Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Power Inquiry: a preliminary verdict

Like most liberal reformers I was greatly encouraged by the findings of the Power Inquiry into the sorry state of British democracy.

There is undoubtedly much that is good in this report, most notably the call for an electoral system in which "all votes count by having some influence on the final outcome of an election."

The report's analysis of the weaknesses of the current party system, based as it is on the outmoded capital-versus-labour divisions of the 19th century, is also faultless.

In this context it correctly identifies the power of the whips - yes, that's you Hilary A. - as a significant factor in the sense of public alienation towards mainstream politics.

Yet there is one glaring omission from the report which, understandably, has already been well-covered in the English blogosphere, namely, devolved government.

As Gareth Young has pointed out on the CEP blog, the Campaign for an English Parliament actually gave evidence to this inquiry, as did the late Robin Cook who apparently said that if the English wanted a Parliament they should have one.

Don't get me wrong - although I support the CEP I do think it is important not to get the English devolution issue out of proportion and there are, in my view, other equally important issues that the report does address.

But if the Power Inquiry purports to be a fully complete constitutional reform blueprint, the absense of any mention of the "English Question" surely constitutes a fairly serious omission.

12 comments:

JohnJo said...

"the absense of any mention of the "English Question" surely constitutes a fairly serious omission."

Quite right Paul and I am at a complete loss to understand their motivation in leaving it out. They say how bad the situation is with respect to voters and feeling that they are not being heard or not listened to and then go and ignore the submissions that many of us made. Now that's counter productive.

Andy said...

I must say I think that addressing the inequalities levelled at the people of England via devolution is extremely important. The absence of any mention of the need/campaign for an EP in the report leaves me feeling startled.

Adam Lent said...

The report of the Power Inquiry does not purport to be a "complete constitutional reform blueprint" by any means. What the Commission tried to create was a strategic response to the problem of disengagement from formal democracy - that was its remit. There were any number of constitutional issues that could have been addressed which were not because they did not relate directly to this issue.

We certainly did receive some submissions about an English Parliament but the Commission was not convinced by any means that the West Lothian question etc. was a significant cause of disengagement. This was in large part based upon the fact that in all the many hundreds of submissions we received and in all the objective research we carried out - through surveys, focus groups and our citizens panel - the issue of an English Parliament or the West Lothian question was very rarely mentioned. Alongside the issues of the main political parties, executive power and the electoral system, for example, it was a very minor concern.

This is not to say that those campaigning for an English Parliament do not have a legitimate concern but it seemed to the Commission an issue relating to areas other than disengagement.

Adam Lent
Research Director
Power Inquiry

Toque said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Toque said...

I rather imagine that the West Lothian Question was a minor political concern when measured alongside political parties, executive power and the electoral system. Nevertheless, the fact that you have wilfully ignored the West Lothian Question and the impact that it will have on our constitution impacts negatively on the relevance of your report.

Still, ignorance is bliss eh?

wonkotsane said...

Do more Scots vote in Scottish Parliamentary elections or British Parliamentary elections? How about the Welsh with Assembly elections?

Their devolved administrations have got people interested in politics again and encouraged more people to take part in democracy.

The reason why the WLQ isn't talked about more in England is because the British government refuse to talk about it and deny it is a problem.

A serious paper on encouraging voter participation that excludes the WLQ isn't worth the paper its written on, let alone the public funding that has financed an ineffectual roll of expensive toilet paper.

Anonymous said...

I would like Mr Lent to tell us if the power enquiry considers the imposition of regional assemblies after a 78% NO vote in the North East of England and the cancellation of referenda in the rest of England is a root cause of disengagement from politics by the English public?.Will the power enquiry be debating un-elected and un-wanted regional assemblies?.

Toque said...

Exactly, even if people do not raise it as a problem affecting participation it should be addressed when over 70% of the British (not English) population think that Scots should not vote on English laws.

Stop Scots voting on English laws and what becomes of the Power Inquiry's report?

Fish 'n' chips wrappers

Paul Griffiths said...

The Power Inquiry responded to what people told it were the main reasons why they felt disengaged from the political process. It seems to me that those commenting on this post think that the Inquiry should have ignored all that and responded instead to what it thought people ought to be concerned about. While that course of action would have done away with the bother of holding public meetings, surveys and actually listening to people, I suspect the findings would even more open to criticism.

JohnJo said...

One has to remember that the CEP has a membership and you can guarantee that each of those members are fully behind the WLQ issue being raised and the establishment of an English Parliament. If the CEP responded to the Power Inquiry then should the actual numbers who express concern over the issue also include the membership? After all that is the whole foundation of movements, be they political or anything else.

Adam has kindly provided hints at the number of sumbissions on this issue. Another good hint to have thrown in our direction is whether the Inquiry included membership numbers of organisations when weighing up those numbers.

Anonymous said...

I find it hard to believe that a report into democracy, doesn't feel the needs to mention democratic accountability.
That's only for Iraq.

Paul Linford said...

I'm giving Adam's reply it's own post as I think it is a significant development in terms of coverage of this issue.