
Wales,London(carried)andtheNorthEast(defeated)haveestablishedsomething
ofathresholdforsignificantsystemicreformstobeapprovedbypublicvote.It
wouldbepossibletolegislateforclearercriteria,orintroducearightofcitizens’
initiative.Withathresholdofperhaps10percentofaconstituencyelectorateto
triggerarecallballotonasittingMP,orofacouncilornationalelectoratetoputa
citizens’initiative,therewouldbeapoliticalchallengeforthoserailingagainstthe
statusquo:cantheygeneratesufficientsupporttobringaboutchangeandthenwin
apublicargumentforit?
Electoralreformisimportant,butnopanacea
Thereisagoodcaseforregardingelectoralreformasthesinglepoliticalchangethat
mighthavethemostlong-termimpactonthepoliticalculture,butanyargumentthat
itwouldsomehowremovethefrustrationsofdemocraticpoliticsisanotherrouteto
disappointment.
The‘voteforachange’campaign2,(whichIsupport)seekingareferendumatthenext
generalelection,hassoughttotapintothezeitgeistmoodbyrunningan‘outsider’
campaignforchangeforwhatis,atheart,apro-politicsargument.Thatmaymake
tacticalsensebutthereisatensiontoo.
Electoralreformwouldleadtoalessnarrowlyfocusedpolitics,inwhichmoreminority
viewswouldberepresented.Thiswouldalsoentailapoliticalcultureinwhich
governingpowerwoulddependmoreonthepoliticalartsofnegotiationand
compromise,andthemajorpartieswouldstillneedtoconstructbroadelectoral
coalitions.BritainunderProportionalRepresentationmighthavefiveorsixparty
politics,andmightbecomesomewhatclosertothetypeofpoliticsandpartysystemin
Germany.Thereisgoodcomparativeevidencethatmorepluralistsystemsdeliverbetter
socialoutcomes;perhapslessthattheydosobyenormouslyincreasingasenseof
politicsasasiteofcompetingideologies.Thenatureofourpoliticstodayreflectsthe
typeofsocietyweare,andnotjustthenatureofourpoliticalinstitutions.
Still,therearemanyfaultsinourcurrentsystem,notleastthatshiftingpolitical
geographymakesitschancesofpickingtheright‘first-past-the-post’winner
increasinglyamatterofRussianrouletteshouldtherebeacloseelection,afairly
fundamentalflawdisguisedbytheone-sidedelectionsofthelastthirtyyears.Thereis
noperfectalternativewhenitcomestobalancingandtrading-offtheobjectivesof
choosingagovernment,anationalParliamentandlocalrepresentatives,butthecase
forthestatusquoisextremelyweak.
Mostimportantly,theargumentforsuchachangeneedstobewon.This,too,isa
matterofpolitics.Toooften,reformersengageintheologicaldebatesabouttheperfect
electoralsystem,ratherthanthestrategicchallengeofbuildingasufficientcoalitionto
bringaboutchange.Supportforelectoralreformisbroad,butitcouldalsobeshallow
inashort,myth-ladenreferendumcampaign.(Again,thecitizens’conventionrouteto
reformmayhavestrongerprospects.)
Theideaofpoliticsasnegotiatingandsharingpowerhasneverbeenastrongonein 2.www.votefora
theBritishpoliticalculture.ThatispartofthereasonwhyengagementintheEuropean change.co.uk

33
Anti-politicsandthecrisis

Unionissodifficult:leadersfeeltheymustdeclaregame,setandmatchtoBritain
ratherthanexplainingwhythegive-and-takeofapoliticaldealcanservemutualand
sharedinterests.ItisalsowhytheJenkins’Commissionproposedahybridreformthat
couldcombinemorepluralismandgreaterproportionalitywithatendencytomajority
governments– somewhatmoreconstrained.
PRisnottheonlypossibleconstraintongoverningpower:theelectoralreform
debatehasremainedsurprisinglyisolatedfromthebroaderchecksandbalances
whichhave,albeitinapiecemealway,beguntochallengethe‘electivedictatorship’
ofthesuper-centralisedBritishpolitywhichCharter88firstmadeamainstream
issuetwodecadesago.
Thefirstpreferenceofmanyreformersis‘PRorbust’.Thatisalegitimateargument,
butthereisalsoadecentcasethataconstrainedmajoritarianisminvolvingthe
AlternativeVote,aPR-electedsecondchamberalongsidePRinlocalgovernmentand
entrenchedrightswouldevolveamajorpluralistadvance.
Openuppartypoliticstogreaterparticipation
‘Politicsandparliamentinthiscountryareaboutparty.Withoutpartyneither
responsiblegovernmentnorresponsibledemocracyispossible.…Forparliamentary
government,asforeveryothergoodthing,thereisapricetobepaid:andthatpriceis
party’(Powell1974quotedinHeffer1999).Thecaseforpartywasputmost
powerfullybyanunlikelyadvocate:EnochPowellwasperhapsthefrontbench
politicianofthetwentiethcenturywhodidmosttochafeagainsttheconstraintsof
partyloyalty.Hemadethespeechatanunusualmoment–inBirminghaminFebruary
1974whenexplainingwhyhewasresistingcallstostandasanindependent,so
advisinghissupporterstovoteLabour.Powellwaswronginhisprophecyofexistential
nationalsuicide,andonthelosingsideinthesubsequentEECreferendumtoo,butthis
argumentaboutpartybeingtheessentiallinkbetweenthepublicandpoliticsina
representativedemocracyendures.
Changingthevotingsystemcanchangethebalanceofpoliticalpowerandthepolitical
culture,butcannotinitselfdoagreatdealtotransformopportunitiesforparticipation.
Experimentsindirectdemocracycanofferopportunities,perhapsespeciallyfora
popular‘veto’politics;theycanlesseasilypromoteconstructivereform.Butgreater
politicalparticipationmaycentrallydependontheunfashionablecauseofreviving
partypolitics.
Thepartiesaresaidtobeinterminaldecline.Cantheyberevivedaspolitical
communities,andthereforeasvehiclesofparticipationandengagement?The
argumenthasbecomeconfusedbysomuchfocusbeingontheuseofprimaries:some
believethesecouldkillpartiesandothersthattheycouldrevivethem.Certainly,
statutorycompulsiononallpartiestoholdopenprimaries,inwhichanybodycould
standorvote,woulddissolvepartyasapoliticalcommunity.
Buttheargumentforpartieschoosingtoopenupparticipationtotheirownsupporters
isapowerfulone.Itisnotfancifultobelievethatpartiescouldinvolveseveralmillion
peopleagain,iftheywereabletodeveloplesshierarchicalandmoreopenculturesand
structures.PollingfortheFabians’FacingOut projectrevealed2.5millionLabour
34
FabianSociety

identifiers,activeinnon-partycivicengagementwhowere‘nevermembers’,a
majorityofwhomwerekeentoparticipateinarangeofwaysbeyondthepartycard
model.DavidMilibandcitestheGreekSocialistpartyPASOK’sinvolvementof900,000
peopleinaGreekpopulationof11million,whichproportionallywouldequatetofour
orfivemillionBritons(Miliband2009).Thecentralquestioniswhethercurrent
membersandactivistsseetheopportunitytofindnewalliesfortheircauses,rather
thanathreattojealouslyguardedrights.Thereisalegitimatefearthatthepromiseof
opennesswillbetrumpedbythe‘topdown’instinctsofleadershipcontrolinboth
parties;butinthatcasetheopportunitytowidenparticipationwillalsofail.
Ifthepartiescannotberevivedaspoliticalcommunities,wehavelittletoreplacethem
with.Theendofpartypoliticsisunlikelytoheraldthenewdawnofcitizen
engagementthatsomeimagine.Afterpartypolitics,populistanti-politicsmighttruly
havethefieldtoitself.
SunderKatwalaisGeneralSecretaryoftheFabianSociety.AswithallFabianoutputs,
thesearetheviewsoftheindividualauthorandnotthecollectiveviewoftheSociety.
BritishAcademy(2007)‘AreweseeinganewgoldenageofParliament?’,transcriptofdiscussion,
5July,www.britac.ac.uk/events/2007/parliament/transcript.cfm
CameronD(2009)‘Anewpolitics:weneedamassive,radicalredistributionofpower’,The
Guardian,25May
CarswellDetal (2005)DirectDemocracy:anagendaforanewmodelparty,www.direct-
democracy.co.uk
GambleA(2004)‘BernardCrick’inFabianThinkers,London:FabianSociety
HannanD(2009)‘Thereisnoharminagreeingtodisagree’, DailyTelegraph,28August
HefferS(1999)LiketheRoman:TheLifeofEnochPowell Phoenix
HortonT,Pinto-DuchinskyDandStuddertJ(2007) Facingout:howpartypoliticsmustchangeto
buildaprogressivesocietyLondon:FabianSociety
JudgeP(2009)‘Ifwewanttochangethesystem,wehavetochangetheparties’,TheSunday
Times,8March
MilibandD(2009)‘Turningthetideondemocraticpessimism’,JohnSmithMemorialLecture,6July
PowerInquiry,The(2006)PowertothePeopleYork:JosephRowntreeReformTrust/Joseph
RowntreeCharitableTrust
RussellM(2005)MustPoliticsDisappoint? London:FabianSociety
StokerG(2006)WhyPoliticsMatters:MakingDemocracyWork Basingstoke:PalgraveMacmillan

35
REMAKING POLITICS

Rick Muir and Guy Lodge, ippr


InhisfinalwordstotheHouseofCommonsasPrimeMinisterTonyBlairremarked
that,‘Somemaybelittlepoliticsbutwewhoareengagedinitknowthatitiswhere
peoplestandtall….Ifitis,onoccasions,theplaceoflowskulduggery,itismoreoften
theplaceforthepursuitofnoblecauses.’Blairwasofcoursespeakingbeforethe
parliamentaryexpensescrisis,whichhasmade‘politics’and‘lowskulduggery’virtually
synonymousinthemindsofthepublic.
Noneofthisisnew:politicshasalwayspossessedajanusface,beinganarenaforthe
pursuitofbothpersonalpowerandthewiderpublicinterest.TheBritishpublichave
nevertrustedtheirpoliticians.Nevertheless,followingtheexpensescrisispoliticshas
fallentoanewlowinthehierarchyofpublicesteem:thenumberofpeoplewhosay
theytrustpoliticiansfellfrom23percentin2008tojust13percentin2009(Campbell
2009).
Thismattersbecausepoliticsisagoodthing.AsBernardCrickarguedalmostfifty
yearsagoinhisInDefenceofPolitics,politicsisthewayinwhichhumanbeings,living
inlargeandcomplexsocieties,dividedbyconflictingviewsandinterests,areableto
peaceablyresolvetheirdifferences.Forallitsfaultsthealternativestopoliticsare
almostalwaysmuchworse.WeonlyhavetoconsidertheuglyextremismoftheBritish
NationalPartytoremindourselvesofthat.
So,ifpoliticsmatters,canitbereclaimedandrefashionedsothatitislesscorrosiveof
publictrust?Itisourcontentionthatitcan,butthatpoliticalreformwillonlybe
successfulifitdirectlyaddressesthecausesofpublicdisengagementandfocusesas
muchonquestionsofpoliticalcultureasonthetraditionalmechanicsofconstitutional
reform.
Theimmediatetriggerforthecurrentwaveofpublichostilitytothepoliticalsystem
wasofcoursetheabusesofMPs’expenses.Initselfthisisactuallyarathersimple
problemtoresolve:greatertransparencywillwipeoutthemostoffensivepractices
simplybecausefutureclaimswillbemadeinfullviewofanunforgivingpublic.Butthe
sheerlevelofpublicangerovertheissuehasexposedawiderfeelingofpublic
disenchantmentwiththepoliticalclass.Theexpensesscandalwasthetrigger,butthe
causeofthecrisisliesmuchdeeperintheworkingsofthepoliticalsystem.
Thishasledpoliticiansfromallpartsofthepoliticalspectrumtoargueforawiderset
ofconstitutionalreforms.Everythingfromfixed-termparliamentstoproportional
representationhasbeenputforwardasasolutiontothecurrentcrisis.Manyofthese
reformsarelongoverdue.Butwewillnotrestoretrustsimplybyreturningtothe
constitutionalagendaofCharter88,whatevertheindividualmeritsofparticular
reforms.Tothosewhothinkmoreofthesamewilldothetrick,itisworthrecalling
thatadecadeandmoreofradicalconstitutionalchangehascoincidedwitharise in
politicaldisaffection,andnotthefallthatmanypredicted.Thepoliticalclassmaybe
talkingaboutelectoralreformandanelectedHouseofLords–bothofwhichwe
favour–butthepublicasawholearenot.
So,whatliesbehindthewideningchasmbetweenthepublicandpolitics–andwhat
mightwedotobridgeit?Inhis2009PoliticalQuarterlylecture,theChairmanofthe
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PublicAdministrationSelectCommittee,TonyWrightMP,argued:‘Thereisalwaysa
tendencytothinkthataproblemcanbesolvedbyanewpieceofmachinery.Thatis
whyIhavewantedtotalkaboutculturesaswellasstructures,andwhyIhavecometo
thinkthattheformerisoftenmoredecisivethanthelatterintermsofhow
organisationsactuallywork’(Wright2009).
Wesharethisview:ourtroublesstemasmuchfromadysfunctionalpoliticalcultureas
fromtheinadequaciesofourinstitutionalarrangements,althoughthereisacomplex
interplaybetweenthetwo.Muchofwhatthepublicfindssodistastefulinourpolitics
isaboutthewaypoliticiansandthemediabehave.Ofcourse,someofthatbehaviour
isdeterminedbytheincentivesbuiltintoourconstitutionalarchitecture,butsomeofit
isnot.Inwhatfollowsweexaminetheinstitutionalandculturalcausesofthecurrent
crisisandhighlightwhatwebelievetobethemostpropitiousavenuesforreform.
Therearegenerallytwocampsinthedebateaboutwhathasgonewrong:someblame
thepoliticiansandthepoliticalsystem,whileothersarguethatourpoliticalcrisisisa
resultofasetofwidersocialchangesaffectingnotjustthiscountrybutmostother
Westerndemocraciestoo.Belowweidentifywhatwebelievetobethemost
significantpoliticalandsocialfactorsbehindthecurrentcrisis.Theseare:theroleof
thepolitician,thenatureofthepoliticalclass,thewaypoliticiansbehave,thequality
ofourwiderciviccultureandtheworryingriseinpoliticalinequality.
Whatourpoliticiansdo
Itisclearthatthereareanumberofaspectsoftheroleofthepoliticianthat
underminepublicsympathywithpolitics.Theseactivitiesinclude,forexample,MPs
appearingtoslavishlyfollowthepartylineandengageinpettypartypolitical
tribalism.PollsshowthatthepublicwanttheirMPstohaveindependentmindsand
takedecisionsontheirmerits,withintheobviouslimitsofafunctioningparliamentary
system.
ThismeansthattheroleoftheMPastheindependentscrutiniseroflegislationshould
beenhanced.ThisrequiresashiftinthebalanceofpowerbetweentheExecutiveand
thelegislaturesothatMPshavemuchmoreinfluenceoverthepolicyprocess,thus
providingthemwithadistinctandalternativecareerpathtothatofferedbya
ministerialorshadowministerialrole.Suchashiftshouldalsohelpproducealesstribal
politicalculture.
Thereareanumberofwaysthismightbeachieved.MPsshouldhavegreatercontrol
overtheirowntimetableandagenda.Aperiodoftimeshouldbesetasideeachweek
toallowMPstodebateandvoteonmattersoftheirchoosing.
SelectCommitteesshouldbestrengthened.Chairsandmembersshouldbechosenbya
freeandsecretvoteofthewholeHouseandcommitteesshouldreceivemoreresources
andstaffingtoenhancetheirabilitytoscrutiniseandholdministerstoaccount.Select
Committeesshouldbegivenconfirmationpowersoverseniorappointmentsmadeto
themajorpublicbodiesthattheyoversee.Inextremecasestheymightalsobegiven
thepowertoremoveseniorpublicservantsbyissuingadeclarationofnoconfidence.
Lessdiscussed,butequallyimportant,istheneedtooverhaulthepublicbill
committeeswhichremainhopelesslyinadequate.Specialistandpermanentlegislative
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Remakingpolitics

