Give me Parliament with muscle, reform watchdog tells Clegg

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The chair of Westminster's new political reform watchdog has likened Parliament to an "emaciated dwarf" that needs to grow more muscles to stand up to the "800lb gorilla" of government.

Graham Allen told The Independent he will pressure Nick Clegg for further measures to revitalise Britain's democracy beyond the major reforms promised by the coalition Government.

A series of radical changes, including plans for an elected House of Lords, fixed-term parliaments and a referendum on changing Britain's voting system, have all been included in the Government's programme. But in his first interview since being elected chairman of the new political and constitutional reform committee, Mr Allen said further changes would be needed to create a democracy "fit for purpose".

"We have to continue a process of refurbishing our democracy, which supersedes and transcends the immediate coalition Government package," he said. "If this Government is to retain its radicalism and its reforming edge, it cannot just fulfil its democratic shopping list and then stop after a couple of years. I think the coalition document will last to the middle of the parliament on the democratic agenda.

"In just four or five weeks, we have seen a rebalancing of parliament," he said. "It was the emaciated dwarf, with government as an 800lb gorilla. We've seen the dwarf have a bit of a work out and grow some muscles, but I for one would like to see that going further."

He said the group of MPs will investigate a written constitution, and revealed he supported letting councils decide their own voting systems.

"I believe every local authority should be allowed to decide its own voting system through referenda," he said. "What should be imposed from the top?" He added: "A thoroughgoing review of what we need to do to call ourselves a modern democracy is long overdue. That way, we'll have a democracy that is fit for purpose."

Mr Allen explained how he used to talk about his ideas for making parliament more powerful with the late Labour leader, John Smith, during lengthy debates almost 20 years ago. Yesterday he explained he would use his new role to ensure the "forces of darkness" of party leaderships would not rob backbenchers of the progress made in increasing their influence.

His committee was only developed after the coalition document was drawn up and included significant constitutional changes. His team of MPs will be formed over the next two weeks. He has already met with Mr Clegg, who is in charge of overseeing the coalition's political reforms, and sought assurances he will appear regularly before the committee.

He said there was "no doubt" that creating an elected Lords was now "unfinished business" for all parties. He also warned that a failure to deliver would cause an electoral disaster for the coalition.

"It was unfinished business for the Labour Party, but now it is clear it is unfinished business for British politics," he said. "If this opportunity that has arisen because of the fluke of electoral mathematics is wasted...one can't imagine any party retaining credibility with the electorate."

He said he was "open-minded" about how the Lords was altered. However, he pointed to Smith's preference for keeping appointed Lords, but only allowing a new group of elected peers to vote. "You would not deny yourself the wisdom of Lord Robert Winston, but they would not vote," he said. "It is a belief of mine that the pillar of democracy is that those who exercise political power must be elected."

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