For anyone arguing that our rotten Westminster system needs reform, the expenses scandal is the gift that keeps on giving. Before the summer the three main parties were competing with each other to show how determined they were to clean up and reform our broken politics. Now, when the order comes from Sir Thomas Legg to pay back the mis-claimed expenses to the tax payer, we hear reports that they're ganging together across party divides in a co-ordinated attempt to refuse.
Talk about not "getting it"!
If MPs thought they could return to business as usual after their 82-day break with the expenses crisis safely behind them then they've made a dangerous mistake. Public outrage at the abuse of taxpayers' money and the shameful system of self-regulation that permitted it isn't going to go away so easily.
MPs should face up to this reality, do the decent thing and pay the money back. Their behaviour brings our humiliated democracy into even greater disrepute. The public just won't stand for it any longer. People in the UK have been switching off from formal politics for a long time and self-serving behaviour like this only makes things worse.
What is needed is real democracy, transparency and choice, so that voters set the rules and not the politicians. Power2010 has had nearly 2000 ideas already submitted by ordinary people who want to see root and branch change and we'll be challenging every candidate to commit to reform in the run up to the next general election. If MPs' recent behaviour has taught us one thing, it's that they just can't be trusted to deliver the change we need on their own.
The following is a response to Helena Kennedy's Power2010 appeal
Dear Helena Kennedy,
I have read through your invitation and 'call to arms' for the people to take back 'power'. I fear that, as with the original 'Power' report, and as noted in the earlier interview with you, this new initiative will share the fate of that report, unless it is considerably beefed up, in order to take proper advantage of the widespread disapproval of the current political system, that has grown up with the events of the last few years.
The traditional parties are a small and declining group of self-interested individuals who have shown, time and again, that they cannot be trusted, and yet they are still permitted to maintain their position by operating as a cartel which prevents entry of other, more worthy and informed, individuals into the democratic process. Indeed, more worthy individuals are actively emasculated by the ‘whipping' process even if they do gain entry and pass through the antidemocratic selection processes.
As all - currently electable - parties are only interested in gaining and holding on to power, they are incapable of making crucially important decisions over such issues as climate change. They are also all wedded to a business/growth ideology, that is rapidly eroding the planet's ability to support humanity. The need for change is very dire: yet those who might help are excluded from taking part.
Their ‘ding dong' swap-over of near identical leaders is exploited and catalysed by the media, who treat the whole thing as little more than a game, where only three sides are permitted into the league, and where any dissent from the popularist views of the controlling groups, is pounced upon as weakness and made the subject of pejorative banner headlines. Thus the media keep the parties where they are, and prevent them from changing even if they wanted to.
It is quite disturbing that, despite the evident breakdown of democracy, clearly writ in the ‘banking' crisis, in the political response to it, and in the ‘expenses fiasco', the dominant media organisations that claim to know better, such as the BBC, are nevertheless gearing up and ‘grooming' the public for yet another change over to yet another identically incapable and self interested regime! (In the same vein, they make programmes about the failings of the ‘banking system' through greed, whilst simultaneously encouraging such gambling in endless property development programmes and in ‘news' such as the ‘UpShares Downshares' section of the Radio4 PM programme.)
I feel strongly that the party system is unfit for purpose and must be replaced with a truly democratic system. The ‘Power' report itself, did, I think, try to address some of these issues - suggestions of reforming the electoral methods and the whipping system, I recall, were made. But the report was otherwise very much operating ‘within the box' of the existing system and trying to make silk purses out of the sows' ears of the existing politicians and their parties. Indeed, now we have seen that the sows' noses were so deep in their troughs that their ears were covered and deafened in any case!
Our politicians abuse expenses. They pay fines when they break their own laws – but stay in their jobs.
We need to take back control -- of our government, of our politics, and of our democracy. That's why we've started POWER2010, a new movement that will reinvigorate our politics from the bottom up.
Do you believe power should rest with the voters and not with politicians? Click here to sign our declaration for change.
It's too late for us to bring change to our current set of MPs, but the general elections are coming up. We can make sure that the next Parliament is a reforming one -- and we want you to play a leading role in making sure that happens.