committeesshouldbeintroducedtoreplacethenon-expertbillcommitteeswhich
wouldprovideformoreeffectivescrutinyoflegislationandenableMPstodevelop
expertiseinspecificareas.
TheConservativesproposehavingfewerMPsbutthatwouldmakeitevenmore
difficulttoholdtheExecutivetoaccount.IftheobjectiveistostrengthenParliament
andsavemoneyitwouldbefarbettertoreducethenumberofministersandimposea
capofjustoneParliamentaryPrivateSecretaryperdepartment.Strengthening
Parliamenthastoinvolveshrinkingthesizeofthepayrollvote.Havingfewerministers
isalsoanimportantprerequisiteforgreaterlocalism.Themoreministersthereare,the
morethingstheyconstantlytrytodotojustifytheirsalaries.Britainneedsasmaller
coreExecutivewithgreaterdevolutiondowntolocalauthorities.
Sincepublicdisenchantmentwithpoliticsstemspartlyfromthepublic’sfrustration
overtheirinsufficientabilitytoholdthosewhoexercisepowertoaccount,itiscrucial
thatParliamentisempoweredtodosoontheirbehalf.Itneedsstrongpowersin
relationtotheballooningnumberofunelectedandlargelyunaccountablebodiesthat
havecometoexercisesomuchinfluencewithinBritain.Thereshouldbeconfirmation
hearingsforheadsofquangosandregulators;therulesandconventionsprotecting
civilservantsandspecialadvisersfromfullparliamentaryscrutinyshouldbescrapped;
ministersintheLordsshouldhavetoanswerintheCommons;andthereshouldbe
regularquestiontimesessionswiththeUK’spermanentrepresentativeinBrussels.
Whoourpoliticiansare
Inadditiontochangingwhatourpoliticiansdo,wealsoneedadebateaboutthesortof
politicianswewant.Underlyingpublicdisillusionwithformalpoliticsisdisquietwith
the‘professionalisation’ofpolitics.Wehaveseentheemergenceofapoliticalclass,
perceivedtobesomehowdistinctandseparatefromtherestofsociety,andmadeupof
individualswhoincreasinglylookandsoundverysimilartooneanother.Thishas
reinforcedthepublic’sscepticismaboutpolitics:itlooksincreasinglylikeaparlour
gameforthosebentonapoliticalcareer,ratherthanbeingaboutmakingdecisionsin
theinterestofthecountry.Professionalisationhasreinforcedtheviewthatpoliticsis
somethingthatthey do,ratherthansomethinginwhichweallhaveastake.
Ofcourse,politicshasalwaysbeendominatedbycertainsocialclasses:thosewith
Oxbridgedegreesandprivateschooleducations.Therehavealwaysbeenlife-long
politicos,goingbacktoWilliamPittandBenjaminDisraeli.Indeed,theyhaveoften
provedthemostcapablepoliticalleaders.Andclearlywewillalwaysneedfull-time
politicians.Thetasktodayistodiversifytherangeofpeoplegettingintopolitics.This
meansbothbroadeningtherangeofroutesintopolitics,andexpandingthepluralityof
spacesforpoliticaldecision-making.
This,crucially,involvesreformtopoliticalparties.Thepartiesarethemaintransmitter
beltsbetweenthepublicandthepoliticalsystem:theyrecruitmembersandactivists
andtheyselectthecandidateswhoenduprunningthestatemachine.Whilepolitical
partiescontinuetodominateourpoliticalinstitutionsthepublic’sinterestand
engagementwiththemisatanall-timelow.Whereasinthe1950stheLabourand
Conservativepartiescouldgenuinelyclaimtobemassmovements,withmillionsof

38
ippr

membersandreallinkstocivicgroupssuchastradesunions,veteranassociationsand
women’sinstitutes,thesepartiesarenowhollowshellsoftheirformerselves.
Thesolutionisnottogetridofpoliticalpartiesandreplacethemwithaparliamentof
EstherRantzens.Nodemocracyintheworldfunctionswithoutpoliticalpartiesandfor
twoverygoodreasons.Effectivedemocraticgovernmentrequirestheaggregationof
thepublic’sdisparatepreferencesintocoherentprogrammesofgovernmentthatcan
commandwidesupport.Governabilityrequirescoherence.Andaccountabilityrequires
thatweknowhowourrepresentativeshavebehavedsincewelastvotedforthem–
somethingthatismademucheasieriftheyareattachedtoapartythatwecan
recognisequicklyinthepollingbooth.Withoutpartiesitbecomesmoredifficultto
assignblameand‘kicktherascalsout’.
Sopartiesarenecessarybuttheyneedopeningupiftheyaretoreconnectwiththe
widerpublic.Oneofthemostimportantrolesofthepoliticalpartyistoselect
candidatesforpublicoffice–andnothingillustratestheparlousstateofourpolitics
morethanthefactthatinverymanysafeseatsMembersofParliamentareeffectively
chosenbyasmallgroupofpartyactivists.Recentresearchhasfoundthatonaverage
just40Labourpartymembersparticipateintheselectionofprospectiveparliamentary
candidates(StrawandAjumogobia2009).Onemuch-discussedwayofprisingopen
thiscrucialrouteintopoliticswouldbeforpartiestoallowawiderpooloftheir
supporterstovoteinparliamentaryselections,throughtheadoptionofmoreorless
openprimaries.
InTotnes,Devon,thisyeartheConservativesusedanopenprimarytoselecttheir
candidatetoreplacetheexpensesoutcast,SirAnthonySteen,whichsawover20,000
votersturnouttoparticipateintheselectionprocess.Nodoubtsuchhighnumbers
wereachievedbecauseofthepublic’sangeroverSteen’sbehaviourbutinternational
evidence,especiallyfromtheUnitedStates,suggeststhatprimariescaninterjecta
dynamismandunpredictabilityintopoliticsthatourownpoliticalsystempalpably
lacks.TheepicbattlebetweenBarackObamaandHillaryClintonfortheDemocrat
nominationisanobviousandinspiringexample.
Ifprimarieswouldhelpgiveordinarycitizensagreatersayinwhorepresentsthem,
arecallpowerwouldgivethemmuchgreaterscopetoholdtheirrepresentativesto
accountoutsideofelectiontimes.Theexpensescrisisunveiledthepublic’sdeep
frustrationwithasystemthatgivesthemsolittlecontrolovertheirMPs.All
powerstodeterminethefateofbadlybehavingMPsrestwiththepartiesandnot
thevoters.
Togiveanexample,HazelBlearswasreselectedonthebackofjust31votestofight
herseat,whichcomprises40,000people.Wethereforebelievethatthereisacasefora
recallmechanismbutthattherighttotriggeroneshouldbenarrowlydefinedaround
ethicalandnotpolicyissues.Thethresholdfortriggeringarecallshouldbesethigh–
around25percentofthelocalelectorate–andthereshouldbetightregulationofthe
fundingofanyrecallcampaigns.
ThenarrowrangeofroutesintoBritishpoliticsisalsoaconsequenceofBritain’s
excessivepoliticalcentralism.Decisionsovereverythingfrompoliceforcenumbersto
hospitalwaitingtimesaremadeinWestminster,toadegreethatwouldbeunthinkable
39
Remakingpolitics

inmostotherdemocracies.Andwiththistheonlyimportantsiteforpolitical
contestationistheHouseofCommons.Givingawiderrangeofpeopletheopportunity
toaccessthepoliticalarenameansopeningupnewspacesofpoliticaldecision-making
thatareclosertothem.
Thisrequiresmoreautonomouslocalgovernment.Italsorequiresfashioninglocal
politicalinstitutionsthatarenotsimplycapturedbythetraditionalpartymachines.
Thecreationofdirectly-electedmayorseverywherefromLondontoHartlepoolhas
allowedfiguresfromoutsidethetraditionalpoliticalnetworkstosuccessfullyrunfor
office.Theadoptionofelectedmayorsinmoretownsandcitiescouldopenuplocal
politicstonewkindsofpoliticalleadership.
Howourpoliticiansbehave
Inadditiontochangingwhatourpoliticiansdoandwhoourpoliticiansare,wealso
needtochangehowourpoliticians,andotheractorsinthepoliticalarena,behave.As
DrMegRussellhasargued,someofthemostoff-puttingfeaturesofourpoliticsare
essentiallycultural.Oneexampleisthepartytribalismthatsodominatespolitical
debate,butwhichthepublicfindssooff-putting.AtatimewhenmostBritishpeople
decreasinglyidentifywitheitherofthetwo‘bigtribes’(the‘otherparties’received
over40percentofthevoteinthe2009Europeanelections),thepoliticalclassseems
trappedinatimewarpinwhicheveryinitiativefromtheGovernmentisopposedby
theoppositionandviceversa.Evenastheideologicaldifferencesbetweentheparties
havedecreased,theintensityofthepartisanrivalryappearstohaveintensified–and
inawaythattotallyfailstoengagewithalesspartisanpublic.
Anotheroff-puttingfeatureisthewaypoliticiansareforcedtospeakinthemedia.The
publicsaytheywantpoliticiansto‘behonest’,whichsoundsreasonableenough.Butit
isactuallyverydifficultforpoliticianstosaywhattheyreallythinkwhenanysignof
politicaldisagreementoranywordoutoftunewiththepartylineisrepresentedinthe
mediaasa‘split’,oranychangeofhearta‘U-turn’.Partlybecauseofourvery
competitiveandrathersensationalistmediaculture,politiciansareforcedtospeak
wearingstraightjacketsandjournalistsreadilyenjoypokingthemintoevermore
absurdcontortions,astheystruggletosticktothepartyline.Thepublicsimplystops
listening.
Buthowcanwechangecultureslikethese?Someofthetransformationcanbedriven
bychangingtheincentivesthatrewardbehaviourofdifferentkinds.Measuresthat
strengthentheindependenceofMPsandParliamentsuchasthosesetoutabovecould
helpproducealesstribalisticpoliticalculture.Anothermethodwouldbeelectoral
reformthatwouldforcepartiestoformcoalitionsinordertogovern.
Someofthesequestionsarebeyondthereachofconstitutionalengineering.How
doesonechangeasensationalist24-hour-a-daymediacultureinawaythatwould
allowformorehonestandreflectivepublicdebate,withlesstalkofsplitsandU-
turnsandmoregenuinedeliberation?Atsomepointthereisaresponsibilityforthe
actorsinvolvedtochangethewaytheyact:politicianscouldhonestlytrytotell
thingsastheyseethemandjournalistscouldchoosenottopounceonthemfor
doingso.

