Leading article: The hare of constitutional reform is now running

Public pressure on our leaders can help change our politics

Share
Related Topics

In theory this is the very worst time for politicians to be grappling with weighty and complex matters such as constitutional and electoral reform. We know that there will be a general election by next June at the very latest. And that tight timetable will be a powerful influence on thinking across Westminster.

Turkeys do not generally look forward to Christmas and many MPs will be wary of supporting reforms that could jeopardise their own chances of re-election. And those party leaders expecting the present system to deliver them some share of power also have an incentive not to rock the boat. In normal times, an atmosphere of intensified partisan self-interest and pre-election conservatism would smother any serious reform initiative.

Yet these are not normal times. And unlikely though it might seem, the hare of reform is now up and running. Gordon Brown held the first meeting yesterday of a Cabinet subcommittee with the rather grand title of "National Democratic Renewal Council" and will make a statement in the House of Commons on the subject today.

But the impetus for reform stretches across the parties. The Conservative leader, David Cameron, delivered a speech last month in which he spoke of the need for a "massive sweeping, radical redistribution of power". And the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, has been demanding radical reform too.

We have, of course, the expenses scandal to thank for the sudden salience of this agenda. The Liberal Democrats, to be fair, have always advocated reform, but it is unlikely that Mr Brown and Mr Cameron would be making statements on the need to redistribute power were it not for the toxic revelations in the past month of MPs submitting claims for massage chairs and gardening bills.

Some common ground on reform, such as greater autonomy for Commons committees and allowing those outside Parliament to initiate debates, has already been identified between the parties. Such reforms would be welcome. And there is no reason why most of them cannot be enacted in the present Parliament, by amending the Constitutional Renewal Bill at present making its way through the House. The sooner such changes can be enacted, the better. Bigger changes, such as reform of the House of Lords and modification of the voting system, probably cannot take place this side of a general election. But that does not mean they should be kicked into the long grass. Parties should be actively developing reform proposals for their respective manifestos.

The voting reform the Government seems most likely to favour is the Alternative Vote (AV). In one sense this would be a disappointment. AV is scarcely more proportional than first-past-the-post. But it would be "fairer", requiring each MP to win the backing of at least half of their constituency electorate. And it could be a step towards the far superior "AV plus" system recommended by the 1998 Jenkins Commission. Moreover, it would mean a breaking of the taboo on meddling with the present unreconstructed and distorting parliamantary voting system.

Constitutional reform in Britain has always been a process, rather than an event. Now is not the time for those who want change to make the best the enemy of the good, but to bring pressure on our politicians to ensure this opportunity is not allowed to go to waste.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Recruitment Genius: Invoicing Clerk

£14500 - £17500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are contractors to...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Administrator / Marketing Assistant

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of packag...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Field Sales - OTE £30,000

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a rapidly expanding offi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

We celebrate the power of a few women, yet ignore the 9,000 who are locked away

Janet Street-Porter
 

Greek tragedy casts a dark cloud over George Osborne's first Conservative-only Budget

Andrew Grice
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy