Where do we go with politics now? The conventional wisdom (which the papers seem to have a vested interest in shoving down our throats) is that the electorate has given up on politics altogether – the expenses scandal has soured everyone’s view of politics, and only a dramatic change will reengage us and stop us voting UKIP and BNP in our disillusionment. I’ll buy Stephen Fry’s argument to a point to be honest, that excessive behaviour with expenses is universal – to hold MPs to a different standard to the rest of us (most of whom do the same thing to differing extents) is unfair and unrealistic. But I also think that the public disdain for all politicians has now taken on a life of its own, and it’s partly because things have come to a head – a process which began before Blair, but which he and Brown have cynically accelerated – has now bitten them on the backside.
We have a first past the post voting system, whereby the first party to the biggest single share of the vote wins the election, even though the majority of people end up voting for someone else. This has led to shameless abuses with no political mandate ever having been given – the road to ID cards, torture, the withdrawal of legal aid to most people, allowing the police to become a brutal, semi-autonomous militia, an illegal war in Iraq. Most people thought Blair was a liar in his first term but accommodated him as long as his lies didn’t abuse the will of the majority; Iraq scuppered that and destroyed his premiership. MPs in turn were assumed to be cheats in small scale, but not to be rampantly stealing taxpayers’ money and trying to cover it up – their mandate too has now been crushed. It can I believe in part be restored by changing the voting system to proportional representation. It’s a reality which David Cameron and Gordon Brown both fail to realise. Nick Clegg and crucially Alan Johnson however do:
The adoption of AV+ would shift the political focus currently concentrated almost exclusively on a few swing voters in a handful of marginal seats. It would end the perversity of the party with the most votes nationally forming the opposition rather than the government, as has happened twice since the war.
Labour is the only party ever to win under First Past the Post (FPTP) and then use its majority to explore a change to the system that elected them. I recognise that Jenkins is gathering dust because we lost the will to carry it through — but that was at a time when it could legitimately be said that there was no public interest and when narrow party political advantage dominated our internal debate in the Labour Party. Of course, I recognise that many colleagues on my benches support FPTP for more valid reasons.
My proposal is that we offer the public the two options of AV+ and FPTP. We should debate these two alternatives freely and openly with no party whip and no government recommendation. Then on the date of the next general election we should have a national referendum and let the people decide. This is a genuinely radical alternative that only Labour in government can facilitate.
Where Brown, Smith, Straw et al are still talking about a British ‘bill of rights and responsibilities’, still wilfully conflating civil liberties and human rights for the most cynical political motives, Ed Miliband is advocating reempowering parliament instead of this almighty executive:
Miliband said the Commons should look at giving select committees more power to shape legislation. But he did not favour moving too far towards the US system, where Senate committees can destroy bills or delay them indefinitely. “There are upsides and downsides,” he said, citing lobbying by fossil fuel companies of the House of Representatives’ energy sub-committee which had the power to weaken climate change legislation. “You do have to protect an elected government’s ability to legislate.”
Brown doesn’t get it, whilst Cameron (who is against proportional representation) is a cynical opportunist who has no reform minded ideas of his own at all. Parliamentary term limits? Great, but repealing the Human Rights Act? It’s not exactly in keeping with the people’s will to restore power and rights to them from a cynical and overly mighty government, leaving Cameron a dangerous, unelectable option. Brown and his disconnected, out of touch cronies must thus be kicked out, and within the next fortnight at that. Whilst I don’t think Alan Johnson could save Labour from losing the next election, he has very clear allies, from Miliband to James Purnell who have grasped the clear (and overdue) means of reconnecting the public back to the political process, and whom together could begin reforming the party and political system itself. It really is Labour’s last chance for its principal legacy other than devolution to be progressive rather than embarrassing.