40
ippr

Civicrenewal
Thepointswehavemadesofarconcernpoliticiansthemselves–whattheydo,who
theyareandhowtheybehave.Butmuchofwhatiswrongwithourpoliticsisalso
reflectiveofthestateofourwidercivicculture.Wehaveseenadeclineinthe
membershipofcivicassociationsandinparticularinthoseformsofcivicactivitymost
closelyassociatedwithpartypolitics–theunionsandlocalpoliticalclubsthatusedto
actastherecruitingsergeantsforgrassrootspolitics.
Itistruethatintheirplacewehaveseentheriseofamultitudeofsingleissue
movements–butwhilethesedemonstratethatwearefarfromtheapatheticpeople
wearesometimesportrayedas,thesegroupsaregenerallyunconnectedwithformal
politicalparticipation.Moreover,asMegRussellpointsout,thepoliticalculturethey
generateisonethatratherreplicatestheconsumeristcultureofhousehold
consumption,wherepeopleissue(legitimate)demands,butalsoexpecttogetwhat
theyaskfor.Thetroubleisthatinpolitics,unlikeshopping,noteveryonecanplausibly
getwhattheywant(Russell2005).
Veryfewcitizensareengagedintheprocessofmakingthedifficultdecisionsabout
whogetswhat,whenandhow.Insteaditislefttothepoliticians,whoaretypically
condemnedforfailingtodeliver.Thiscorrosivedynamicisfedbythemedia,whichis
quicktotakeupapassinganti-politicscrusadeandcondemntherascalsforletting‘the
people’down.
Theonlywaythroughthisistoworkfromthebottomup,byfosteringnewspacesin
thelocalcivicrealmwherecitizensareabletojoininthetaskofdirectlydeliberating
overthequestionsthataffecttheircommunities.Therearesomepromisingsignsof
innovationhere:inthewayNewDealforCommunitiesinitiativesengagedresidentsin
decisionsaboutregenerationfunds,inthegrowthofTenantManagement
Organisationsinthesocialhousingsectorandintheuseofparticipatorybudgetingin
manyofourtownsandcities.ItmayevenbethataCitizensConventionofthekind
thatipprandothershasproposedtodiscussreformtoourpoliticalsystemcouldplay
sucharoleatthenationallevel.
Ofcourse,weneedtoberealistic.Weareamoreindividualisticsocietythanweused
tobe,peoplearelessrootedintheirlocalcommunities,andmanypeopleleadbusy
lives,travellongdistancestoworkandlackthetimetoattendlocalcivicmeetings.But
eventakingthesesocialchangesintoaccount,itremainsessentialthatwecreate
genuinespacesforpoliticalparticipationneartowherepeopleliveinordertorenew
ourpoliticalculture.
Politicalinequality
Thedogthathasyettobarkinthecommentarythathasfollowedthefall-outfromthe
expensescrisisconcernsthefundamentalissueofpoliticalequality.RobertDahl,the
doyenofpoliticalscience,wrotethatacentralclaimofeveryhealthydemocracyis‘the
continuedresponsivenessofthegovernmenttothepreferencesofitscitizens,
consideredaspoliticalequals’(Dahl1971).Yettherearegoodreasonsforsupposing
thattheprincipleofpoliticalequalityisunderthreatandthatpoliticsisbecomingthe
increasingpreserveoftheaffluentandthepowerful.
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Remakingpolitics

ippr’sresearchhasshownthatpoliticalparticipationisincreasinglyskewedbysocial
class.Forinstance,theturnoutgapinelectionsbetweentopandbottomquartile
earnersintheUKhasdoubledsincethe1960s.Indeed,theHansardSociety’smost
recentAuditofPoliticalEngagementfoundthat,‘socialclasshasmoreofanimpacton
politicalengagementthatanyotherfactor.Oneverysinglemeasure[ofparticipation]
…peopleclassifiedassocialgradesAB(themostaffluent)aremorepolitically
engagedthanDEs(theleastaffluent),frequentlybyamarginofaround15to20
percentagepoints’(HansardSociety2009).
AnyoneinterestedinimprovingthehealthofBritishpoliticsoughttobeworriedabout
thesetrends.Theysuggestthatourdemocracyhasnotjustexperiencedafallinvoter
turnoutbutalsoariseinturnoutinequality.Politicalsystemstendtorespondtothe
interestsofthosethatparticipateandneglectthepreferencesofthosewhodonot.
Thisinturnbreedselectoralalienation,entrenchingapathyonthepartofthoseless
inclinedtoparticipate.AsSarahBirchofEssexUniversityhasargued,thebest,butby
nomeanstheonlyway,tobreakthecycleofdisaffectionistomakevotingcompulsory
andtherebyprovideanincentiveforpoliticalpartiestoaddresstheneedsofthe
populationasawhole.Shealsonotesthatcountrieswhichhavecompulsoryvoting
havelowerlevelsofincomeinequality,preciselybecauseitmakesitmuchmorelikely
thatallvoicesarelistenedto(Birch2009).ipprsharesthisviewandthoughsucha
movewouldbeunpopularwiththeelectorate,especiallyinthecurrentclimate,itis
cleartousthatcompulsoryvotingisthemosteffectivewayofpromotingpolitical
equality–agoalthatshouldbesharedacrossthepoliticalspectrum.
Ourcurrentpoliticalcrisisisnotsimplyaboutexpenses–therotissetmuchdeeper
thanthat.Atthesametimethisisnotthemomenttosimplydustoffalistofour
favouriteconstitutionalreformsfromtwentyyearsago.Wemustmakeinstitutional
changesbuttheymustbeaddresseddirectlyatthecausesofpublicalienation.We
havearguedthatchangesmustbedirectedattheroleofMPs,thewaypartiesrecruit
citizensintopoliticsandwiderquestionsofpoliticalculturethatrequirenotjust
constitutionalreformbutalsobehaviourialchangebytheactorsthemselves.Beyond
thepoliticalsystemweneedtoworkfromthebottomuptorenewourwidercivicand
politicalculture,andtoaddressthewideninginequalitiesinpoliticalparticipation.
RickMuirisaSeniorResearchFellowandGuyLodgeanAssociateDirectoratippr.
BirchS(2009)‘Thecaseforcompulsoryvoting’,PublicPolicyResearch 16.1
CampbellD(2009)‘Trustinpoliticianshitsanall-timelow’,TheObserver,27September
DahlRA(1971)Polyarchy:ParticipationandOppositionNewHaven,CT:YaleUniversityPress
HansardSociety(2009)AuditofPoliticalEngagement6 London:HansardSociety
RussellM(2005)MustPoliticsDisappoint? London:FabianSociety
StrawWandAjumogobiaF(2009)‘Labour’sselectionprocess:arepresentativedeficit?’,http://
clients.squareeye.com/uploads/prog/documents/Labour%20PPCs%20research%20pdf.pdf
WrightT(2009)‘Doingpoliticsdifferently’,ThePoliticalQuarterly,Vol80Issue3

42
IN SEARCH OF REFORM, NOT GIMMICKS

Neil O’Brien, Policy Exchange


ForalotofpeopletheMPs’expensesscandalwasthefinalstraw,andtheangerit
unleashedresembledtheburstingofadamofpent-upfrustration.Theimmediate
issuewillnowbecleanedup.Butthisalonewillnotfixtheunderlyingcausesof
disenchantment.IthinkthekeyissuestotacklearetheUK’soverlystrongparty
systemandthedriftofpowerintothehandsofbodiesthatarenotaccountable.So
forthatreasonitisnotsomuchconstitutionalreformthatisneededaspolitical
reform.Weneedtoweakenthepartysystemandputpowerinthehandsofthose
thepublicfeeltheycaninfluence.
Reformingthepartysystem
Thepoliticalclass
Votersseepoliticiansasarelativelyhomogenouselite–atruepolitical‘class’,in
thesensethatjournalistPeterObornehasdescribed–withitsowncertainsetof
mores,inwhichitisincreasinglydifficulttodistinguishonepartyfromanother.
Thepublicfeelthisgroupofpeoplespeaksitsownlanguage,doesnottellthetruth,
doesnotunderstandtheirproblems,looksafteritsownand(inrecentyears)has
becomerathertoofreeandeasyaboutspendingthepublic’smoney.Worstofall,
votersdonotfeeltheycandomuchaboutit–thepoliticalclasshasallthepower,
butisunaccountableandremote.
Thetworootcausesofthesevariouscomplaintsappeartobethestrengthofthe
partysystem,andthefactthatpowerisincreasinglynotinthehandsoflocal
peoplewhothepubliccaninfluence,butinsteadvestedininternationalbodies,the
courtsandremotequangos.
Accordingtoa2005HansardSocietypollingreport,politiciansareseenas
‘automatons’forcedtofollowpartylinesunderthedirectionofpartymanagers.
Theyfoundthat‘thepublictendstorejectpartyloyaltiesandpoliticalleadershipas
legitimateinfluencersonMPs’(Healeyetal 2005:24).Theirpollingfoundthatthe
publicthinkthatMPsshould voteaccordingtowhattheythinkisright,orwhat
theypromised,orwhatisrightforthecountry–whereasinpractice,thepublic
believe,MPssimplyvoteastheyaretoldtobypartymanagers.
AnotherHansardsocietypollfoundthatonly23percentofpeoplesaytheyare
notinterestedin‘nationalissues’.But47percentsaytheyarenotinterestedin
‘politics’.Inotherwords,itisthepartypolitics,nottheissues,thatturnpeopleoff.
Partypoliticsisalsoperceivedasdrivingdishonesty.76percentofthepublicthink
MPsdonottellthetruth.Why?MPscannotanswerastraightquestionbecause
theyhavetospoutthepartyline.
Itisclearthatthepublicdonotwant‘careerpoliticians’,butthatisthewaythings
aregoing.Itisnowveryhardtoreachthehighestheightsofpoliticsunlessyou
beginextremelyearly.IncreasedcontroloverselectionofMPsbythecentralparties
mightwellfavouradiversityofexperienceevenasitdiscriminatesagainsta
diversityofpoliticalviews.Ontheotherhand,openprimariesarelikelytofavour
localpeopleandthosewithsomekindofinterestingrealworldexperience(whichis

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Insearchofreform,notgimmicks

good).However,itmightalsobeassumedthatopenprimarieswouldleadtothe
selectionofmorecentristMPs thanifmembersofapartydecidedalone–thus
reducingthediversityofviews.Atpresentwedonotreallyknowwhethertheywill
bewidelyadopted(theyareveryexpensive)orwhattheirlong-termeffectmight
be.
Thepublicshouldnothavetopayforparties
Theexpensesscandalhasledsometoargueagainforstatefundingofpolitical
parties.Ironically,however,statefunding(intheformofexpenses)isexactlywhat
hasdamagedthereputationofMPs.Theseriouspointaboutthisisthatthepublic
donotacceptthattheyshouldbeforcedtofundpoliticalactivitythroughtaxation.
Contrarytopopularbelief,therehasbeenno‘armsrace’inpoliticalspendinginthe
UK.AtthelasttwoelectionstheToriesspentlessinrealtermsthantheydidin
1966and1970.Labour’sspendingdidincreaseinrealtermsoverthesameperiod,
butonlytoclosethegapwiththeConservatives.Sopoliticalpartieshavecertainly
provedcapableofraisingenoughmoneytocampaigneffectively.
WealreadyhavequitealotofstatefundingforpoliticalpartiesintheformofShort
Money(theannualpaymenttooppositionpartiesintheCommonstohelpthem
withtheircosts)andCranborneMoney(theequivalentintheLords).Thistotalled
about£4.5millionfortheConservativeslastyear–oraboutafifthoftheirbudget.
Thisistheleastbadformofspending,giventhetietoresearch.Nonetheless,
ultimatelythemoneyisfungibletosomeextent.Ifpartiesdidnothaveit,they
wouldhavetocutbackelsewhere–probablyonprintadvertising.
Statefundingforpoliticalpartiesisphilosophicallydifficulttojustify.Atthe
EuropeanlevelwealreadyhavestatefundingforpoliticalpartiesandIfeeldeeply
uneasythatmymoneyisbeinggiventohelpextremistpoliticalparties.Membersof
thepublicdonotliketheMPscommunicationsallowancebeingusedtofundglossy
propaganda.
Iftakentoahighlevelthiscanhavedisastrouspracticaleffects,creatingaself-
sustainingcartelofparties,insulatedfromthepublicanddependentonthestate.It
discriminatesagainstnewideasandoutsiders,andreducestheincentivesfor
politicianstostayintouchwiththevoters.
ThenewpoliticaltechniquespioneeredbyPresidentObamaarethepolaropposite
ofstatefunding.Thechangingtechnologyofcommunicationmakesiteasierfor
outsiderstoorganise.Itmakesitpossibleforpoliticianstofundtheiractivitiesfrom
manysmalldonationsratherthanafewlargeinterests.Politiciansfundedthisway
willbemoreresponsivethanthosefundedbythestate.
Evenbeforetheexpensesscandal,theproportionofpeoplewhofelttheycan
‘changethewaythingsarerun’bygettinginvolvedinpoliticswasfallingsteadily:
from37percentin2003to31percentin2008.Centralisationisclearlypartofthis
problem:25percentthinktheyhavesomeinfluenceoverhowthingsarerun
locally,butonly14percentdonationally.Localismiscentraltore-engagingthe
voters.

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ReformingParliament
GivingpowerbacktotheCommons
ThemainweaknessofthelegislatureisbecauseofthestrangleholdoftheExecutive
onParliament.TheExecutivehasthiscontrolbecauseofouroverly-strongparty
system.SotherearethreethingsweneedtodotoempowerParliament:
1.Takepartylabelsofftheballotpaperatelectiontime.
Politiciansshouldbeelectedbecauseoftheirownpersonalqualities,notthecolourof
therosettetheyarewearing.Until1970onlytheMP’snameappearedontheballot,
socandidatescouldnotrelyontheirpartytocarrythem.Theyhadtobelocalheroes.
MPscanbecomemoreindependentwithoutincreasingthenumberof‘Independents’.
IfMPsowedlesstotheirparties,andtheirre-electiondependedmoreontheirown
personalpoliticalbasetheywouldbemorelikelytovotewiththeirconscienceand
theirperceptionoftheevidence.ThemorethatMPsfeeltheycanstanduptotheir
parties,themore‘cliffhanger’voteswewillhave,andthemorerelevantParliament
andparliamentarydebateswillbe.Parliamentcanbeexcitingandnewsworthy.Butthe
strengthofthewhipsandweaknessoftheMPsveryoftenpreventsitfrombeingso.
2.ShrinkthepermittedsizeoftheGovernmentinParliament–theso-called‘payroll
vote’.
Wecouldestablisharuleorconventionthatnotmorethanacertainpercentageof
MPsshouldbeallowedtoholdGovernmentjobs.Thatwouldfitwithothermovesin
thedirectionofaproperseparationofpowersandresponsibilities.
3.Setalimitontheproportionofparliamentarytimethatcanbetakenupby
Governmentbusiness.
OvertimetheExecutivehascometodominateparliamentarybusinessmoreandmore.
Itmightbepossibletocreatemoreparliamentarytimeforindependentbusinessby
increasingthenumberofhoursintheparliamentaryyear,butthealternativeof
cappingGovernmenttimehastheaddedadvantageofdiscouraginglegislativeover-
productionbytheGovernment.
Thesethreereformstakentogetherwouldhaveacombinedeffect.Ifrebellingwere
lessdangerousandmoreattractive,andrebellionshadagreaterchanceofsucceeding,
andthereweremorechanceofinitiatinglegislationfromoutsidetheGovernment,
thenParliamentwouldbeamuchmoreexcitingandrelevantplace.MPswouldbe
rescuedfromtheircurrentdepressingstatusas‘pager-slaves’,jumpingtovotewhen
summonedbytheirparty.
ThelossofpowerfromParliamenttootherunaccountablebodiesisalsoimportant.Far
andawaythemostimportantistheEuropeanUnion,becauseEuropeanlegislation
nowdominatestheoutputoflegislationinWestminster.
Butthereareotherimportantproblems.Theincreaseinjudicialactivismandhuman
rightslaw,confusionoverministerialresponsibilityforexecutivedecisionswhichare
actuallymadebyofficials,andthegrowthofpolicymakingquangoshaveallweakened
Parliamentanddiminisheditsrelevance.Thepowersofallthesegroupsshouldbe
curtailed.Butequallyimportantlyweneedtoturbo-chargethepowerofParliamentto
scrutinisetheseoutsidebodies.
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Insearchofreform,notgimmicks

