Brown ally forwards blueprint to restore public's faith in politicians

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Indy Politics

A "people's power" plan to rejuvenate Britain's dying democracy and restore voters' trust in politicians has been drawn up by a close ally of Gordon Brown.

The Labour MP Michael Wills wants a constititutional convention of "ordinary" people to produce reforms to bridge the divide between the political class and the public. It could be one of the "big ideas" Mr Brown implements if, as expected, he succeeds Tony Blair as Prime Minister.

Mr Brown has hinted that he might bring in a modern written constitution to address the lack of trust in politicians. The issue is highly sensitive because Mr Blair's decision to take the country to war in Iraq on a false prospectus is widely seen as one of the main causes of the "trust problem".

In a pamphlet to be published by the Institute of Public Policy Research think-tank, Mr Wills argues politicians are not trusted by the voters to reform the system and so a "bottom-up" approach is needed.

He proposes that the convention of about 300 people be directly elected at the same time as the next general election. To ensure that fresh faces were involved, anyone who had stood for parliament would be banned. Within three years, the body's proposals would be put to the British people in a referendum.

Mr Wills suggests the convention's agenda could include reform of the voting system at general elections, as supported by The Independent's Campaign for Democracy; the merits of a written constitution; House of Lords reform; the respective powers of central and local government and the implications for England of Labour's decision to set up a Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.

In a frank analysis, the former minister says people are "sour and apathetic about most politicians" and that measures are needed to "tackle the popular view that politicians are only in politics for themselves".

He argues: "If parliament cannot move rapidly and radically to reform the constitutional settlement in a way that manifestly commands public confidence, then the time is coming for the people themselves to assume the task.

"Instead of the political class agreeing among themselves what the people needed, the people themselves would decide by empowering a unique assembly of their representatives to take these fundamental decisions." The Swindon North MP believes such reforms will help Labour re-engage with voters so it can stay in power. "No matter how compelling the argument, if voters don't trust politicians, then they won't listen to us," he said.

During a visit to Belfast, Mr Brown was questioned about a warning by Mr Wills that Labour was in danger of being voted out and remaining in opposition for up to 15 years unless it changed course.

"No party, even a party that has been in government a few years will ever be complacent," the Chancellor said. "We will continue to show we can deal with the challenges not just of today or yesterday but of the future."