Helena Kennedy: We need to download power - that is what voters want

'Our system allows parties to maintain a monopolistic grip on political power'
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The Independent Online

The people are not the problem. They are interested in politics. They do care about the bread-and-butter issues that affect their lives; they do care about their communities and neighbourhoods, their country and the world, but they are totally alienated from the political system. We heard it up and down the country - formal democracy is failing the people.

The disenchantment cuts across all sections of society, but the political class just do not get it. They do not realise how deep the alienation runs. A bit of reinvention by the political parties will not be the answer. More fundamental reform is needed if we are to re-establish a democracy fit for a 21st-century People.

Power to the People calls for three essential shifts: more power to the people, more power to parliament and more choice.

There has to be a new emphasis on public engagement in politics. Not only should all public bodies be required to involve citizens in their decision-making processes, but clear processes should exist which allow people to challenge decisions and set the agenda. This is why we recommend the use of a far-reaching Citizen's Initiative, through which people can launch their own local and national referendums, public inquiries and hearings.

The overweening dominance of the executive has to be checked by allowing Parliament the necessary powers to do its job, acting as the eyes, ears and mouth of citizens at the heart of power. We must also revive local government by letting locally elected representatives implement the wishes of local people, not Whitehall. People will only re-engage with formal politics if they can see that their MPs and councillors are people who can really effect change. We have to be honest about the necrosis within the main political parties. Parties have many roles in a democracy, but one of the most crucial is acting as a channel of dialogue between governed and governors. This just does not happen any more. Our evidence is clear: these are unloved organisations which the majority regard as unprincipled, too similar to each other and literally out of touch. Our voting system lets them maintain a monopolistic grip on political power. We need electoral reform that will widen the choice for voters and let new voices and new alliances emerge.

These three shifts, involving 30 recommendations, taken together, will give millions the influence over key policy areas they crave. It will blow open the cosy Westminster consensus that citizens require little more out of democracy than a choice between two broad political programmes once every four years. It will download power, and that is what people want.

Baroness Kennedy is Chair of the Power Inquiry

The Power Commission

* Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws - QC and Labour peer (chair)

* Ferdinant Mount - former head, Downing Street Policy Unit (vice-chair)

* Emma B -- disc jockey, Radio 1

* Paul Boakye - editor, The Drum

* Phil Carey - sports coach

* Philip Dodd - former director, Institute for Contemporary Arts

* Ben Freeman - finance director, Prudential

* Bano Murtuja - chairman, Black and Minority Ethnic Health and Social Care Forum

* Frances O'Grady - TUC

* Barbara Gill - National Federation of Women's Institutes (died last November)

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