‘Strengtheningthecommitteesystem’soundsboring,buttheworkofthecommittees
isamongthemostusefuloutputofParliament.Makingtheircommitteechairsmore
independentispartoftheanswer,andincreasingthenumberofresearchersand
expertstheyemployistheotherpart.Itwouldpayforitselfmanytimesoverin
reducedgovernmentwaste.Insomecases,theyshouldbegivennewpowers.
LimitedreformoftheLords
AtpresenttheHouseofLordsdoesareasonablejobasarevisingchamber.Ithasbeen
alimitedcheckonelectivedictatorshipinrecentdecades–andtherehavebeenfew
otherchecks.Itisnotthebiggestproblemfacingourpoliticalsystem.
Clearlythehereditarypeerswillhavetogo.Andmovingfromappointingtoelecting
theLordsisveryisattractiveinprinciple.Butitcouldbetrickyinpractice.
ThepublicwantarangeofexperiencesinParliament.Aslongasthereissomeelement
ofappointmentintheLords,thatis–oratleastshouldbe–anidealwaytobringin
expertsfromparticularfields.Directlyelectingsomeofthememberscertainlywould
notbeadisaster.Butaboveacertainthresholdapart-electedUpperHousewouldbe
likelytofinditselfinacontestoflegitimacywiththeCommons(andafullyelected
onecertainlywould).Soifwewanttohavemorethanasmallnumberofelected
members,andparticularlyifwegoforfullelection,thenweneedtobeclearabouttwo
things:whatalternativebasisoflegitimacyshoulditsmembershave–andwhatare
thelimitsonthepowersofthesecondchamber?
Electingasecondchamberonessentiallythesamebasisasthefirstandgivingitreal
powerwouldbepointless,andpotentiallyarecipefordisastrousgridlock.InGermany
themembersoftheUpperHouseareappointedbythestates,andaretheretofight
centralisation.Thisseemstobethemostreasonablealternativebasisoflegitimacyfora
secondchamber.
ButeventhoughitonlyhascompetencetodealwithissuesaffectingtheLänder,there
havebeenanumberofexamplesofgridlockinGermany,whichisinevitableifthe
secondchamberistohaveanyrealpower.TheBundesrat,throughwhichthefederal
statesparticipateinthelegislationandadministrationoftheFederation,works
smoothlybecauseeffectivelyonly16peoplevote,onbehalfoftheirstates,whichare
largeandpowerful.ButintheUKwehave434localgovernments.Andbecauseofthe
weaknessoflocalgovernment,theyappeartobeelectedmainlyasaproxyvoteonthe
incumbentgovernment.Thisinturnmeansthetwomainpartiesexperiencewild
swingsintheirsupport,andbothhavecomeclosetototallocalwipeoutin1997and
2009.Asitstands,thiswouldnotbeareasonablebasisonwhichtobuildasecond
chamberastherewouldhavebeennocheckonLabourafter1997andnoneonthe
Toriesiftheywereelectedin2010.
Wecertainlywanttoseesuccessfullocalleadersthrownuptothenationallevel.Ifwe
wereonlygoingtoelectasmallproportionoftheLordsitcouldbeinterestingand
usefultohavesomemembersoftheLordstorepresenttheinterestsofawholearea,
forexamplethewholeofamajorcity,orthewholeofacounty.Isuspectthat
successfullocalcouncilleaderswouldmakegoodcandidates.

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Changingthevotingsystemwouldmakethingsworse
ProportionalRepresentationwouldexacerbatetherootproblemsthathavecausedthe
currentcrisisofpoliticallegitimacy.
Firstly,PRsystemsarebadfortheaccountabilityofMPstolocalpeople.Some
systemscutthetiebetweentheMemberofParliamentandthearea.Othersprevent
thevotersfrompunishingparticularMPswhoarehighuptheirpartylist.For
example,althoughalmostnooneinBritainknowsthenameoftheirMembersof
theEuropeanParliament,ifthepublicdidwanttogetridofthetop-placedmember
ofaparty’slistattheEuroelections,theywouldstruggletodoso.Infact,they
wouldhavetodrivethatwholeparty’sshareofthevotedowntoaverylowlevel.
IfformerConservativeMPNeilHamiltonhadbeenanMEP,hewouldstillhavehis
job.
Secondly,atthenationallevel,PRwouldfurtherweakentheaveragevoterrelative
tothepoliticalparties.Thekeydifferencebetweenfirst-past-the-postandallPR
systemsistheeffectonthepartysystemandthenatureofcoalitionnegotiations.
Underfirst-past-the-postthemainpartiesareeffectivelybroadcoalitions,with
theirprogrammepredeterminedandpresentedopenlyinadvanceoftheelection.In
PRsystemstherearetypicallylotsmoresmallpartiesinParliament,andthe
compositionoftheGovernmentisdeterminedbypost-electionnegotiations
betweenpoliticalparties,withverysmallpartiestypicallypunchingfarabovetheir
weight.
Forexample,inBelgiumin2007theelectionresultedinsmallmovesupanddown
forthetenmainparties.Itthentookjustunder200daystoformagovernment
becauseofthebafflingcomplexityoftheinter-partynegotiations.Insuchasystem
theoutcomeoftheelectionoftenbearsnorelationtothechangeintheactualvote
receivedbytheparties.Who‘wins’isdeterminedbysmallnumbersofpolitical
leaderswhocompetetocobbletogetherdifferentcomplexcoalitionsbetween
themselvesinprivate.PRadvocatesoftencomplainabout‘wastedvotes’.Arguably,
inPRsystemsvotingismoreofawasteoftime.
First-past-the-postofferstheelectorateaclearandopenchoice,andtheoutcome
oftheelectiondecideswhichbroaddirectionthecountrygoesin.PRshiftsthe
locusofpoweroutoftheopenandintotheprivatebackroomsinwhichdeals
betweenpartyleadersarestitchedup.
Notocompulsoryvoting
Somepoliticianslovecompulsoryvotingbecauseitcoversupgeneralisedapathyand
discontentwiththesystem;Iamstronglyagainstit.IntheBritishsystemthisis
revealedbythenumberofpeoplewhodonotvote.Philosophically,itisdifficultto
justifywhypeopleshouldbemadetovoteinafreecountry.
Itwouldalsobeoddtoextendthevoteto16-year-olds.Ifwedonotwanttoletthem
buycigarettesorabeerinapub,whyshouldtheybegiventhevote?Thissuggestion
isoftenadvancedinthecontextofincreasingturnout.Butnearlyfourintenvoters
whowereentitledtovotedidnotatthelastelection.Tacklingthisisamore
fundamentalissue.
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Insearchofreform,notgimmicks

Empoweringthecitizenthroughreferendums
Iamahugeenthusiastforreferendums,whicharerealcitizenpower,andincreasingly
formpartofourregularpoliticallifeinBritain.Thecurrentgovernmenthascalled
several(devolutioninScotlandWales,NorthernIreland,andLondon)andpromised
more(ifitdecidestojointheeuro,orchangetheelectoralsystem).Localareashave
heldlotsmore–forexampleoncongestioncharginginManchester,theNorthEast
Assemblyandelectedcitymayors.
Weshouldnowformalisetheuseofthereferendumandmakeitarulethatonecanbe
triggeredwiththesupportofacertain(reasonablyhigh)proportionoftheelectorate.
Somepeoplelookatreferendumsasbeingaforeignimport.Infact,theideahasdeep
rootsinBritain.BothJohnLockeandthegreatconstitutionalistAVDiceywere
supporters.Diceynotedtheadvantagesofaskingthepublicspecificquestions,rather
thanrequestingthattheychoosepersonalitiesandwholepackagesofpolicies
simultaneously:
Ivaluethereferendumfirstbecauseitisdoingawaywiththestrictlyabsurd
systemwhichatpresentexists,ofactingonthepresumptionthatelectorscan
bestanswerthequestionraised...whenitisputtogetherwithsuchatotally
differentquestion...andgenerallythatitiswisetomixupsystematically,
questionsofpersonswithquestionsofprinciple,andsecondly,thoughina
certainsensemainlybecausethereferendumisanemphaticassertionofthe
principlethatnationstandsaboveparties.(1894,quotedinQvortrup2005:48)
Theargumentsagainstreferendumsaremostlyargumentsagainstdemocracyitself.
Thereissomethingcuriousabouttheideathatvoterscannotbetrustedtomakethe
rightdecisionaboutasingleissue,butcanbetrustedtochoosethe‘right’
representativestodecideforthem.
Votersarebetterinformedandeducatedthaneverandbetterabletomakedecisions
thanpoliticiansgivethemcreditfor.Forexample,inDenmarkduringthe1992
MaastrichtTreatyreferendumthepoliticalmagazine Press askedarepresentative
sampleofvoterstoidentifyanumberofsalientfactorsabouttheTreaty.Themagazine
subsequentlyaskedacross-sectionofback-benchMPsthesamequestions.Theresult
wasthatthevotersknewasmuchabouttheissuesastheMPs.
Theotherfearaboutreferendumsisthattheywillsomehowmakeprogrammaticparty
governmentimpossible.Theonlycountryinwhichdirectdemocracyplaysasbigarole
asindirectdemocracyisSwitzerland,whichishardlyteeteringontheedgeofanarchy.
Usedmoresparingly,theyarenowanormalpartofgovernmentinnearlyall
developedcountries.TheyhavebeenheldinalmosteveryEuropeancountry.They
havenotmadecountriesungovernable.
Referendumsincreasepublicengagementandknowledgeaboutpolitics.Intheirbook
EducatedbyInitiative,AmericanpoliticalscientistsDanielA.SmithandCarolineTolbert
foundevidencethatprovisionsforreferendumsincreaseturnout(foreverytwo
propositionsontheballot,turnoutgoesupby1percent)andthatreferendums
increaseinterestinpolitics(foreverytworeferendumsontheballotthenumberof

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peoplediscussingpoliticsincreasesby1percent)(TolbertandSmith2004).Thereis
similarevidencefromEurope.
Havingacceptedtheprincipleofreferendums,Britainshouldnowformaliseandwiden
theiruse.Theyhavegreatpotentialforbringingdemocracytolife.
Localismovercentralism
Evenbeforetheexpensesscandal,theproportionofpeoplewhofelttheycould
‘changethewaythingsarerun’bygettinginvolvedinpoliticswasfallingsteadily:
from37percentin2003to31percentin2008.Centralisationisclearlypartofthis
problem:25percentthinktheyhavesomeinfluenceoverhowthingsarerunlocally,
butonly14percentnationally.
Again,weneedpoliticalchangejustasmuchasstructuralorconstitutionalchange.
Despitetheoverwhelmingevidenceofthefailuresofcentralism,ourpoliticalcultureis
stillcaughtupinthedelusionofcentralomnipotence.Whichnationalpoliticianwill
admitthatsomeburninglocalissueisnoneoftheirbusinessandoutsidetheircontrol?
Whichjournalistwillwritethata‘postcodelottery’intheperformanceofsomeservice
isactuallyaperfectlyunderstandablevariationofservice,basedonadiversityof
preferencesandcontinuouslocalexperimentation?Whowilltakeastandonprinciple,
andtellwell-meaningnationalpoliticiansandofficialsthattheymustsimplykeep
theirnosesoutofalocalissue?
Localismcanbebrokendownintothreetypes:

•Nationalservicescanberuninsuchawayastobemoreresponsivetolocalneeds
•LocalGovernmentcanbesetfreetobemoreresponsive
•Nationalandlocalgovernmentcansetgroupsandindividualsfreetorunthingsfor
themselves.
Therearemanybigstructuralideasforreformingthedeliveryofnationalservicesto
makethemmorelocalist–fromschoolchoicetoelectedpoliceorjustice
commissioners.Thereisstillquitealotthatcouldbedonetoexpandonthistheme–
particularlyinthebigareasofhealthandwelfare.
ButIthinkthebigthingthatmustbedoneislessvisible:wemustabolishasmanyas
possibleofthethousandsofcentraltargetsthathavebeenimposedonpublicservices
inthemisguidedbeliefthatthisconstitutes‘management’.Aswellasbeingsetfree
fromthewhimsandfadsofthecentre,localservicesshouldbegiventhefreedomsto
managewhichtheyarecurrentlydenied–forexample,byendingnationalruleson
pay,conditionsandstaffing.
Intermsoflocalgovernment,thevisionarygoalwouldbetohavelocalauthoritiesraise
muchmoreoftheirownincome,throughamixofproperty,incomeandbusinesstaxes.
Councilscurrentlyraisejustaquarteroftheirrevenuefromcounciltax,andgetabout
halfintheformofproject-specificgrantsfromcentralgovernment.Agoodfirststep
wouldbetocompressallthesmallring-fencedpotsofmoneyintoasinglegrant,like
theold‘blockgrant’whichlocalcouncilscouldspendastheyliked,withinreason.After
thatthewholeapparatusofcentraltargetsandrequirementsshouldbeabolished.
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Insearchofreform,notgimmicks

