Time for a citizens' convention?

Guy Aitchison
20 May 2009

There's lots of talk about how moatgate (I'm calling it that until a name gets settled) can be the catalyst which leads to the clean up and reform of the political system. In their panic the Cabinet has apparently even discussed the possibility of a written constitution and a constitutional convention, something called for by Rick Muir recently on Liberal Conspiracy. At PMQs just now Labour MP Martin Linton told the PM the time is right for a citizens' convention. Brown replied that we've had lots of experience with such conventions in Scotland and and also with the EU (were any citizens invited to that one?) and that we should wait for the government's proposals which will be published in the next few weeks. Brown wasn't giving much away - "wait for the proposals" was also his response to Nick Clegg who used his questions to point out that expenses are "only the tip of the iceberg" and call for radical parliamentary reform.

David Cameron still thinks that the whole mess can be sorted out if only he were elected leader. He went for Brown, pushing a general election as the best solution to the democratic crisis. I  still get the sense the Conservative leader doesn't understand (or is unwilling to acknowledge) that outrage at MPs expenses is simply the inevitable outcome of the public's frustration and disillusionment with a remote (or should that be re-moat) and semi-corrupt Westminster system that has been growing for some time. Instead of just calling for change at the top, Cameron should announce that he will be standing on a programme to convene a constitutional convention and that one of his first acts as Prime Minister will be to set out a path towards democratic reform and renewal. Brown, of course, used his first speech to the House of Commons as Prime Minister in June 2007 to do just that, launching his Governance of Britain Green Paper. It was at that time that OurKingdom was launched and I remember we published several posts arguing that revolutionary constitutional reform would only come following a crisis. I still don’t really buy that argument myself. Rather than the absence of a crisis, I think it was Brown and his Cabinet colleagues’ hunger for centralised power that meant the germ of radicalism in the Green Paper never saw sunlight. But that isn’t to say a crisis won’t help! Now that we have one on our hands what can we do to make sure the political class (and that includes most of the media), having dispatched the Speaker, don’t get away with a return to business as usual?

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