Posts Tagged 'Constitution'

Let the people decide. Let the discussion begin.

Since the Harrogate conference at the Old Swan Hotel, the participants at the meeting have engaged in a great deal of discussion about what is being called The Harrogate Agenda.

Emails have flown back and forth and debate has taken place the forum on Richard North’s EU Referendum blog.  Today is the day that the provisional list of demands has been published.

Provisional because, in a demonstration of the very democratic settlement we are demanding, everyone is being invited to share their views and ideas, and participate in the enhancement and improvement as we draw closer to the adoption of a final charter.  Your thoughts and suggestions are extremely valuable and very welcome – just join in the discussion at the link above.  So here are the draft demands…

The get the old debating juices flowing and get people thinking, below are some challenging thoughts shared in an email round robin between the Harrogate group (which really should have been on the forum) about what the aims of the charter should be and how the movement that has been spawned should approach this endeavour.

First, making the EU the target is doomed to failure. The UK’s destiny can still be mapped within domestic structures – albeit structures that need reform. That should be the target. We need to think strategically. There is no point attacking the opponent’s queen if your opponent is about to checkmate you with his pawns. We need to have our pieces in the right places on the board in order to win and ensure we have a positive and constructive path that people will want to tread.

Second, history has shown political parties are not the route to bringing about change. Movements are the method to drive change as parties will always lose focus and devote attention to their own internal intrigues and rivalries. They develop their own interests and waste energy servicing their own machine.

Having the post constitutional pieces in place is the priority – and before that we need to set aside the illusion of Magna Carta and a Bill of Rights being any use to us. They have been ripped apart with ease by successive Parliaments exposing their weaknesses. We need a modern, watertight constitution that serves the nation’s people, not vested interests, which cannot be by-passed for political expediency or changed without permission of the electorate.

What do you think?  Why not click over to the forum and contribute your thoughts.

Democracy is about power – people power.  The task the attendees at Harrogate set themselves was to define six demands which would bring us closer to controlling our own destinies and governing for ourselves the great nations of which we are part.  With the focus on bringing power to the people, this offering is a start.  It’s now time for others to play their part.

An English Parliament is more necessary than ever

This General Election has seen the Conservative and Unionist Party confirmed as an English political party.  Of the 10,706,647 votes cast for the Conservatives across the United Kingdom, 9,911,062 were cast in England.  The Conservatives currently hold a clear majority 297 of the 533 English Parliamentary seats (with one seat yet to elect an MP).  In the devolved countries – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – out of a possible 117 seats the Conservatives won a paltry 9, securing just 795,585 of the 4,606,283 votes cast.

Despite this level of support in England, the Conservatives unbelievably plan to continue treating England as a second class country within the United Kingdom.  England alone has no national legislature. England alone is forced to accept governance from the UK Parliament.  The Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish legislatures control major areas such as health, education and transport in their countries with no outside interference.  Those same core governmental areas in England are controlled by Westminster, with MPs for Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish constituencies detemining how England is run, safe in the knowledge that what they decide to impose on England will not affect their own constituents.

The Conservative plan is to allow MPs for English constituencies to look at Bills ihe early stages before putting them to the vote in the House of Commons – where the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish will continue to have the fundamentally undemocratic ability to vote on them.  You might be asking yourself why, given this has been known for a while, has the need for an English Parliament has suddenly become more urgent?  The reason is the outcome of the General Election.

David Cameron, in his desperation to become Prime Minister, has offered the Liberal Democrats the chance to govern with the Conservatives in a coalition.  If the proposal is accepted, it would be a political shotgun wedding and become a fractious marriage.  There will always be the possibility that the Lib Dems will walk out of the relationship, abandon the Conservatives and set up home with Labour, with whom they are more compatible.