Thefinalstageofdevolution–toindividualsandgroups–canbedoneinvarious
ways.Itcouldmeansimplygivingpeopletheirownbudget,whichappearstobe
havingbeneficialeffectsinadultsocialcare.Oritcouldbedonebylookingathow
localandcentralgovernmentscommissionservices.Manymoreservicescouldbe
commissioned,ratherthanbeingcentrallyprovided.Andatpresentevenwherethere
iscommissioning,privateorcharitableprovidersareoftendiscriminatedagainst–
eitherbecausecommissionersandprovidersarenotsplitorbecausethepricing
frameworkisdistorted.
Localismofthesethreekindscoulddoalottorevitaliseourdemocracy–andimprove
ourpublicservices.
ReformingourrelationshipwiththeEuropeanUnion
AreferendumonthescopeofourrelationshipwiththeEUislongoverdue.Pollshave
shownthatnineoutoftenofthepublicsupportsareferendumontheEU
Constitution/LisbonTreaty.
AccordingtotheEuropeanCommission’sregularEurobarometerpoll,backin199255
percentofpeopleinBritainthoughttheEUwasa‘goodthing’and15percenta‘bad
thing’,amajorityoffourtooneinfavour.Thatsupporthasdeclinedsteadilysothat
todaytheproportionsareequal.Bytwotoone,theEurobarometerpollfoundthat
peopledonotfeelBritainbenefitsineconomictermsfromitsmembership.
Partlyforstructuralreasons,andpartlybecauseoftheweaknessofreportingonthe
EU,thepublichavelittleideahowmanydecisionsaretakenattheEuropeanlevel.The
(pro-EU)foreignpolicyexpertMarkLeonardhaswrittenthat:
Europe’spoweriseasytomiss.Likean‘invisiblehand’,itoperatesthroughthe
shelloftraditionalpoliticalstructures.TheBritishHouseofCommons,British
lawcourts,andBritishcivilservantsarestillhere,buttheyhaveallbecome
agentsoftheEuropeanUnionimplementingEuropeanlaw. (Leonard2005)
Thevastmajority(72percent)ofnewregulationsintroducedinBritainoverthelast
decadehavecomefromtheEU.Manythingsthatpeoplethinkaredomesticdecisions
areinfacttheresultofEuropeanlegislation,fromHomeInformationPackstothe
downsizingofstaffatthenationalisedbanks.EUdecisionspowerfullyshapeevery
areaofdomesticpolicy,fromenvironmentaltargetstothenumberofhoursworkedin
theNHS.
Thepublic,oratleastanyoneundertheageof52,havenotbeenaskedwhetherthisis
whattheywant.Formanyvoters,theEUisclearlyseenastheapotheosisofallthey
dislikeaboutremote,unaccountablepolitics.Onlyputtingthefutureofour
relationshipwith‘Europe’tothepublicwillreallycleartheair.
IfBritainistoremainafullmemberstate,weneedtodealwiththeEUdifferently.In
totaltheEUproducesanaverageoffourpiecesoflegislationaweek,regardlessof
whethernationalparliamentsaresitting.Atpresentthislegislationfloodsthroughthe
HouseofCommonswithnorealscrutiny.WestminsterMPsshouldhavethesame
‘mandating’powersenjoyedbyMPsinDenmarkandSwedentocontrolwhatthe
GovernmentcanandcannotsignuptoinBrussels.TheGovernmentshouldbealso
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preventedfromusingthe‘scrutinyoverride’topreventtheEuropeanScrutiny
Committeefromdebatingissues(itdoesthisonaverageabout70or80timesayear,
typicallyonthemostimportantmatters.
TheremustalsobemoretransparencyaboutwhatisbeingdecidedforusinBrussels.
AweeklyquestiontimeforourPermanentRepresentativetotheEU(eitherinthe
CommonschamberorinCommittee)wouldallowParliamenttoproperlyscrutinise
whattheexecutiveisdoinginBrussels.
Conclusion
Thelevelofanti-politiciansentimentiscertainlyhigh–butdangerousorextremist
forcesarenotlikelytobreakthrough,Ibelieve,aslongaswerefrainfromadoptingPR
andthefragmentedpoliticsthatwouldcomewithit.
Gimmickswillnotsolvethepublic’sfrustrationwithpartypoliticsandthelossof
controltounaccountablebodies.
TheexpensesscandalwillcometobeseenasasalutaryexperienceforBritain’s
politiciansaslongaswedrawtherightconclusionsfromthecrisis.
NeilO’BrienistheDirectorofPolicyExchange.
HealeyJ,GillMandMcHughD(2005)MPsandpoliticsinourtime London:Dod’sParliamentary
Communications
LeonardM(2005)‘Europe’sTransformativePower’,CERBulletin,Issue40,February/March,Centre
forEuropeanReform
QvortrupM(2005)AComparativeStudyofReferendums:GovernmentbythePeople,Manchester:
ManchesterUniversityPress,2ndEdition
TolbertCJandSmithDA(2004)EducatedbyInitiative:TheEffectsofDirectDemocracyonCitizens
andPoliticalOrganizationsintheAmericanStates TheUniversityofMichiganPress

51
TIME TO TURN POLITICS ON ITS HEAD

Jessica Asato, Progress


Constitutionalandpoliticalreformhasalwayssufferedfromanimageproblem.
Perceivedasthedomainoflawyers,academicsandpoliticalanoraks,real
constitutionalchangehasmostlybeendriventhroughatthebehestofenlightened,
orthreatened,politicalleaders.Citizen-ledreformhasbeenlessforthcoming–
whencrime,employmentandpublicservicesarethetopofpeople’sconcerns,itis
easyforpoliticianstodismissargumentsforchangeasmiddle-classchatter.Itis
tellingthattheoneconstitutionalcampaignthatprobablyhadthemostimpactwas
Charter88,nowUnlockDemocracy,whichconvincedLabourinoppositionto
includemanyofitsproposalsasmanifestopromises.Onceinpower,however,all
governmentsfindithardertoletgoandtrustthepublicanddespiteintroducinga
numberofgoodreformsincludingdevolutionandtheHumanRightsAct,Labour’s
plansremainedhalf-baked.
Thisiswhysomeconstitutionalreformerswanttousetheexpensescrisistoturnpublic
angerintopublicpressureforanewsystem.Itisan,albeittime-limited,opportunityto
galvanisepublicsupportinfavourofchangingpoliticsforgood.Thecosyclubwhichso
manyinpoliticsknowabout,buthavedonenothingtodismember,hasbeenshownin
itsTechnicolorugliness.TheexpensessystemwithitsrulesdesignedtotopupMPs’
paybecausetheyhavebeentooscaredtoaskforhigherremunerationovertheyears,
isevidenceofthemoregeneralproblemwithourpoliticalsystem.Itisself-serving,
over-centralised,unresponsiveandunrepresentative.Fromourunfairvotingsystemto
thewaycandidatesareselectedinpoliticalparties,thisisatimethatdemandsthe
politytolookanewatwaysofimprovingourdemocracy.
Asanorganisationthathasconsistentlychampionedconstitutionalreforminthe
Labourmovement,Progresswelcomesthisopportunitytoengagewiththinktanks
acrossthepoliticalspectrumonpolicyproposalstocreatefairer,moretransparentand
relevantpolitics.Werecognisethatconsensuswillbedifficulttoachieveonevery
issue,butwherethereiscommonground,theresponsibleandpublic-spiritedresponse
mustbetofindwaysofputtingourideasintopractice.
Politicians
Itisobviousthatthestandingofpoliticianshasbeenseriouslydamagedbythe
expensesdebacle.SofewpeopleoutsideParliamenthadanyideahowthearcane
systemofreceiptsandclaimsworked,orhowthefeesofficeallowedMPstomax-out
theirallowances.FreedomofinformationrequestswereflatlydeniedasMPs
vigorouslydefendedtheirrighttokeepdetailsoftheirclaimsprivate.Individual
politiciansmayhavecomea-cropper,butthevastmajorityofpoliticianswerewilling
tocolludeinasystemthatprotectedtheirinterestsandkeptthepublicblind.
Evenaspublicangerstartedtoerupt,politicianswerestilltobefoundindignantly
assertingtheirrighttoprivacy,claimingmobactionruledthedayandthattheyhad
everyrighttoclaimthemaximumtheycould.ThefactthatMPs’profligacywasso
starklycontrastedagainstthegrowingrecessiondidnothelp,buttheresponseofsome
so-calledhonourablememberswasquitestartlingevenforpoliticalaficionadoswho
expectedthemtobehavealittlemorecontritely.

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Toundothedamage,itishopedthatSirChristopherKelly’sreportinlate2009will
insistonmaximumtransparencyandefficiencyinexpenses.Ofcourseitisimportant
thatMPswithconstituenciesoutsideLondonhavefinancialhelptoallowthemtofulfil
theirduties.Itwouldbearetrogradestepifreformpreventedmembersfromspending
moretimewithconstituentsoronlyencouragedtheindependentlywealthytoput
themselvesforwardforParliament.Restraintwithexpenses,however,wouldbeagood
move.IfMPswishtolivethehighlifeorspendmoneytravellingfirstclass,itshould
notbeontaxpayers’money.Neitherisitfairthatmemberscanusethatmoneyto
makeprofitfromproperty.InsteadtheGovernmentshouldconsiderintroducinga
systemoffundingforhomesoutsideofLondonthatrequiresreceiptedpaymentsfor
theaveragerentorhotelaccommodationintheregion.
Butthesystemofallowancescannolongerbeallowedtobeasubstitutefordiscussing
howmuchMPsshouldbepaidinrelationtotheimportantroletheyplayinour
democracy.Nowisprobablynotthetimetohavethisdeliberationasthepublicstill
simmerswithfuryandtherecessioncontinuestocreateunemployment.Theissueof
pay,however,needstoeventuallybediscussedifwewanttoincreasetheesteemof
electedpolitics,nomatterhowdifficultthepublicconversationwillbe.Beinga
politicianshouldbeamixofacalling,publicserviceandprofessionalendeavour.It
cannotberestrictedtoawealthyorpoliticalelite,andwhilethedaysofdeferenceare
behindus,bringingrespectbacktotherolemustbepartandparcelofreforms.It
seemsabsurdthatchiefexecutivesofcouncilsandquangosarereadilypaidsalaries
withpublicmoneyabove£100,000,yetMPswhoshouldbeequallyvaluedinsociety
ifnotmoresomakedowithmuchless.Aracetothebottomofthesalaryscalein
ordertoshowadequatepenancewillnothelpthesituation.
Similarly,itwouldbeashameifpoliticiansfeltthattheonlywaytogetbackintothe
public’sgoodbookswastobecomewhatisderogatorilytermedas‘glorifiedsocial
workers’.Thereneedstobeabalancebetweenthetimepoliticiansspendwiththeir
constituents,helpingtosortoutcaseworkandunderstandingthedynamicsoftheir
area,andthetimespentinParliamentworkingonlegislation,SelectCommitteesandin
government.Modernpoliticsisfarmoredemandingthanfiftyyearsago,when
politiciansregularlyhadtimetowritepoliticaltomesandtakelongholidays.We
cannotdemandthatpoliticiansactlesslikerobotsandmorelikenormalpeople,ifwe
forcethemintoworkingpracticesthatdonotencouragefamilylife,leisureandtime
forrealscrutinyofParliament.
Parliament
OnewayinwhichalittleprominencemightbebroughtbacktotheroleofanMPisif
theirtimeinParliamentisusedmoreproductivelyandpowerfully.Atpresent,there
aretwomainwaysofbeingnoticedfromthegreenbenches–becomingaministeror
becomingamaverick.Hardworkingbackbencherswhomayperformahugevarietyof
rolesonall-partyparliamentarygroups,orincharities,orintheirconstituenciesare
eitherperceivedaslobbyfodderorsoun-ambitiousthattheyaren’tworthpaying
attentionto.
IncreasingtheimportanceofSelectCommitteeswouldbeonewaytocreatean
alternativecareerrouteinParliament,whileatthesametimestrengtheningthe
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Timetoturnpoliticsonitshead

accountabilityoftheExecutive.AgoodstartwouldbetogiveMPstherighttovotefor
SelectCommitteechairswithoutwhipping.Thiswouldensurethatchairsarechosen
fortheirabilitytoaskdifficultquestionsratherthanwhethertheyagreewiththe
Government.ItwouldalsoconfergreaterindependenceonthereportsSelect
Committeesproduce,whichareofteninstructivebutmostlyignored.Increasing
resourcesforstaffwouldalsohelpinthisrespect.
OtherwaysofbeefingupSelectCommitteeswouldincludegivingthemtherightto
initiatebills(possiblylinkedtocitizen-ledinitiatives,asproposedbythe
Conservatives)andtherighttomakemajorpublicappointments,linkedtothe
opportunitytoremovesaidappointmentsundercertaincircumstances.Ifitisdifficult
forthepublictoseeparliamentariansholdingtheGovernmenttoaccountthroughthe
barrackingofPrimeMinister’sQuestions,atleastbygivingSelectCommitteesmore
powers,theymightdeveloparespectforthoseMPswhousuallyworkhardbutdoso
unnoticedoutsideofthechamber.Americanpoliticiansbuildstrongreputations
becauseoftheirworkonCongressionalcommittees,andwhileitisunlikelytheUK
Parliamentwilladoptfullseparationofpowers,littlestepstowardsgreaterexecutive
accountabilitywouldbewelcome.
Inthisvein,onerelativelysimplewayofreducingthepoweroftheExecutivewould
betolimitthenumberofMPsonthegovernmentpayroll.Thenumberofministershas
burgeonedundertheLabourgovernment,makingwhippingeasierandthereforea
positiveoutcomefortheGovernmentmorelikely.WhileresearchbyPhilipCowley
showsthatthecommonconceptionofLabourparliamentariansbeinggovernment
lapdogsisnotnecessarilytrueinthattherehavebeenmorerebellionsinthelastthree
parliamentsthaninanyotherperiod,itistruethatthenumberofministersonthe
payrollhasrisenfrom121in1983to141in2008.Ifthewhipsarenolongerableto
relyonthethreatofsackingministers,bothingovernmentandinshadowcabinet
teams,theremightbeareturntomoreverballypersuasivemethodsofconvincing
fellowparliamentarianstosupportoropposelegislation.Debatesandforceof
argumentmightbegintotakecentralstageinsteadofpartiespurelyplayinganumbers
game.
TheHouseofLordsshouldnotescapecensureeither.Itisextraordinarythatthe
onlyelectionsthathavetakenplacesince1999areamongtheunelectedhereditary
peerswhenoneoftheirnumberdies.Itishopedthatallpartieswillbackafully
electedHouseofLordsasannouncedbythePrimeMinister.Eitheronebelievesina
principlewhichrulesthatultimatelyindividualswhohavenodemocraticlegitimacy
shouldnotpasslaws,oronedoesnot.
Wehaveover-exaggeratedtheindependentexpertiseofmembersoftheHouseof
Lords.Yes,anumberofexcellentmembersoftheUpperHousehavemade
legislationimmeasurablybetter,buttheideathatthesameindividualswouldonly
dosoiftheyhadtheprivilegeofanhonourdoesnotseemparticularlyhonourable
inthefirstplace.Eitherourmostbrilliantlawyers,scientists,artists,
philanthropists,militaristsandethiciststhinkitisanimportantdutytocometothe
aidoftheirparliamentarians,ortheydonot.Bribingthemtousetheirknowledgein
returnforapeerageseemsbesidethepoint.

