Thursday, May 28, 2009

Nick Clegg: Bar the gates of Westminster

Nick Clegg has an article in this morning's Guardian outlining his 100-day action plan to reform British politics:
let us bar the gates of Westminster and stop MPs leaving for their summer holidays until this crisis has been sorted out, and every nook and cranny of our political system has been reformed.
The Lib Dem leader's proposals are summarised in an accompanying news report:

• By week three legislation would be passed to introduce fixed parliamentary terms of four years from 2010, denying the prime minister the right to name the date of general elections.

• By week four the new Commons Speaker would convene all-party talks to introduce a series of changes to parliamentary procedure that would be agreed by day 100. These include handing MPs the right to decide the parliamentary timetable, ­giving MPs a greater chance to scrutinise government spending and subject ministers to confirmation hearings.

• By weeks four to five parliament would pass legislation to allow a referendum to be held on electoral reform – the alternative vote plus system proposed by the late Lord Jenkins – that would be held on day 100.

• By weeks six to seven parliament would pass legislation to replace the House of Lords with a wholly elected senate.

The demand for fixed-term parliaments is familiar in radical circles, though presumably there would have to be provision for calling an election outside the agreed timetable if there was stalemate at Westminster and no one could form a government.

Giving MPs more power over the executive is the least glamorous demand here, but almost certainly the most important. I wrote about the need for it in House Points last week.

I find it hard to work up too much enthusiasm for the alternative vote, in particular because it will do little about the greatest evil of our current electoral system: the safe seat.

Finally, I do support an elected upper chamber, but we do need to recognise that in the last 30 years the Lords has often reflected public opinion more faithfully than the Commons has. It is the lower house that is most in need of reform.

Still, Nick has seized the headlines with this initiative, so well done to whoever thought it up.


James said...

You really can't bring yourself to give him an unbarbed compliment can you ;-)!!

Mark Pack said...

An important detail: it's AV+ not AV that Nick is calling for, which is a much more proportional system.

There is of course the separate AV+ vs STV debate (we prefer STV, but is calling for that going to work? is calling for AV+ the best way to get something changed?) but it's a much better trade-off than if it were AV vs STV.

Anonymous said...

We alreadyt have an elected first chamber, so why do we need an electred sevcond one? If it is elected, it should be elected at different times to the commons, using a different voting system, and not wholely elected.

Matthew Huntbach said...

I find it hard to get excited about this as well.


The use of the term "AV+" right at the start does just what we don't want to do - turn it into a technical discussion of interest only to, well Liberal Democrats. We really have to learn that while we get excited over these things, most people don't.

It starts off looking exciting, but when you look at it in more detail it's boring constitutional stuff, which most people - correctly - won't think will solve the deeper malaise about democratic politics in this country.

The use throughout of the Nick Clegg image betrays it right away as really politics as usual - Westminster politicians talking down to us. My feeling is that changing the way we, the voluntary side of politics, do things will be more important than constitutional changes - which I do still support. I.e. NOT playing politics as the man in Westminster speaking down to us.

STV is clearly the electoral system which gives people the most power over who represents them. We do need to find a way which sells it as such but doesn't get bogged down in technical details. We made a mistake when we agreed not to quibble about the precise form of PR used in the Euro-elections - asa result many commentators really do believe this sort of fixed party list system is what we in general endorse as the "Proportional Representation" we have always called for.

So perhaps let's say "An electoral system which is all about voting for individuals, not for parties, and which gives YOU the most choice".