Time for a Citizens’ Convention?

Yesterday’s Guardian has more voices in support of a Citizens’ Convention to reform our political processes, kickstarted by the expenses scandal.

Among various luminaries of the reformist left and centre are a number of Lib Dems, including Lib Dem Voice editor Stephen Tall, and Liberal Youth chair Elaine Bagshawe. Their cause is honourable, but there is an air of deckchairs and Titanic in a lineup which features no Tories at all.

Lib Dem blogger and democracy campaigner James Graham argues that pre-election legislation is essential to tie the hands of any incoming government. That’s not terribly democratic – if Labour did that on an issue we loathed (and there are lots of examples from ID cards to Heathrow, nuclear power, Trident renewal or new databases), we’d be the first to complain.

As it is, I can’t see a dying Labour government giving up legislative time to anything other than damage limitation. This will be the palliative care parliament.

The real chance for reform will come from electing MPs with the right mandate. James also points out that MPs of all parties have backed the Convention by signing the EDM (although Emily Thornberry, unsurprisingly, has not). But the only ones from a party committed to electoral reform are Liberal Democrats, which is why maximising the number of Lib Dem MPs is so important.

So yes, let’s keep writing letters. But let’s deliver them in our key seats too!

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2 Comments »

  1. (also posted on Lib Dem Voice)

    Bridget,

    I don’t accept for one minute that this proposal is undemocratic. There is nothing to stop the next government from repealing this legislation, just as it is able to repeal any other legislation. It would clearly be ludicrous to never legislate for a reform on the basis that the next Parliament might repeal it; we’d never get anything done that way.

    What the bill would go however is get a process started, which could continue regardless of which party goes on to form the next government. It would force any party opposed to this process to come out, say so and fight an election on that platform. Any party which did so, rightly in my view, would be regarded by the public as a defender of the status quo and the sorry mess we currently find ourselves in. My guess is that no party would wish to be portrayed in that way.

    It would of course be up to the next Parliament to decide which of the convention’s proposals it would accept and which proposals it would reject – again, their hands are not being tied in any way.

    Clearly the more pro-reform MPs that get elected the better and this bill is not a panacaea. But because of the electoral system, not all that many people will have a chance to elect a pro-reform MP at the next election. The electoral system is too deeply flawed to be relied on to be able to deliver a reformist government by itself. That’s why we need other initiatives such as the Citizens Convention Bill.

  2. bridgetfox said

    “It would clearly be ludicrous to never legislate for a reform on the basis that the next Parliament might repeal it; we’d never get anything done that way.”

    That is very fair comment!

    “The electoral system is too deeply flawed to be relied on to be able to deliver a reformist government by itself. That’s why we need other initiatives such as the Citizens Convention Bill.”

    However, we won’t get that Bill without the support of MPs. If the current lot won’t, then we must elect some who will.

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