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Publicengagement
NotallreformsneedtotakeplacewithinWestminster,however,andifwesimplyleave
itatthat,weareunlikelytoseeagenuinetransformationofpolitics.Onechange,
whichcouldcreateaseismicshiftinthewaythatwegoaboutourpolitics,wouldbeto
introduceamoreproportionalvotingsystem.Theargumentshavebeenwellrehearsed,
buttheybearrepeating.Atthemoment,thevastmajorityofWestminsterseatsarea
foregoneconclusionbeforetheelectioniseverheld.ThereisnopointinaLabourvoter
turningouttovoteinWitney,oraConservativeturningoutinLiverpoolRiverside.
Theprincipleofyourvotecountingisanimportantone.Whilemostpeople(87per
centaccordingtotheHansardSociety’smostrecentauditofpublicengagementwith
politics)thinkitistheirdutytovote,farfewerdo.Butweshouldnotbesurprised
aboutthis.Itisarationalresponsetotheknowledgethatmostly,theirvotedoesnot
makeablindbitofdifference.Allofthepublicengagementcampaignsintheworld
wouldnotchangethatrealityorthepublic’sresponsetoit.
Ourfirst-past-the-postsystemforcespoliticalpartiestoconcentrateonatinynumber
ofmarginalseatsandpredominantlythemiddleclasseswithinthem.Inturnthis
meansthatonly2percentoftheelectorategettheundividedattentionoftheir
politiciansatelectiontime.Thisskewsthepoliciesofpartiesastheygeartheir
messagestovotersintheSouthEastandtheM1corridorwheremostmarginalseats
aretobefound.Soitisnowonderthat85percentofthepublicfeelasthoughthey
havenoinfluenceoverdecision-makingintheircountry(HansardSociety2009).
Progressivepoliticsshouldnotviewthingsinblackandwhite.Policymakingand
politicaldecision-takingisnecessarilyafraughtandcomplexprocess.Yetinourhaste
toplacatetheworriedswingvotersinmarginalseats,politiciansfromallparties
presenttheirplatformas‘EasyPolitics’–alow-cost,mixandmatchchoicewhichwill
getvoterstotheirdestinationinrecordtime.Thishasledtohardchoicesbeingfudged
behindcloseddoorsoneverythingfromconstitutionalreformtoclimatechange,from
Europetoenergypolicy.Whenscaringoffthemiddlebecomestheballandchainon
everypolitician’sfoot,ourpoliticsbecomesneutered,devoidofrealcontentand
debate.
Changingthevotingsystemwillnotnecessarilyincreasevoterturnout,norwillit
fundamentallychangethenatureofpoliticians–aquickreadofCicerotellsusthat.
Butitcouldhelptorealignourpoliticssothatpoliticiansareforcedtoacknowledge
thattheywillhavetocompromise,buildcoalitions,andadmitthatnoteverythingisas
easyasallthat.Infact,theywillhavetoliveouttheirpoliticsalittlemorelikepeople
livetheireverydaylives.
Anothermeasurewhichthosewhobelieveinsocialjusticeshouldbeconsideringis
introducingcompulsoryvoting.Notbecausepoliticalactivistshavelosttheirtether
withthepublic,orbecausetheElectoralCommission’sadvertisingbudgetisthreatened
byapotentialConservativegovernment.Butbecausethereisarealimbalance
betweentheyoungandtheold,therichandthepoor,andwhiteandethnicminority
groupswhenitcomestovoting.Althoughturnouthasbeenindeclineamongall
demographicgroupssincethe1970s,ithasdeclinedthemostamongthelowestsocio-

55
Timetoturnpoliticsonitshead

economicgroups.Inthe1960stherewasaroundaseven-pointdifferenceinturnout
betweenthehighestandlowestearners;by2005thisfigurehadincreasedtoaround
13points.Foreveryyoungpersonwhoturnedouttovotein2005,morethantwo
olderpeoplevoted.
Politicianscanthereforeaffordtoignorethepoor,theyoungandthenon-aligned,
panderinginsteadtothemiddle,theoldandthepartysupporter.Makingit
mandatorytoturnoutinelectionswouldensurethatallvoters’voicesarelistened
tobypoliticians,andafairerreflectionofvoters’prioritiesmightresult.Morethan
30countries,includingAustralia,Belgium,GreeceandSwitzerland,dosoandtheir
turnoutis15percenthigheronaverage.IntheUK,suchamovecouldshiftthe
emphasisoncanvassingandturningoutthosevoterswhohaveidentifiedwithone
partyontothenon-affiliatedanddisillusioned.Inturn,thiscouldleadpoliticiansto
advocatethosepoliciesthatmosthelpthepoorandtheyoung.
Onefinalimportantwaythatwouldreallyhelptoshapethefutureofconstitutional
reformwouldbetointroduceaCitizens’Convention.Sincepoliticianshavefailedto
comeupwithanysatisfactory,detailedconstitutionalreformplan,itmakessenseto
convenearandomlyselectedconventionofcitizenstodeliberateoneverythingfrom
HouseofLordsreformtomethodsofgreaterdevolution.Bytrustingthepublicto
designsignificantconstitutionalchange,theideathatthepublicarethearbitersofour
politicalmachinerywillgaintractionandhelptoputthembackinthedrivingseatof
radicalreform.
Politicalparties
Primariesofficiallycameofagein2009.InearlyAugusttheConservativeParty
adoptedaprimaryinitsparliamentaryselectioninTotnes,Devon,followingthe
resignationofexpensespariah,SirAnthonySteen.Over20,000voters,around23.9
percentaccordingtotheConservatives,turnedouttoselectalocalGPinwhathas
beenseenasthemostsuccessfuluseofaprimaryyet,albeitata£20,000costtothe
party.
InJuneDavidMiliband,theForeignSecretary,cameoutinfavourofthemethodina
speechgiventotheJohnSmithMemorialTrust.Hesaid,‘thetraditionalpolitical
structuresofmainstreampoliticalpartiesaredying.Shrinkingmembership,declining
affinity,fuzzyidentity,leadmanytoproclaimthatdeathhasalreadyhappened,with
fewtearsatthefuneral.’MilibandcitedthesuccessoftheGreeksocialistparty,
PASOK,whichusedprimariestoselectpartycandidatesforlocalelections,as
somethingthatshouldbeconsideredintheUK.ItlookslikePASOK’sattempttoreach
outbeyonditstraditionalpartymembershipwasonereasonforitsrecentelection
success.
TessaJowell,MinisterfortheCabinetOffice,wasthefirstseniorCabinetMinisterto
signalhersupport,inaspeechinJuneatthinktankDemos.HigherEducationminister,
andpossiblecandidatefortheLabourcandidateforLondonMayor,DavidLammyalso
supportsprimaries.HisregardforPresidentObama’sground-breakingcampaigntowin
thepresidencylastyearhasledhimtobelievethatBritaincoulddevelopitsownbrand
ofmovementpolitics.

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Ingeneral,however,grassrootspoliticalactivistshaveviewedthisinnovationwith
distrust,seeingitasanattackontheirautonomyanduniqueroleassigned-upparty
members.Conservativemembershaveacceptedprimariesmorereadily,though
possiblybecausetheverylowturnoutsinmostselectionsdonotthreatentheirrole
andperhapsbecausetheyrealisethatopposingtheleadership’ssupportofprimaries
asitheadstowardsgovernmentwillsignaldisunity.IntheLabourParty,themain
oppositiontoprimariescoalescesaroundthreemainconcerns:howprimarieswillbe
financedandwhetherthiswillleadtoamoneyraceashappensintheUS;whatsortof
candidatewillbechosenandwhetherwewillendupwithcelebrities,middleofthe
road‘pleaseeverybodies’,orlocaldo-gooders;andwhetherthissoundsthedeathknell
fororganisedpoliticalpartieswithmembershipsandinternalpolicymaking.
Muchoftheworryaboutintroducingprimaries,however,ispredicatedonan
assumptionthattheywillbeentirelymodelledontheUSversionswiththeirglitzy
campaignsandcorporatebackers.IntheLabourPartyatleast,thereisanalternative
British-styleprimarysystemwhichmightovercomethemainobjections,andwhich
couldbringarealshiftinthewayinwhichpoliticalpartiesinvolvethepublicinthis
country.Themainelementsofsuchamodelwouldinclude:cappingspendingby
primaryelectioncandidatesregulatedbytheElectoralCommission;statefundingof
theelectiontoavoidindividualpartiespurchasingvotesbyspendingthemostmoney;
primariestobeheldonthesamedaywithvotersonlyreceivingtheballotpaperfor
thepartytheyareregisteredwith;andallowingpartymemberstochoosetheshortlist.
AprimaryruninthiswaywouldavoidthefirstandthethirdofLabourparty
members’concerns–acaponspendingwouldensurethatwedonotendupwithonly
wealthycandidates,andallowingmemberstochoosetheinitialshortlistprovidesa
reasonforjoiningapoliticalparty.Thesecondconcernaboutthetypeofcandidate
electedislesseasytodealwithexceptfortosaythatifthepublicchoosescandidates
therestofthepolitydon’tlike,wellthat’sdemocracy,isn’tit?
Butworriesaboutoverlyeccentricorcelebpoliticiansbeingelectedareoverblown.As
seasonedUScampaigner,BenBrandzelhassaid:‘Massmovementsopentoanyone…
willalwaysbepulledtowardsthecommonsensecentre.It’swhyWikipediacanself-
policeforaccuracy,whyObama’sopenforumsneverseriouslyembarrassedthe
candidateandwhytheLondoncitizens’agendacalledforthingslikeensuringthe
OlympicVillagecreatespublichousing–noterectingstatuestoChe’(Brandzel2009).
Ifanything,primariescouldhelptofreecandidatesfromold-styletop-downcentral
partyortradeunionpatronageasthosecandidateswhoaremostlikelytowinwill
havebuiltupsupportamongthepublic.Goodpublicspeakingskills,charismaand
rapportwiththepublicwillhelp:someofthethings,infact,thatthepublicand
commentariatsayislackinginourneuteredtwenty-firstcenturypolitics.
Partofthereasonwhysomepoliticiansareactivelyconsideringprimariesis
becauseofaconcernthatthereisarealdisconnectionbetweenthepublicand
parliamentaryrepresentatives.Thepublicoftensaythattheydonotfeelasthough
theirpoliticianscareabouttheirconcernsandtaketheirvotesforgranted.By
allowingthepublicagreatersayinwhostandsatanelectionmayhelptopoliticise
agroupthathasbeengrowinginapathyandalsogenerategreaterlegitimacyin
thosewhoarestanding.Insteadofonaverage200partymemberschoosingthe
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Timetoturnpoliticsonitshead

Labourpartycandidateinaconstituencyofaround70,000,wecouldhave20,000
voting,andmoreifallpartiesheldtheirprimariesonthesameday.Apartfrom
generalelectionsthemselves,thereisnoothertimewhenweaskthepublictomake
suchapositivepoliticalact.
Thereareotherbenefitstointroducingprimaries.Forexample,itmightchangethe
waypoliticalpartiescampaign.Ifeachpartyhasaregisterofitssupporters,it
wouldbeabletoconcentratemoreofitsdoorstepactivityonthevotesofthe
unregisteredratherthanalwaysrelyingongettingoutthecorevoteatelections.
Thiswouldhaveabeneficialeffectbecauseatthemomentmostpartiesignore
voterswhodonotvote,orwhoareundecidedbecausetheycanrely,particularly
underthefirst-past-the-postvotingsystem,ontheirsolidsupporters.Byhavingto
reachouttothosewhoaredisengaged,politicianswillhavetoworkhardertobuild
consensusamongdiversecommunities.Primariessignalthatourpoliticalelitesare
willingtotrustinthemassesandshiftpowerdowntothem.Atatimewhena
chasmisgrowingbetweenthepublicandpoliticians,primariescouldhelptostart
rebuildingsometrustbetweenthem.
AnotherinnovationwhichtheLabourandConservativepartieshavetaken
tentativestepstowardswouldbetoallownon-memberstoparticipateinother
partyinitiatives,forexamplebyhelpingtoformulatepolicyorrunningcampaigns
andfundraising.ThelaunchofMyConservatives.comsuggeststhatthe
ConservativesarewillingtolearnfromBarackObama’scampaignandusethe
internettoopenuptheirusuallyclosedprocessestothepublicatlarge.TheLabour
Partywillfollowsuitifithasanysense.
OneinternalpartychangeLabourcouldconsiderwouldbetoinsistthatlocalparties
whowishtoinfluencepartypolicyneedtoshowthattheyhaveengagedwiththeir
localpublictocomeupwiththeideaspresentedtotheNationalPolicyForum.This
wouldbothhelptoreachouttothecommunityatatimewhenLabourhaslosttouch
andalsoensurethatanypolicymadewouldreflecttherealconcernsofordinary
people.Itwouldgivepolicyprescriptionsfromthegrassrootsmorelegitimacy,meaning
theleadershipwouldfinditmoredifficulttoignore.Apolicybackedby1,000local
voterswillhavemuchmorecloutthanoneendorsedbyahandfulofLabourmembers
meetingonaFridaynightinacoldcommunityhall.Theaveragemembershipinalocal
LabourPartyis280people,yettheelectorateare70,000-strong.PartofLabour’s
regenerationasapoliticalforcewillbepredicatedonwhetheritcanfindfreshideas
andnewwaysofthinkingaboutoldideas.
Statefundingforpoliticaleducationwouldalsohelpinthisregard.Weexpectthe
publictocometopoliticsfullycognisantofpoliticalphilosophy,socialpolicyand
howParliamentworks.Whilecitizenshipeducationismeanttoberemedyingthisin
school,thewiderpublicstillknowsverylittleaboutpolitics.Fundingtraining,
summerschoolsandseminarscouldhelptodeveloppoliticalactivists’capabilities
andwouldsendasignalthatwecareaboutthestateofournation’spoliticalhealth.
SwedenandotherEuropeancountriesalreadyfundthisareaofworkinpolitical
partieswithoutcontroversy,anditwouldrepresentagrown-upstepifwecoulddo
thesameintheUK.

