The Labour leadership candidates on the future of Britain: Diane Abbott

The final week of voting is under way in the Labour leadership election with the new leader set to be announced in Manchester on Saturday. Whoever is chosen as leader will be expected to set out their approach on political reform. In order to inform the debate, OurKingdom has asked each of the candidates for their views on five key questions. First is Diane Abbott.
Diane Abott
Diane Abbott
20 September 2010

The final week of voting is under way in the Labour leadership election with the new leader set to be announced in Manchester on Saturday ahead of the party's conference. Whoever is chosen as leader will be expected to set out their approach on political and constitutional reform, an issue which the Coalition has chosen to dedicate much of its time and focus on. So as to inform the debate, OurKingdom has asked each of the candidates for their views on five key questions – we will be publishing the responses we receive one by one over the coming days. First is Diane Abbott. Next Ed Miliband

1) 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 will certainly help restore democracy and fundamental rights. It could also mean that the average person would have the chance to effect such changes and better defend their constituted liberties.
Labour brought in the Human Rights Act. I think that this is an important buttress of democracy and fundamental rights. I have an open mind on a written constitution. 

2) 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?
I was extremely disappointed with many decisions that Labour took in regards to civil liberties. Where possible I voted against them. I was against compulsory ID Cards, anti-trade union laws, 42 and 90 days detention without trial. I argued against holding children in immigration detention centres. I oppose the indiscriminate collection of innocent people’s DNA.

What we must understand is that basic rights and freedoms will help to bind 21st century Britain together. There is no contradiction between keeping Britain safe and our basic rights and freedoms.

The Great Repeal Bill is a step in the right direction to repairing past damage and restoring civil liberties.
3) 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?

The AV vote was a Labour party manifesto commitment and in its simplistic form I agreed with it. It may not be the ultimate solution but would certainly be fairer than the first past the post system we currently use. It is more proportional, reduces the need for tactical voting, and will help to reflect true public opinion of fascist parties. Groups like the BNP are very unlikely to get 2nd or even 3rd preferences. The current voting system is unpopular with some of the general public – a good reason for it to be taken to a referendum.
However, much of my party and I were appalled at the Lib-Cons attempts to use voting reform to bring about boundary changes. These are clearly designed to ensure that Conservatives gain more seats in further elections. Tainting the reforms with trying to maintain power is highly inappropriate and has meant that we eventually had to vote against the AV system as it was coupled with these other changes. This in effect has defeated the point of the entire reform.

I have an open mind on PR. Many systems give too much power to the party at the centre and sever the MP-constituency link. I think it is very important that local people have a representative in Parliament and that they have a direct link with them.
4) 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?

The recent controversy over the release of al-Megrahi was largely got up by the media. The constitutional position is already very clear. It was a matter for the Scottish Parliament under Scottish law. An English parliament would not have altered the situation. So I do not think that a devolved English Parliament is by any means inevitable.

Tomorrow: Ed Miliband

Should we allow artificial intelligence to manage migration?

How is artificial intelligence being used in governing migration? What are the risks and opportunities that the emerging technology raises for both the state and the individual crossing a country’s borders?

Ryerson University’s Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration and openDemocracy have teamed up to host this free live discussion on 15 April at 5pm UK time/12pm EDT.

Hear from:

Ana Beduschi Associate professor of law, University of Exeter

Hilary Evans Cameron Assistant professor, faculty of law, Ryerson University

Patrick McEvenue Senior director, Strategic Policy Branch, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada

Chair: Lucia Nalbandian Researcher, CERC Migration, Ryerson University

Who is bankrolling Britain's democracy? Which groups shape the stories we see in the press; which voices are silenced, and why? Sign up here to find out.


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