Saturday, October 27, 2007

Brown must be bolder

Reviving the constitutional reform agenda was always going to be a central aspect of Gordon Brown's premiership as he seeks to restore public trust in politics following its near-collapse under Tony Blair. But with Labour now lagging behind in the opinion polls after the non-election debacle, he needs to do more than just rehash a set of proposals - albeit worthy ones - that were first unveiled last July.

In particular, he needs to take a fresh look at proportional representation for Westminster. The first-past-the-post system, by encouraging the parties to target their messages at voters in a hundred or so marginal constituencies, has resulted in the effective disenfranchisement of most of the population and thereby increased the public's alienation from the political process.

In addition, if Mr Brown is going to starting banging the drum for "liberty" as he did in his Westminster University speech this week, he must look again at the ID card scheme. As well as being potentially the biggest infringement of individual liberties in this country since rationing, it will also cost an estimated £15bn to implement which most people think could be better spent elsewhere.

More in this vein in my weekly Saturday round-up of the week's political events, which can be read in the Newcastle Journal and HERE.

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1 comment:

Ted Harvey said...

The arrival of PR in Scotland is already having beneficial effects at the 'real' street level.

In my corner of Scotland I'm a member of the board of a community training and enterprise operation using significant public funding.

There are two ex officio board places for the local council. These were always filled on a 'buggins turn' basis by local Labour Councillors (it being one of those regions where Labour long dominated).

The two councillors would always be poor attenders, but whenever they were present you could feel the apprehension of any council officials also present and even of our own General Manager... an over-ridding atmosphere of 'don't rock the boat'.

I strongly suspected that many decisions were in effect 'decided' at informal pre-meetings in the council (or party?) premises, where the officers would be 'instructed'.

PR at the last Scottish elections has immediately resulted in a significant 'other parties' presence. Our two board places are now filled by two fairly capable councillors, both from different parties and therefore keeping an eye on each other.

One major outcome of this change is that we are now undertaking a review of our board governance as the starting point for a review of the operation of the entire organisation.

This experience is being replicated across civic Scotland. Perversely, I think this will have a debilitating effect on Gordon Brown's intention for reform - it's happening in his 'back yard' and he can see the weakening of the control bonds that Labour until now has excercised over Scotland.

The complete inability of the Labour Party to come to terms with what happened at the last Scottish elections and with the impact of PR, bodes ill for future reform intentions on a wider basis.