If this happened, Labour and the Lib Dems would secure the support of the Scottish National Party (SNP), the Party of Wales (Plaid Cymru) and almost certainly the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Social Democratic & Labour Party (SDLP) and Alliance Party MPs from Northern Ireland.  The combined votes of these parties would be 336, giving this grouping a majority in the Commons.  Their legislative agenda in Westminster would, by definition, affect England more than the devolved countries because England does not have the degree of self determination granted to the other countries.

In such circumstances without power being devolved from Westminster to an English Parliament, major polices concerning health, education and transport among others, would be imposed upon the English through the votes of MPs from outside England, representing parties that have not stood for election in English constituencies, or parties that have been overwhelmingly rejected by English voters.  The situation differs from the last Parliament because Labour had more MPs in English constituencies than the Conservatives.  But now the position is very different.  The imposition of legislation on England that can only be made possible by the votes of non English MPs is a very real prospect and something that would be completely unacceptable.

The Conservatives need to act swiftly to present a Bill to form an English Parliament that could properly protect the interests of the English, before the possibility of the Tories being turfed back into ineffective opposition.

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We need a written constitution not proportional representation

Gordon Brown’s desperate attempt to win Liberal Democrat votes at the general election, by dangling the proposition of electoral reform in the shape of the Alternative Transferable Vote (ATV) in front of them if Labour returns to government after the election, has sparked much debate.  But one of the better articles on the subject can be found over at The Economic Voice, written by Andrew Withers (Looking for a Voice). Withers includes an excellent summary of the constitutional mess the UK finds itself in, attributed to the vandalism of the spiteful Labour administration, that should be burned into the mind of every voter.

But the real reason why Withers’ piece stands out for me is the way he gets beyond the narrow vested interests of the main political parties that will debate Brown’s proposal.  For as he rightly identifies, any reform needs to have at its heart a truly democratic focus that empowers the individual, or as Withers puts it:

We need a new Constitutional Settlement, not a Soviet style one imposed from above, but a written Constitution that guarantees the rights of the individual over that of the State. Not Jack Straw’s perversion of what duties we all owe to the State.

He is absolutely right.  The UK needs a written constitution.  The existing dog’s breakfast that passes for a constitutional settlement leaves it to a couple of dozen influential members from the three main political parties, whose elected voting fodder inhabit the House of Commons, to dictate on an ad hoc basis the extent of the permissions that will be granted to the population on any number of issues.  The most clear recent example of this was the stitch up known as the Lisbon Treaty.  Ireland was forced to put the decision on ratification to the voters because it was a constitutional requirement to vote on such a substantial shift of power.  With the benefit of a written constitution the political class would have been unable to put their own interests first and bypass British voters to impose more EU control on this country.

The existing settlement is not only completely unacceptable, it is fundamentally anti-democratic.  It is reminiscent of the self serving Parliamentary era witnessed in the days between the execution of Charles I and the start of Oliver Cromwell’s reign as Lord Protector.  It is a corruption that needs to be dismantled.  And let’s not forget the absence of a written constitution also allows judges to interpret the law in very different ways, as their own personal biases see fit.  This makes the legal system little better than a lottery.  The cumulative effect is that the establishment – or the state if you will – is an effective dictatorship that rules us, whereas its purpose and role should always be to serve the public.  Not for no reason did the Americans, having rejected British control, ensured the enduring rights of citizens by enshrining them in a constitution.  Britain has long had the need for a constitution of its own and that must be the focus of people who believe in real democracy.

While there is much where I agree with Withers, I am not convinced however that the way to a written constitution is through proportional representation.  He certainly makes a powerful case for a written constitution, but the introduction of proportional representation (be it ATV or the German and Swiss models of PR that he lauds) does not guarantee such a constitution would be delivered.  As an electoral system First Past The Post is far from perfect.  But it still feels preferable to a system that entrenches the political parties, the increasing consensus between which is negating opposition to the prevailing groupthink and is at the root of the democratic deficit suffered by England, as well as the mish mash of electoral systems in force in various parts of the UK.  A system that elects the most popular candidate, rather than the least unpopular one, is more positive in my opinion.

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