openDemocracyUK

Michael Wills - a response: your main reform is a botched stich-up

Stuart Weir
10 March 2010

An OurKingdom conversation: Michael Wills > John Jackson > Michael Wills > this post

I can quite understand why Michael Wills is upset about John Jackson's note on his struggle to move the democratic agenda forward with a government which is alternately hostile and indifferent and under a Prime Minister who blows hot and cold, hot and cold, on all the issues. My guess is that he is a genuine democrat who has been given a very uncomfortable and impossible brief.

However, the whole enterprise was flawed from the very beginning. In the July 2007 governance paper the spelling out of the problems was ducked which weakened the proposals for dealing with them. I said as much in a meeting Michael Wills - held with reformers in an attempt to get us on board and support the initiative.

It is no good saying that progress is slow and incremental on constitutional reform in the UK - my god, we know that too well - when nearly all Labour's reforms since 1997 have been predicated on preserving the power of the executive more or less intact.

All right, freedom of information has largely escaped the built-in safeguards for executive hegemony and Scotland has proved to be an evident model for reform at work. But Wills draws attention to the disgraceful pledge for a referendum on the two majoritarian electoral systems on the assumption that it is a good thing. I differ from that view; the public are not being offered a genuine choice which should be the principle of all referendums. The government has simply controlled it by fiat and offered only the prospect of straight AV because its leaders believe that the parliamentary party can live with it at a pinch (though my guess is that those MPs who fear AV are being quietly reassured that it will never happen).

How can any democrat possibly favour a referendum which denies the people a full choice of the alternative systems that exist, including AMS as in Scotland and Jenkins's AV Plus? It is an abuse of power that would be all the more serious if it were not also a botched stitch-up.

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