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Conclusion
NeitherLabournortheConservativeshavemadethestep-changetheyneedtoifthey
aretopresentthemselvesasthetrueheirsofThomasPaine.Politicalpunditsand
activistsalikehavespenttoolonghand-wringingaboutthepublic’slackof
engagementwithpoliticswithouttakingtheboldstepsneededtomakeareal
difference.Politicalconsensusbothwithinandacrosspartieswillbehardtocomeby
onmanyofthesereforms,buttheexpensescrisisprovideseveryonewithan
opportunitytotrytogetitrightthistime.Itislikelythattheclosertheelectiongets,
themorerisk-aversetheleadershipofourmainpartieswillbecome.Butthiswouldbe
wrong-minded–whatisrequiredinthenextsixmonthsisforpoliticstobeturnedon
itsheadandforpoliticianstoacceptthatonlyradicalchangeswillhelptorestoresome
ofthelosttrust,notjustfromtheexpensescrisis,butfromthelastfewdecades.
JessicaAsatoisActingDirectorofProgress.
BrandzelB(2009)‘ABritishMovementforChange’inAnsteadNandStrawW(eds)TheChangeWe
Need:WhatBritaincanlearnfromObama’sVictoryLondon:FabianSociety
CowleyP(2005)TheRebels:HowBlairMislaidhisMajority London:Politico’sPublishingLtd
HansardSociety(2009)AuditofPoliticalEngagement 6 London:HansardSociety

59
FIT FOR GOVERNMENT

Nick Bosanquet, Reform


ThescandaloverMPs’expenseshasrevealedashockinglackoftransparencyand
accountabilityinourpoliticalsystem.
Transparencyisvitalforensuringthatpublicservantsworkforthepublicinterest.
Assoonastheexpensesstorybrokeandpeoplebecameawareoftheclaimsbeing
made,MPschangedtheirbehaviourandthenumberofclaimsfell.
Now,thelessonslearntfromthescandalneedtobetransferredacrossthepolitical
system,toeveryspendingdepartmentinthestate.Unelectedandunaccountable
officialsspendmoretaxpayers’moneyinaweekthanbackbenchMPscanclaimin
aterm.Itisonlywhenvotersknowhowtheirmoneyisbeingspentthatofficials
willbeincentivisedtogiveusvalueformoney.
Inthemindsofthepublic,MPsandgovernmentarecloselyconflated.Theysee
MPsasresponsiblefortheoverallactivityofgovernment.MPsbearthebruntof
publicdissatisfactionwithgovernmentactivitybecausetheyarethemostvisible
andaccountablepart.Officialsworkbehindthesceneswithimmunity,while
quangosoperateinthe‘twilightzone’ofgovernment,untouchablebyelectorsor
themarket.MPsmustreclaimtheirauthorityfromBritain’s£35billion
quangocracy,whilethepublicsectormustbereformedtomakeofficialspersonally
accountable.
However,MPs’expensesarejustthetipoftheicebergandreformmustgomuch
furtherinordertoensurerealdemocraticaccountability.Reform’sreportFitfor
Purpose (Haldenbyetal 2009)laysoutnewwaystostrengthenthedemocratic
accountabilityofcivilservants.Appointmentsforseniorcivilservantsshouldbe
open,withfullSelectCommitteehearingsandapproval.Thedoctrineofministerial
responsibilitymustalsobereformed;itcurrentlyshieldsofficialsfromtaking
responsibilityfortheiractions,aswellasdrawingministersintotheprocessof
delivery.Andcivilservantsshouldbeexpectedtobesubpoenaedbefore
parliamentarySelectCommitteesandtohavetobeheldaccountablefortheirwork
againstaclearsetofobjectives.
Instructiontodeliver
Ministersaretheretoguidepolicy,bringforwardreformingprinciplesandengage
thepublicinthedebateoverpublicservices.Ministersmustbeabletomanage,but
theyalsoneedtobeabletocollaboratewithcivilservants,relyonthemto
implementdeliveryandmakeuseoftheirtechnicalexpertise.
Makingofficialspersonallyaccountableforimplementationandthemanagementof
Governmentdepartmentswouldfreepoliticianstomakethevitalpolicydecisions.
Thismaintainsacleardistinctionbetweencivilservantsandpoliticiansandmakesit
clearwhoisresponsibleandaccountable.Ministershaveakeyroletoplayin
guidingthestrategicdirectionofpolicybuttheycannotbeexpectedtobe
technocraticexperts.Bothcivilservantsandpoliticiansshouldberesponsiblefor
theirseparaterolesinthepoliticalprocess.

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ReformingandstrengtheningtheroleofParliament
Fallingturnoutinelections,particularlyamongtheyoung,issymptomaticofthe
public’slowconfidenceinParliament.Internationalcomparisonhighlightstheextent
ofthisdecline.RecentfiguresgatheredbypollingconsultancyComResshowthatonly
19percentofpeopleintheUKagreewiththestatement‘Parliamentisworkingfor
me’(Kalitowski2008).ThisisinstarkcontrasttothecaseofCanada,where34.4per
centofpeoplesaidtheyhad‘Quitealot’ofconfidenceinParliament,accordingtothe
WorldValuesSurvey.QualityoflifeisalsomuchhigherinCanadathanintheUK,
rankedsixthontheUnitedNations’HumanDevelopmentIndextable,comparedwith
theUKineighteenthplace(UNDP2006).Thereisnoclearcausallink,butthereisa
strongpresumptionthatthecomparativeriftinthequalityoflifeandpublic
confidenceinParliamentbetweentheUKandCanadaislinkedtothediffering
governmentstructuresinthetwocountries.
Electoralreformwouldbeasideshow.Successiveelectionshavedemonstratedthat
Britaingenerallygetstheresultsitwants,whileproportionalrepresentationcouldend
theabilityoftheelectoratetochangegovernments.TheresultofPRwouldsimply
makethecoalitionsthatalreadyoccurwithinpoliticalpartiesmoreexplicit.Moreover,
PRcentralises,takingthevoterfurtherawayfromParliament.Withcandidateschosen
bypartyleaders,thevoterlosestheirconnectiontotheirrepresentative,removing
themfurtherfromthedemocraticprocess.
PRwouldnotchangepolitics:itwouldmerelychangethepartystructurewithout
bringingnewvoicesintoParliament,doingnothingtoresolvethedemocraticdeficit
whichBritainfaces.
ShorterParliaments,betterelections
VoterscanbegivenmorecontroloverParliamentbyintroducingshortertermsoffour
years,requiringgovernmentsandparliamentarianstoseekre-electionsooner,not
later.CountrieswiththreeorfouryearParliaments,suchasCanada,Australiaandthe
Scandinaviannations,havehigherlevelsofconfidenceandhigherelectoralturnouts
thantheUK.ShortertermsincreasevoterpowerandgiveMPsmorecontactwith
voters.Theyalsofocusgovernmentonachievingresultswithinthefour-yearterm
ratherthanonmanipulatingpolicesaroundanelectiondate.
Contactbetweenpoliticiansandvoterswillbevitaltothepublicregainingitssenseof
powerandresponsibilitywithinthedemocraticpoliticalprocess.Recentsurveys
suggestthishasbeenheavilyeroded:75percentofpeopleagreethatastrong
Parliamentisgoodfordemocracy,yetonlyathirdaresatisfiedwithhowthe
institutionworksatthemoment(Kalitowski2008).Reducingparliamentarytermsto
fouryearswouldalsostopthecharadeoflame-duckadministrationslimpingintoa
fifthyearbeforeeventuallymeetingoblivion.
Notarubberstamp
MPsmustrealisethattheirfundamentalroleisthescrutinyofgovernmentlegislation,
policyandactivity.Inrecentyears,thisdutyhasbeenneglectedasMPseitherseek
ministerialcareersorchoosetofocusonlocalmattersthataffecttheirconstituents.

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Fitforgovernment

Withthisriftbetweenaspiringministersand‘socialworkers’,theultimatejobof
challengingGovernmentlegislationhasbeenforgotten.NotenoughMPsare
parliamentariansdedicatedtotheworkthatgoesoninsidethechamber.
Parliamentshouldbetheplacetotestlegislation,wherethecountryjudgeswhatthe
Governmentwantstodo.Inrecentyearstherehasbeenalegislativeavalanchewith
governmentspassingactafteractthathavenotbeenexposedtotheintricatescrutiny
thatisneeded.AreductioninthenumberofbillstakenthroughParliamentwould
allowformuchmoredetailedscrutinyandmoretimefordebate.Whatisneededis
fewerbillsandhigherqualityacts.
Separationofpowers
MakingMPsmoreindependentfromtheExecutiveiscrucialforbetterparliamentary
scrutiny.Currently,thepartywhipscanstifledebatetooeasilyandprotectthe
Governmentfromthepeople’srepresentatives.ThisisaconsequenceofBritain’s
dangerousamalgamationofitslegislativeandexecutivepower.Theincentiveforany
ambitiouspoliticianistotoethepartylineinexchangeforfuturecareerprospects,
ratherthanscrutinisetheExecutive.
TheseparationofpowersandtheappointmentofministersfromoutsideofParliament
wouldhavethetwofoldeffectofensuringthatparliamentarianswereabletofreely
challengetheGovernmentandthatministerswhowereappointedhadgreater
experiencederived,forinstance,frommanaginglargeorganisationsorservinginthe
publicsector.
Parliamentshouldandmuststillhavethepowertoquestionandremovethese
ministers,butoncetheministersarenolongerrecruitedfromwithintheirownranks,it
willbepossibletoholdthemtoaccountmoreeffectively,ensuringproperscrutiny.
Standardsmustalsobesetforfullparliamentaryscrutinyofprerogativeactions,such
asdecisionsonenteringarmedconflict.
Strongercommittees,moreresearch
Parliamentarycommitteeshaveavitalroletoplayintheprocessofscrutinising
legislation.Theyneedmorepowertoconfrontgovernmentandchallengelegislation,
andtheresourcestoundertakeproperresearchtobackthisup.
IntheUnitedStatescongressionalcommitteesarepowerfulbodieswhichcanconsider,
amendandreportbillsthatfallundertheirjurisdiction.Theycanimpedebillsfrom
reachingthefloorandholdhearingswithpowersofsubpoena.Incontrast,Select
CommitteesintheUKhavemuchmorelimitedpowerstoreviewlegislation,andlack
theresourcestoactasanalternativepowerbasetotheExecutive.SelectCommittee
musthavemoreauthority,particularlythepowertosignoffondepartmentalbudgets.
Theymustalsobebetterfundedandprovidedwiththegreaterresearchcapabilityand
expertiseneededtoconducteffectivescrutinyoflargegovernmentdepartments.
Finally,itwouldbedesirablefortheNationalAuditOfficetoworkdirectlyforSelect
Committees.
Atpresentthemainfocusofparliamentaryactivityisondebate.Nooneislistening
andthisactivityisrarelyreportedinthepress.ThemainworkofParliamentshouldbe
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Reform

theeffectivedevelopmentofpolicycontributionsandtochallengegovernment
legislationthoughspecialistcommittees,backedupbymuchmoreincisiveresearch
andfactfinding.Reform’sworkisparticularlyconcernedwiththeweakperformance
ofParliamentinholdingtheGovernmenttoaccountonkeyareasaffectingpublic
spendingandtaxation.
Parliamentariansfirst
Politics,Parliamentandgovernmenthavebecomemorecomplexanddemandingsince
thenineteenthcentury;theageofthearistocraticamateurisover.Politicsrequires
determinationanddedicationandwillincreasinglymakegreaterdemandsonits
practitionersiftheyaretosucceed.Modernpoliticiansneedtobelocalactivistswitha
nationalpresence,visionarythinkerswithaneyefordetail,media-savvyoperators
andhardenedbureaucraticmanagers.
Nosinglecareerpathcanfurnishpoliticianswithalltheseskills.Politicsismorethana
full-timejobandthedifferentrolesofpoliticiansneedtobeclearlydefinedtoensure
thatMPs,ministersandpartyleadersareservingtheirpoliticalpurpose.
OnceelectedasMPs,politiciansshouldhavethefreedomandindependencetofocus
ontheirparliamentarydutytoholdtheGovernmenttoaccount.ManyMPsareideally
suitedtoquestioningministersandofficials,scrutinisinglegislationandjudgingthe
policiesofgovernment.Theywouldservethemselvesandthecountrybetterby
focusingonholdingtheGovernmenttoaccountratherthantryingtoclimbthegreasy
pole.Politiciansshouldnothavetobecomeministersinordertohavea‘career’,justas
MPsoftenwillnotmakethebestministers.
Ministerialtalents
ByselectingministersfromoutsideofParliament,wecanensurethatweattractthe
brightestandthebestandmostimportantlypeoplewhoarereadyondayone.Whatis
expectedofministersandwhattheirrolesrequirehasclearlybeenasourceof
confusion.AftersteppingdownasHomeSecretary,JacquiSmithsaidthatshehad
‘neverrunamajororganisation’before.Andwhenaskedif,whenappointedHome
Secretary,shewasworriedaboutbeinguptothejobshesaid,‘…everysingletime
thatIwasappointedtoaministerialjobIthoughtthat’(Dale2009).Meanwhile,Lord
MandelsonhasprovedmorepopularasaministerthanheeverdidasanMP.Weneed
peoplewiththecapacitytocontroladepartmentwithamulti-billionbudgetandface
downvestedinterests,notsomeonewhohasneverstrayedfromthewhip.
Reformingthesecondchamber
HowtheHouseofLordsiscomposedinthefutureshouldbedecidedbyareferendum.
Whetherelectedorselected,however,whattheHouseofLordsneedsmorethan
anythingisindependenceandauthority.
Introducingfixedsingletermsforpeerswouldalsomakethesecondchambermore
effectiveandrelevant.Expertiseneedsconstantrenewal,andtheLordsmustalways
beopentonew,independentvoices.AHouseofLordswithlong,seven-yearfixed
termswouldbemorereflectiveofandresponsivetopublicopinion,yetnotarivalto
theHouseofCommons.DetachedfromtheelectoralcycleandfreeofGovernment
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Fitforgovernment

