Labour's Manifesto on Democratic Reform in full

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
12 April 2010

I've not yet had time to read the Labour Party Manifesto (pdf) closely. It can be worth doing. The decision to make the Bank of England independent was written in code in the 1997 one and no one spotted it! There is quite a lot here and quite a lot missing. But here is its entire section on Democratic Reform along with the amazing Maoist cover (hat tip George Eaton at New Statsman). What should we make of it?

The challenge for Britain


To forge a new constitutional and political settlement in Britain so that we restore trust in politics, and our political institutions are properly held to account by the people. The Tories oppose any real reform of the political system that has let the public down. Their policies would result in a postcode lottery based on ‘free-for-all’ localism rather than genuine empowerment and a future fair for all.

The next stage of national renewal
• Referenda, held on the same day, for moving to the Alternative Vote for elections to the House of Commons and to a democratic and accountable Second Chamber.
• Improved citizenship education for young people followed by a free vote in Parliament on reducing the voting age to 16.
• Legislation to ensure Parliaments sit for a fixed term and an All Party Commission to chart a course to a Written Constitution.
• A statutory register of lobbyists, with MPs banned from working for lobbying companies and required to seek approval for paid outside appointments.
• Stronger local government, with increased local democratic scrutiny over all local public services.

We face a deep crisis of trust in politics following the parliamentary expenses scandal. Faith in our political institutions was seriously eroded by the abuses of the expenses system. Only radical change can begin to renew our democracy.

Cleaning up politics
We acted swiftly to clean up politics by creating an Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) to set pay and pensions for MPs, as well as their allowances. And we will take further measures to restore trust in our politics.

MPs who are found responsible for financial misconduct will be subject to a right of recall if Parliament itself has failed to act against them. The House of Lords and the new Second Chamber will be brought under the aegis of IPSA.

We will create a Statutory Register of Lobbyists to ensure complete transparency in their activities. We will ban MPs from working for generic lobbying companies and require those who want to take up paid outside appointments to seek approval from an independent body to avoid jobs that conflict with their responsibilities to the public.

But this is only the start. People want a greater say in how the country is governed and for politicians to be more accountable to those they serve. So while we are proud of our record of devolving power and reforming the constitution, we believe that further and more radical reform is imperative if we are to renew our democratic public life. Britain needs a new constitutional and political settlement for a new era.

A new politics
To begin the task of building a new politics, we will let the British people decide on whether to make Parliament more democratic and accountable in referenda on reform of the House of Commons and House of Lords, to be held on the same day, by October 2011.

To ensure that every MP is supported by the majority of their constituents voting at each election, we will hold a referendum on introducing the Alternative Vote for elections to the House of Commons.

We will ensure that the hereditary principle is removed from the House of Lords. Further democratic reform to create a fully elected Second Chamber will then be achieved in stages. At the end of the next Parliament one third of the House of Lords will be elected; a further one third of members will be elected at the general election after that. Until the final stage, the representation of all groups should be maintained in equal proportions to now. We will consult widely on these proposals, and on an open-list proportional representation electoral system for the Second Chamber, before putting them to the people in a referendum.

To further strengthen our democracy and renew our constitution, we will legislate for Fixed Term Parliaments and set up an All Party Commission
to chart a course to a Written Constitution. We are proud to have brought in the Human Rights Act, enabling British citizens to take action in British courts rather than having to wait years to seek redress in Strasbourg. We will not repeal or resile from it.

Our society rightly demands respect from young people. At the same time, society should respect young people’s views and aspirations. The success of elections for local Youth Mayors and the UK Youth Parliament strengthens the case for reducing the voting age to 16, a change to which Labour is committed. However, we believe that prior to this happening, we need further to improve citizenship education in schools so that young people are better prepared for their democratic responsibilities; a report will be commissioned on how best to achieve this so that we can raise standards in citizenship education, before providing a free vote in Parliament on reducing the voting age to 16, for which we will make government time available.

Stronger accountability
A new politics also means strengthening the power of Parliament to hold the executive to account. We have supported changes to how Parliament functions in order to strengthen Select Committees and to give a stronger voice to backbenchers. The public will be given a new right to petition the House of Commons to trigger debates on issues of significant public concern. Parliament must better reflect the diversity of modern Britain. Labour already has a higher proportion of female and black and ethnic minority MPs than any other party. We will take forward the proposals of the recent Speaker’s Conference so that the House of Commons properly reflects the diversity of modern Britain.

We strongly support measures that improve the transparency of parliamentary institutions and government, and want to see this principle extended throughout public life. To encourage freedom of speech and access to information, we will bring forward new legislation on libel to protect the right of defendants to speak freely.

The cost of politics to the taxpayer must be minimised, but we reject using this as an excuse to gerrymander constituency boundaries in the interests of one political party. We will establish a non-partisan Parliamentary Boundaries Review to examine the rules for constructing parliamentary constituencies. We have already legislated to enable the individual registration of voters. We will now act, legislating further if necessary, to end the unacceptable situation where three million eligible voters cannot vote because they are not registered to do so.

