Nick Clegg: I aim to restore people's faith in politics


Our political system is broken. Go to the Houses of Parliament and you'll see what I mean. Far from being the "mother of all parliaments" as the official tour guides will tell you, it is fast becoming a museum piece – a 19th-century home for our 21st-century political elite.

For much of the week, its benches are almost empty, save for a sprinkling of MPs and a minister who is obliged to submit himself to occasional parliamentary scrutiny – scrutiny which is invariably more show than substance because the Government of the day always knows it can use its fat majorities to ram through any measure against almost all opposition. Only on a Wednesday afternoon does the place come to life, as members pour in for that half hour of barracking, braying and bullying known as Prime Minister's Questions. But no sooner has this finished and the chamber empties again, as MPs return to the morale-sapping task of trying to hold our over-mighty government to account.

That this is the reality of our parliamentary democracy is not, in fairness, surprising. We are governed by a party voted for by just 22 per cent of the people, but which has 55 per cent of the MPs. The Government not only has the lower house in its vice-like grip, but has stuffed the upper house with its cronies and supporters, including every Labour donor who's given the party more than a million pounds in the last decade.

The Government knows that, no matter how hollow its mandate, the "official opposition" can be trusted never to speak out against an electoral system that has so often worked to its advantage in the past.

While the two status-quo parties persist in their self-interested conspiracy of silence about the problems with our democratic system, the public have been voting with their feet. Turnout in all forms of election has slumped sharply since 1997, political party membership has more than halved and public trust in the political process is at an all-time low.

You might have expected our political leaders to respond to this slide into apathy and cynicism. Not a bit of it. Since its re-election in 2005, this government has, instead, used its parliamentary majority to engage in an unparalleled assault on the hard-won rights and traditional freedoms of the British people.

Seemingly unembarrassed by the flimsiness of its mandate, it has sought to intrude further into the private sphere than any government in living memory.

That is why I have decided to take a stand to defend that inviolable line that separates each of us from the unwanted intrusion of an overbearing state. That is why I have pledged to go to court rather than submit my personal details to the Government's identity card database.

If Parliament is to avoid being turned from the mother of all parliaments into the eunuch of all parliaments, we need a proper overhaul of Westminster. That means a change in how we do business – family-friendly hours, a review of MPs' expenses, and reform to our over- generous pensions, for starters.

And it means a wholesale commitment to constitutional reform. A written constitution. A fully elected House of Lords. Fewer MPs. And, crucially, electoral reform.

A commitment to proportional representation at all levels of government in Britain has been a central plank of the Liberal Democrat policy agenda since the party's foundation. It is absolutely pivotal to any serious attempt to change our country.

So I am not willing just to wait for hypothetical coalition negotiations – in a hung parliament that may never happen – to fight for constitutional reform. I want to start that battle now.

Labour wants a settlement on party funding because it has been spooked by the Ashcroft millions – money currently pouring into marginal constituencies across Britain from the non-domiciled peer. The Conservative party used to be "made in Britain" but now appears to be "assembled in Belize".

But party funding should not be considered in isolation. The Government must open negotiations right now on wider constitutional reform.

If ministers can come forward with a fair and balanced solution to our hopelessly weak party-funding rules, the Liberal Democrats will support it. But under my leadership, we will not stop there. We will demand a commitment to serious cross-party talks on fundamental political reform.

If approached in the right spirit, these discussions on party funding could provide a springboard for the wholesale reform of our democratic system. We have a chance to clean up our politics and to restore public faith in the political process; a chance to become proud of our democracy once again.

Nick Clegg is a Liberal Democrat leadership candidate

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Group has been well establishe...

Recruitment Genius: Lettings Negotiator - OTE £23,000

£15000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Following a successful launch i...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

Recruitment Genius: Lifeguards / Leisure Club Attendants - Seasonal Placement

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Qualified Lifeguards are required to join a fa...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The strange absence of women on our cultural landscape, and what I decided to do about it

Sian Norris
Bahrainis on an anti-government protest in May  

Hussain Jawad's detainment and torture highlights Britain's shameless stance on Bahraini rights

Emanuel Stoakes
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003