influence,theHouseofLordscouldbuildonitsstrengths,asanindependentUpper
House.
TheHouseofLordsshouldbeaplacewhereexpertscanreviewandreviselegislation,
notapartisanbattleground.Peersshouldbegenuinelyindependentandshouldfollow
theexampleofsomestatelegislaturesintheUSinwhichpartygroupingsarebanned.
WithatrulyindependentHouseofLordswecouldensureeffectivescrutinyofboth
Governmentandlegislation.
MembersoftheHouseofLordsshouldbeappointedforfixedtermsbyan
independentappointmentscommission,removingthemaligninfluenceofparty
politics.What’smore,oncetheneedforministerstobeMembersoftheHousesof
Parliamentwereremoved,therewouldbenoneedfortheGovernmenttomake
ministerialappointmentsfromtheHouseofLords.
Channellingcitizenpower
WhilevotersarebecomingdistancedfromParliament,activistcitizensaregrowing
innumber.Directdemocracyisalreadyhappening,andpeopleareincreasingly
tryingtotakemorecontrolovertheirlivesandfindnewavenuestohavetheirvoice
heard.Peopletaketheinitiativeeverydayasconsumerstogaintheinformation
necessarytounderstandtheservicesavailabletothemandbringchangetotheir
dailylives.Individualsarecryingoutforchoiceinpublicservicesandrightsas
patientsandparents:tochoosetheirschoolorhospital,andgetthebesteducation
ortreatmentavailable.Theinternethasrevolutionisedpoliticsandenabledthe
individualstospeakoutandparticipateinthepolicydebate.Theformationof
organisationssuchasLondonCitizenshasledtothebirthof‘Community
Organising’withintheUK.
Socitizenpowerishere–thepointisithastobechannelledintotheprocesssothatit
doesnotbecomeadistraction,orworse,adirectcompetitortoourrepresentative
system.
Democracyintheinternetage
The‘e-citizen’willhaveavitalroleinrejuvenatingthedemocraticprocess.Thereisa
strongcaseformoredirectaccesstopetitionsorcitizens’initiatives,totrigger
discussionoflegislation.TheHansardSocietysuggeststhatpeoplecouldengagemore
withpoliticsviapetitions,whichcouldbemanagedthroughanewPetitions
Committee.Anypetitionsignedbymorethan10,000peopleshouldgivethe
petitionerstherighttomakeabriefstatementandleadtoadebate(HansardSociety
2009a).
Thereis,however,ariskofdisintermediation,withthelinesofaccountabilityand
channelsofrepresentationbecomingincreasinglystrained.Politiciansshouldstriveto
ensurethatthesedifferentinitiativesandstrandsofdemocracyareconnected,thatthe
processremainsconsolidatedandthattheyremainattheheartofthedemocratic
process.Throughtechnologypoliticianscankeeptheirfingeronthepulseofpublic
opinionandopenupadialoguebetweenthemselvesandthepublic.Bute-democracy
shouldinformparliamentarydemocracy,notsupplantit.

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Reform

Makinglocalismmeaningful
TherehasbeenadeclineinconfidenceinBritishlocalgovernmentwhichhasgone
alongwithincreasingcentralisation.Thecasemadeinthemid-nineteenthcenturyby
AlexisdeTocquevillefortheimportanceoflocalismisstillhighlyrelevant(in
DemocracyinAmerica).Ashesaid,‘withoutpowerandindependenceatownmay
containgoodsubjects,butitcanhavenoactivecitizens’.Thismustinspirethemuch
neededrestructuringofgovernmentinordertorestoreitsmeaningtotoday’svoters.
Nationalrhetoric,localreality
InrecentyearstheBritishstatehasbecomemorecentralisedwhilepoliticalculturehas
becomemorefixatedontheWestminstervillage.Yetthisrunscountertothemost
effectiveformofgovernance.Localism,theprinciplewherebydecision-makingand
authorityaredevolvedtothelowestpossiblelevel,couldredefinetherelationship
votershavewithourpoliticalinstitutionsandreinvigorateconfidenceingovernment.
TheBritishstateshouldberestructuredandsimplifiedonthisprinciple.Britainneeds
fewerlayersofgovernance.LocalcouncilsshouldbeempoweredandtheRegional
DevelopmentAgenciesshouldbeabolished.
Greaterpowerandresponsibilityatlocallevelisneededforpeopletobeableto
becomeactivecitizensandre-engagewiththepoliticalprocess.AHansardSociety
studysuggeststhata73percentmajorityofpeoplebelievetheyhave‘notverymuch
influence’or‘noinfluenceatall’indecision-makingintheirlocalareas.20percentof
peopleansweredthatthiswasbecause‘decisionsaremadewithouttalkingtothe
people’,thatistosay,localgovernmentinstitutionsdonotsufficientlyengagewith
voters(HansardSociety2009b).Amorelocalisedformofgovernmentwouldsee
politicsessentiallybecomingclosertopeople’severydaylives.
Localpowerbases
Akeypartofreturningpowertoalocallevelmustbecreatinglocalpowerbasesthat
canbeheldtoaccountbylocalcitizens.TheGreaterLondonAuthorityandMayorof
Londonhaveshownthatlocalpowerbaseswork,asLondoncitizensarenowmore
engagedinthelifeoftheircityandknowwhoisresponsibleforwhat.Theyhavealso
ledtogreateraccountabilityamongpublicservicesandquangosinthecapital,as
powerfulelectedlocalpoliticiansareabletoholdtheunelectedquangocracyto
accountandasserttheirowndemocraticauthority.
EvenLondon’sMayor,however,suffersfromtoolimitedpowersandremainssubservient
tocentralgovernment.Inordertocreategenuinelocalpowerbases,everymetropolis
shouldhaveitsownelectedMayorwithextensivepowerssimilartothoseofCityMayors
intheUS.Theyshouldbeheldtoaccountbypowerfullocalcouncils,meaningthat
citizenscouldseeandfeelastakeinthedemocraticprocessintheirlocalarea.
Themajorobstacleisnotlackofinterest;itisstructural.Reform’sworkonthepolice
serviceconcludedthatlocalaccountabilitywouldbedifficulttoachieveunlessthe
territoriesofmostpoliceforceswerereconfiguredtoconnectwithlocalgovernment
boundaries.Centralisedfundingisdisconnectedfromlocalrequirements,whilepolice
authoritieshavelittlecapacitytoraisefundslocally.Furthermore,flexibilityinthe

65
Fitforgovernment

actualspendingoftheirbudgetsislimitedbytheamountofcentralgovernmenttargets
thatpoliceforceshavetocomplywith.Localfundingandlocalaccountabilityneedto
berealigned,whilelocalauthoritiesneedtobegivenautonomyandflexibilityinorder
thatparticularlocalproblemscanbesolvedmorequicklyandefficiently.Alreadylocal
authoritiesaretakingtheinitiativebyintroducingspendingconstraintsandre-
examininghowtogainmaximumproductivityfromtheirpublicservices.Local
knowledge,localdesignandlocalinitiativewillbekeybutlocalismneedsresourcesto
implementlocalchange.
Planningandhousingshouldalsobedelegatedtotherightleveltoalignthecostsand
benefits.City-regionauthoritiesorclustersoflocalauthoritiesdevelopedinto
collaborativenetworkswillenablestrategicintereststobeeffectivelymatchedwhile
localconcernsremainengagedintheplanningprocess.
Reformingpoliticalpartiestomeetnewchallenges
PoliticalpartieshaveakeyroletoplayinBritishdemocracy.Theyremainthebestwayto
undertakethegoalsofpolitics,toaggregateinterestsandtoformagovernment.Parties
recruittalentintothepoliticalprocess,generateideastotacklethefuturechallenges
facingthecountryandengagethepublicintoparliamentarydemocracy.Theyunify
differentperspectiveswithinthepartymorethantheydivideperspectivesbetween
parties.Apoliticalpartyisthemomentum,cohesionandtheactivityofpolitics.Parties
havealwayscompetedtowinthevotes,theywillnowneedtoinnovateandadoptnew
methodstomaintainthesupporttheyneed.
Openparties
ThepoliticalsphereismoreopenthanatanytimeinBritishhistory.Themedia,
internetandblogospherehavethrownopenthedoorstothecorridorsofpowerand
politicalpartiesmustnowkeepupwithamoreversatileelectorate.Arguably,political
partieshavealreadystartedtorisetothechallenge.
TheConservativesheldthefirstopenprimarytoselecttheirparliamentarycandidate
forTotnes,Devon;whileDavidMilibandhasdiscussedthepossibilityofallowingall
Laboursupporterstohaveavoteinelectingafuturepartyleader.Theseinitiatives
could,iffollowedthrough,resultingreatervoterconfidenceandstrongeraffiliation
betweenpoliticalpartiesandtheirsupporters.TheAmericanstateprimariesgenerated
majorpublicinterestontheirsideoftheAtlantic.Thedegreeofchoiceof
representationavailabletotheAmericanpubliccontrastswithBritain,wherepeople
haverelativelylittlesayoverwhorepresentsthem,prospectiveparliamentary
candidatesbeingchosenfromthetopdown.Openprimarieswouldencouragebottom-
uppoliticalengagement.
Neitherhavepoliticalpartiesbeenslowtorecognisethevalueoftheinternetand
bloggingtoengagewiththepublic.FromConservativeHometo‘WebCameron’,the
internetismakingpoliticsmoreaccessibletomorepeople.Ithaspulledsome18-to
25-year-oldsintopolitics.ThroughtheblogosphereandTwitterposts,publicinterest
andscrutinyofpoliticianshasneverbeengreater.Politicalpartiesneedtoembracethis
potential,notresistit.

66
Reform

‘No’tostatefunding
Thepublicfinancesarealreadyinaperilousstate,evenbeforetheGovernment
commitstonewexpenditure.Statefundingofpoliticalpartieswouldbevery
unpopular,aspeoplealreadyfeelthatdemocraticstructurestaketoomuchoftheir
money.Itwouldresultinpoliticiansbecomingincreasinglydisconnectedfromthe
electorateandtheirownmembers.Thenecessitytocontinuallyraisefundsfromthe
Britishpublicdrivesthe‘permanentcampaign’.Partiesmustconstantlymaketheir
caseforsupportandensurethatpoliticianswillneverstopworkingwithandforthe
public.
Wemust,however,striveforfairelectioncampaigns.Stateregulationofcampaign
spendingwouldnotdamagegrassrootsengagementbutwouldkeeppoliticalpartieson
anevenfinancialfooting.WhofundseachattemptbypoliticalpartiestotakeoverUK
PlcisnotthebiggestchallengefacingBritishdemocracy.Weneedtomakepartiesand
MPsperformwiththefundingtheyhave,notgivethemmore.
Conclusion
Ifthereformsandideasdiscussedabovearetoresultinrealchange,theymuststretch
beyondParliamentandWhitehallinordertodelivertransparencyandaccountability
acrosstheboard.Reform’sreportAnewreality:GovernmentandtheIPODgeneration
indicatedthatthe18to34agegroup,describedas‘Insecure,Pressurised,Over-taxed
andDebt-ridden’,donotknowwhattheirtaxesarespentonorwheretolookforthis
information.Theywantmorereciprocal,non-hierarchicalandtransparentauthority
relationships(ReformandIpsos-Mori2008).
Constitutionalreformneedstodelivertransparencyandaccountabilityingovernment
andpublicservices.Toomuchishappeninginpoliticsthatpeoplehavenosayover,or
worse,noknowledgeof.Thepublic’svoicehasbeenlostinthegauzeofnewsprintand
angrypressuregroups.Itistimetorefocusthepoliticalsystemonthepeopleitis
supposedtoserve.Onlythroughconstitutionalreformatalllevelscanwerejuvenate
ourdemocraticsysteminorderforParliamenttoovercomeitsdecliningpopularityand
restoreitsrelationshipwiththevoters.
NickBosanquetisaConsultantDirectoratReform.
DaleI(2009)‘InConversationwithJacquiSmith’,TotalPolitics,
www.totalpolitics.com/magazine_detail.php?id=493
HaldenbyA,ParsonsL,RosenGandTrussE(2009)FitforpurposeLondon:Reform
HansardSociety(2009a)RepresentativeDemocracy,BriefingPaper1:HouseofCommonsReform,
June,London:HansardSociety,www.hansardsociety.org.uk/files/folders/2044/download.aspx
HansardSociety(2009b)AuditofPoliticalEngagement6London:HansardSociety
KalitowskiS(2008)‘Apassionpoisonedbyprocess?’,TheHouseMagazine, 24November
ReformandIpsos-MORI(2008)ANewReality:GovernmentandtheIPODgeneration
UnitedNationsDevelopmentProgramme(UNDP)(2006)HumanDevelopmentReport2006
Basingstoke/NewYork:PalgraveMacmillan
WorldValuesSurveyAssociation(2005)Canada2005,V140, worldvaluessurvey.org
67