We believe that the funding of political parties must be reformed if the public is to regain trust in politics. Our starting point should be the Hayden Phillips proposals of 2008. We will seek to reopen discussions on party- funding reform, with a clear understanding that any changes should only be made on the basis of cross-party agreement and widespread public support.

Devolving power
The new politics also means radical change to local public services. Our goal is for much greater local flexibility and responsiveness, so that services are shaped around the personal needs of citizens, not the silos of government departments. Greater accountability – with public services built around users, scrutinised by democratically elected local councils, and with clear rights of redress for citizens – will strengthen support for collectively provided services, while driving efficiency and effectiveness in expenditure.

Local government and its partners in public services are already pooling budgets across localities. Our radical Total Place agenda will take this further, giving local areas additional freedom to achieve better services and more savings, cutting bureaucracy and management costs, while placing a greater on early intervention. Ring-fenced budgets, central targets and indicators will be cut back.

Local government is at the forefront of tackling the major challenges our society faces, from climate change to ageing. Increasingly, councils are the motors of economic growth and regeneration, particularly in our great cities. We will give local government new powers to lead in the provision and financing of social and affordable housing, tackle climate change and work with the NHS in our new National Care Service.

These reforms provide the foundations for fundamental change. In contrast to ‘no frills’ councils that charge twice for all but the most basic services, we believe that local government must further empower residents to hold it to account and deliver better, more personalised services. Alongside enhanced scrutiny powers for councillors, we are introducing petitioning powers for local residents to demand action, and extending neighbourhood agreements where citizens set out the standards of services they expect locally.

We will also extend the powers available to our major city- regions, building upon the pioneering arrangements in Greater Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham. City- regions will be able to gain additional powers to improve transport, skills and economic development and acquire greater borrowing flexibility. Where new city-region authorities are created, we will give residents the opportunity to trigger a referendum for directly electing a Mayor, with London- style powers. More towns should be encouraged to apply for city status and have the chance to acquire it in future competitions.

Our towns and cities need modern, sustainable transport infrastructure. We will support tram schemes into the major cities, including upgrades to the Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham and Tyne & Wear light-rail systems, a modern trolley bus in Leeds, and more Oyster-style electronic ticketing promoting cheap and easy interchange between public transport in cities.

We recognise that buses are a lifeline, having doubled investment since 1997. We will provide punctuality data on all bus routes so passengers can hold services to account. We want greater use of London- style powers to regulate bus routes where local bus services are not serving communities well, and we will work with the Competition Commission to ensure that the bus companies do not make excess profits at the expense of passengers.

We have increased funding for local government by 45 per cent in real terms since 1997. Through tough capping powers and efficiencies, this year we have seen the lowest Council Tax rises on record and we expect them to stay low. Excessive rises will be capped. We will not hold a Council Tax revaluation in the next Parliament and we will establish a cross-party commission to review the future of local government finance to ensure it is meeting our goals of accountability, equity and efficiency across the country.

Public services in the digital age
Citizens expect their public services to be transparent, interactive and easily accessible. We will open up government, embedding access to information and data into the very fabric of public services. Citizens should be able to compare local services, demand improvements, choose between providers, and hold government to account.

We have led the world with the creation of, putting over 3,000 government datasets online. Entrepreneurs and developers have used these datasets to unleash social innovation, creating applications and websites for citizens from local crime maps to new guides to help find good care homes or GPs. We will now publish a Domesday Book of all non-personal datasets held by government and its agencies, with a default assumption that these will be made public. We will explore how to give citizens direct access to the data held on them by public agencies, so that people can use and control their own personal data in their interaction with service providers and the wider community.

Opening up government – central and local – in this way offers huge potential for Britain. We can use new technologies to give people a say on policy- making; enable citizens to carry out more of their dealings with government online; and save money for taxpayers as we switch services over to digital- only delivery.

Digital government also demands digital inclusion. So we will build on our network of UK Online centres and public libraries to spread free internet access points within the community, and develop new incentives for users to switch to online services.

Protecting the UK and supporting the Union
Devolution has strengthened the UK, preserving the union on the basis of a fairer partnership. The UK is strong enough and flexible enough to devolve power while retaining the benefits of staying together.

The Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have putmore power in the hands of local people. All the evidence is that devolution works, and is popular. We will implement the recommendations of the Calman Commission, including giving the Scottish Parliament additional tax- raising powers, and seek ways to build consensus behind these changes.

In Wales, we will work with the Welsh Assembly Government on a referendum to enhance the powers to make laws affecting Wales in Wales; and to ensure that Wales is not disproportionately disadvantaged by the application of the central government funding formula.

For the first time, Northern Ireland can look forward to a stable and prosperous future as a result of the Good Friday, St Andrews and Hillsborough Agreements. Supported by unprecedented public funding, we will continue to invest in the institutions of devolution, so that the Unionist and Republican traditions can work together for all the people of Northern Ireland.

Our constitutional monarchy is the source of deep pride and strength for our country. We believe that there is a case for reform of the laws concerning marriage to Roman Catholics and the primacy of male members of the Royal family. However, any reform would need the agreement of all the Commonwealth countries of which the Queen is the Sovereign.

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