First and foremost, democracy is about the involvement of the people -- people like you and me. We need to act to take power from the hands of the politicians and put it back in ours where it belongs.
Our movement is young – but growing. This is our chance: I hope you take it by signing our declaration for change:
Together we can fix our politics.
Thank you and best wishes,
POWER 2010 Chair
The man in the moon observing the current political scene in our country could be forgiven for concluding that our supposed leaders are competing with each other to see which of them can make us the most miserable. Egged on by the media in pre-election mode they are describing our present economic position in exaggerated and horrific terms and delight in telling us how they propose to put the situation right by ‘savage cuts', housewifely prudence and, of course, new and larger taxes.
Before long people, particularly those suffering the real misery of unemployment, whether directly or through members of their families, will notice two things. None of those leaders, including particularly those in official opposition, are anxious to accept that anything they did (or did not do) as cogs in our parliamentary system contributed to our problems. Also that their remedies presume that they should carry on as usual - and they are simply competing over who should ‘take the lead' in doing what they claim needs to be done. And that the question of whether their unchanged system might in any way be part of the problem, or might itself need to be ‘savagely' changed, is not asked. And that therefore all the leaders on offer wish to continue doing things to us - not with us.
When such pennies do drop questions will be asked and asked with increasing vigour. Questions that could include the following: Does our parliamentary system work? Can our members of parliament truly represent us if their future depends in any degree on how their party whips report to party leaders on their commitment to the party cause? Do we get the best ministers if they have to be members of either house? Why can we not have primaries before a general election? Should we have fixed term parliaments? Why not proportional representation? Why not more civic involvement in the lead up to fundamental decisions, culminating in some cases in national referendums?
The Rowntrees backed Power 2010 coalition for the renewal of politics launched yesterday (see Guy's post). Helena Kennedy had an article in the Independent with the headline "This is our chance to seize power - it may be the last one we get". They are calling on everyone to send in their ideas for reforms that will make a difference. Over 100 came in on the first day. You can post your ideas and proposals HERE on the new Power 2010 website and back it up with a video too. I'll be writing more about this important development. But here is the proposal I just sent in:
No More Lords - no more peers to be appointed to the Lords. None. Busta! Because people want to see an end to corruption and backhanders and the crony appointments to the Lords is the main source of corruption in British politics. Unless we stop them now there will be a tranche of Blairite riff raff all saying they have to serve out the rest of their lives there or get compensation. It is a simple demand with big implications and would provide a clear expression of public contempt for the status quo.
Blogger Mark Reckons has interviewed Helena Kennedy, Chair of POWER2010, the new campaign for democratic reform which launches today. POWER2010 is a bottom-up campaign which asks members of the public to submit and vote on their ideas for fixing our broken politics - the most popular will become the Power2010 pledge to be used to persuade and audit candidates and parties at the next election.
I'm working full-time on the campaign and hope to be blogging regularly on its progress and the different ideas it generates here. In this interview Helena Kennedy explains to Mark how the campaign will work and how we hope it will succeed:
POWER2010 sounds like an interesting campaign for political obsessives like me but why do you think this will succeed in a way that previous ones perhaps haven't? For example as far as I can tell, despite all the hard work of you and your colleagues, almost none of the original Power Inquiry key recommendations have been implemented three and a half years on.
There have been, as you say, many campaigns over the past few decades which have tried - in various ways - to get democratic and constitutional reform realised. I have been involved with many of them. You are right - despite the welcome the Power Inquiry report received - little has changed. I think you have identified the problem very accurately. In the end we have been reliant on politicians - those with power to implement reforms - reforms which in most cases will see them losing Power. And - they just can't take that!
So despite fine words, things don't change. But I do believe that change can happen. Look at how the Scottish Parliament came about - we needed an Act of Parliament and for MPs to vote for change. But they were persuaded in favour of the Parliament in the end because of the campaign in Scotland which involved civil society and real people and over years persisted and changed the culture in which that conversation was taking place. We need to do the same now.