Patricia Hewitt: I've always argued for electoral reform

A voting system that feels unfair does little to reconnect people

Share
Related Topics

But isn't health inequalities, more money for the NHS and better services for hard-to-reach and disadvantaged communities "political"?

This health worker's remark reminded me just how much we have to do to reconnect people with politics. But we face a paradox here. Everywhere, people are involved with "small-p" politics, from tenants' and residents' associations or a campaign for a pedestrian crossing, right through to international environmental groups and make poverty history.

Yet there is a chasm between "small-p" politics, and people's enthusiasm for a collective experience, and the "big-p" politics of the major political parties.

Why? The political system is partly to blame. A voting system that feels unfair does little to reconnect people. Yes, Labour benefits when a minority of votes is rewarded by a majority of seats - but none of us can be comfortable when nearly four out of 10 people don't vote at all. I have always argued for electoral reform - provided we keep the vital link between MP and constituency - as part of a wider political settlement, and I welcome The Independent's determination to keep the issue on the public agenda.

But Britain's political malaise runs deeper than the voting system. Modern culture, with its thirst for the real, the authentic and the immediate, makes representative democracy appear indirect, formal, and unauthentic. The individual - whether a Jamie Oliver or a patient given inadequate treatment - will always trump the politician who seems to embody "the system". Giuliano Amato, a former Italian prime minister, expressed the frustration many of us feel when he confronted the anti-globalisation protesters claiming to speak for "the people" against the politicians. He put the simple question to them: "How many people elected you?"

Partly it is a factor of the decline of deference, where a local councillor no longer commands the respect of the alderman of yesteryear. Partly it is the fault of a male-dominated macho adversarial political culture.

So what do we do about it?

Even in a country the size of Britain, we need to recapture something of the spirit of Athenian direct democracy. Citizens' juries in local government, patients' assemblies and initiatives such as the citizen's council run by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) suggest a way forward. At the Department of Health we have started a process of deliberative democracy, involving citizens in designing the future of community health and care services. Their views will be the basis for a white paper at the end of the year - and each participant will hear from me how we are acting on their ideas. Deliberative democracy has proved highly successful in the United States where the America Speaks initiative has captured the imagination of many communities - helped by local and regional television willing to report in depth the local meetings, free from the kind of cynicism we could expect in the UK.

In the Labour Party we need to ask ourselves some tough questions about how we operate. Instead of trying to shoe-horn people into our structures of local branches, general committees, and endless leaflet rounds, we must learn how to provide a positive individual and collective experience for people who want to make a difference. Every community has them. What they don't want is to become embroiled in boring meetings, internal faction-fighting or party political point-scoring. What they want is to see a difference on their streets and estates.

I know I'm the not the only MP who found at the general election that, while several party members were unwilling to campaign, even more non-members - usually from community groups - were out on the doorsteps helping to win the argument and get out the vote. The party "activists" were not necessarily active: but the community activists were.

This reality has prompted Labour to launch its new supporters' network to tap into this latent support from people who wish us well, don't want the Tories back, but don't like traditional party activities. This should be start of a new style of "retail" politics, which treats people as individuals and brings them together to get results, rather than wholesale politics which treats people as a mass market. I hope the woman I met at the NHS walk-in centre feels that this kind of politics is for her.

Patricia Hewitt, MP, is Secretary of State for Health

React Now

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

Upper KS2 Primary Teacher in Bradford

£21000 - £30000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Upper KS2 Primary Teacher...

KS1 Float Teacher

£90 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of pay : Randstad Education Southampton: ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Trainee Recruitmen...

KS1 Primary Teacher in Bradford

£21000 - £30000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: KS1 Primary Teacher in Br...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

In Sickness and in Health: It’s been lonely in bed without my sleep soulmate

Rebecca Armstrong
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv  

Why do we stand by and watch Putin?

Ian Birrell
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor