One of the penalties for refusing to engage in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.
To succeed in politics it is often necessary to rise above your principles.
Graham Allen (Labour, Nottingham North) is chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, one appointed by the House of Commons to consider political and constitutional reform. This committee has published the second report of the current session (2014-2015) entitled: A New Magna Carta?; and this report is ‘introduced’ by an article authored by Graham Allen.
In collaboration with Kings College London they are reviewing various parts of the current system of democracy under which we currently live and whether we, as a country, need a codified constitution. They make the point that it is not for the committee to decide this but the decision should be one for the people; and in this context the Introduction is well worth reading.
Part 1 of the report sets out the arguments for and against a codified constitution and it is interesting that the arguments for such a codified constitution make the same arguments that I, along with Richard North and The Boiling Frog, have been ‘banging on’ about in relation to the deficits encapsulated in our current system, representative democracy.
These are detailed in depth on page 20 of the report under the heading: The Particular Arguments; and include:
- In a democracy, it is the people that are sovereign, not Parliament;
- There are no limitations on what Parliament can legislate about;
- Parliamentary sovereignty is wielded by the government of the day, not Parliament;
- Parliamentary sovereignty is but an anachronism and that the sovereignty of the people should be paramount;
- Local Government is but a puppet of central government;
- An ‘elective dictatorship’ exists due to the lack of separation of powers twixt the Executive and the Legislature;
- Most of the rules governing the Office of Prime Minister are nowhere set down in legal form.
It is a tad ironic that the arguments against a codified constitution (page 24) actually do make the case for a codified constitution and for a change to our system of democracy; and include:
- The present system most definitely ‘is broke’ and therefore does need ‘fixing’; as can be seen by this sides later arguments;
- Change most definitely is wanted (who says it is not wanted – Katie Ghose, CEO of the Electoral Reform Society, who it could be said has a vested interest?);
- There are insufficient institutional checks and balances on the actions, decisions and policies of the executive (an ‘elective dictatorship’) – contrary to what the argument against maintains because: (a) intra-party dissent may well exist but promptly dissolves once the Whips get to work; (b) the ability of the House of Lords to delay legislation is negated by, if necessary, use of the Parliament Act; (c) the mass media is, by and large, uncritical; and (d) while it is necessary for political parties to court public opinion come election time, outside said occasions it can do as it damn well pleases.
Yet again we see public input being requested yet how much weight will that opinion have when weighed against those who might be considered ‘stakeholders’ – such as Katie Ghose? Just what is the point in involving the public when, as with any recall of an MP, Parliament will have the final decision? An elective dictatorship, indeed.
It would be interesting to know the personal feelings/views of those sitting on the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, especially as the report states that it is not the intention of the committee to influence. For example, take Graham Allen who, from Wikipedia, we learn is a proponent of democratic reform and supports independent local government, some proportional representation and a fully elected House of Lords; that in 1995 he wrote “Reinventing Democracy” and in November 2002 he published The Last Prime Minister: Being Honest About the UK Presidency, claiming that the UK effectively had a presidency; and that the Prime Minister (or ‘President’, as he referred to the office throughout the book) should be directly and separately elected in order for a better separation of powers.
However ‘saintly’ may be the intentions of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, I have to ask why it is the cynic in me suspects this is just another charade in the long-running – and constantly failing – attempt to bridge the gap twixt politicians and those they are supposed to represent.
This report appears to be but another effort to tinker with representative democracy while attempting to convince the people that they are the masters, ie that they are sovereign – a state they can never attain under representative democracy.
That the political class will not voluntarily visit their version of Dignitas is a given and if change to true democracy is really wanted by the people then they are going to have to get behind this idea.