openDemocracyUK

The Labour leadership candidates on the future of Britain: Andy Burnham

Andy Burnham talks to OurKingdom about political reform, civil liberties and the English Question.
Andy Burnham
22 September 2010

OurKingdom has asked each of the Labour leadership candidates for their views on five key questions to do with civil liberties and constitutional reform – we will be publishing the responses we receive one by one in the run up to the announcement of the new leader on Saturday. We've heard from Diane Abbott and Ed Miliband - today we hear from Andy Burnham.

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The Labour party website outlines the need for "a radical programme of constitutional and parliamentary reform," and acknowledges that the "political system deters participation."  Do you believe it is now time for a written constitution?

A written constitution is unlikely to promote participation. Instead, the Labour Party needs to take a more active role in our communities, to show ourselves as a force for good, working with the wider Labour movement and with community groups. Labour should always be the natural destination of people who want to change the world for the better – and where better to start than our own communities?

A common criticism made of the Labour party during the Blair and Brown years was that it was responsible for the "erosion of civil liberties," exemplified by detention without charge, the DNA database and national ID card proposals.  Did Labour take it too far from '97-2010?  And, as leader of the party, what would be your position on the Great Repeal Bill?

We were right to take ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ as our standpoint, and I have said throughout this leadership campaign that I would remain true to that. Much has been said, by the media, by pressure groups, even by some of my fellow candidates, about civil liberties. I put it to you that we have been looking at the issue in too narrow a sense. What about those communities whose civil liberties are eroded by anti-social behaviour? What about the older people afraid to leave their homes because of fear of crime? The increased use of CCTV has given those people back their civil liberties, something which is all too often forgotten or ignored.

The DNA database has played a vital role in solving crime, and in exonerating the innocent. Not only have criminals been brought to justice, but we have averted potential miscarriages of justice too.

The Great Repeal Bill runs the grave risk of being out of step with public opinion, reinforcing for many how disconnected the political class is from the electorate.

The Labour party manifesto contained a commitment to a referendum on the Alternative Vote. Will you be campaigning for AV in the forthcoming referendum planned by the Coalition? And would you go further and support a referendum on proportional representation as originally promised by Labour in 1997?

I am tending toward AV, but I am yet to be fully convinced. The Bill currently before Parliament is deeply flawed and looks more like an attempt to gerrymander future elections than a genuine look at voting reform. If David Cameron was truly serious about AV he would not have put such an important vote on the same day as the national elections in Scotland and Wales or the local elections in England. Nick Clegg has been sold a pup and is in danger of being hit by a double whammy next May: a wipe out in Scotland, Wales and English local government and the loss of the referendum.

The recent controversy over the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi has exposed a new dimension to the West Lothian question, and illustrates the continuing contradictions between the unitary and devolved elements of the UK's political structure.  Is the eventual formation of a devolved English Parliament now inevitable? If not, how should the West Lothian question be dealt with?

Across Europe, there is a growing trend of regional breakdown, almost a fracturing of nations. In Belgium, for example, the tension between the Walloons and the Flemish threatens to rip that country apart, leaving Brussels, the heart of Europe, potentially state-less.

I am a strong believer in the United Kingdom and think of myself as British, rather than English. We were right to pursue devolution, but I am disappointed that devolution is not reflected properly in the Labour Party’s own internal structures, for example in the electoral college to elect the new Leader. We need to complete that journey first before embarking on a new one.

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