openDemocracyUK

Parliament First

There's a small window of opportunity before the general election to push for reform of the UK Parliament
Stuart Weir
10 December 2009

All the old lags were there. It was a meeting at Portcullis House on the future of democracy in the UK and was so miserable that the peer sitting next to me muttered, "I am going to recruit the remnants of the Baader-Meinhof gang and assassinate some bankers to cheer myself up." 

Anger about the bankers as they go about God's and Mammon's work is plainly alive and well, but this meeting jointly organised by the reform-minded Parliamentary First group of MPs, Andrew Blick, Peter Hennessy and others very soon concluded that though public anger over the expenses scandal was still raw, it was a largely negative reaction and that the impulse for positive parliamentary reform in its wake had largely dissipated if it was ever really alive.  

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The most likely casualty of the current public and political mood, it was agreed, is the Wright report on parliamentary reform which was too sensible to have caught the imagination of most people outside the House of Commons, and too sensible to have commended itself to shell-shocked MPs.   Mark Fisher MP from Parliament First warned that the opportunity to make something of the special select committee's report would be over by the end of January as election fever seized Parliament.  Meg Russell, the committee's adviser, lamented that democracy groups were all too pre-occupied with long-term ambitions to give the modest report the attention and impetus it deserved.  

Well, I agree with them both.  There are good proposals and ideas in this report on engaging the public and giving MPs more say on business in the Commons that ought to be implemented as soon as possible and that could give reform-minded MPs more to work with in the immediate future.  This is not to say that there were not other significant longer term contributions.

Peter Hennessy argued that reformers should be preparing an interlocking agenda for the next round of democratic change - I suppose that was one of the more cheerful contributions - and the Lib-Dem peer, Lord (Trevor) Smith, argued strongly for the need for real corporate governance and checks on the corporate dominance in political governance. But I want here to emphasise the case for getting behind the Wright report and its proposals.

Those of us who want reform should take to heart Mark Fisher's view on the small window of opportunity for this modest  but real reform to strengthen the  role of  the House of Commons and MPs - but how fitted they are to seize the moment is another matter. 

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