Leading article: The urgent need to return politics to the people

Share

The report published today by the Rowntree Trust does not mince its words. Of Britain's political system, it says: "The current way of doing politics is killing politics". Over 300 pages, it charts how far the present political practices diverge from the requirements of the 21st century, and recommends how political power could, in its words, be rebalanced.

This is one of the most wide-ranging studies of the workings of our unwritten constitution to have been conducted in recent years. That it was undertaken at all suggests how profound is the unease about the quality of our democracy as it has evolved in recent years. Whether this derives from the Blair government's extensive use of "spin" or, more simply, because our constitutional instruments were designed for another era, it is an unease we share.

From the declining turnout at elections to the pervasive public cynicism that seeks a secret agenda behind every Government initiative, there is ample evidence that our democracy is ailing - at least as far as mainstream party politics is concerned. But it is clear, too, that politics is bursting out in less orthodox forms, because conventional channels are inadequate to accommodate the causes about which voters feel strongly. There is a sense that people and politicians inhabit different worlds. This study, admirably, proposes practical changes that could be made to bring those worlds back together.

Among them are several for which this paper has long campaigned. Its call for a form of proportional representation to replace the first-past-the-post system in all elections is the very least that is needed to bring power closer to the people. The mismatch, so clear at the last election, between the distribution of votes cast and the representation of each party in Parliament is the most elementary deterrent to voting. In current circumstances it is a tribute to an enduring sense of civic responsibility that as many people vote as do.

Other welcome recommendations include caps on the permitted amount of private contributions to political parties, and state funding to support local party activity. A proposal that the right to propose legislation be extended to MPs and to interest groups outside Parliament could also increase the involvement of non-mainstream players. Linking individual participation in elections more closely to civics classes by lowering the voting and candidacy ages to 16 is a positive and forward-looking idea.

There is much else in this report that bears serious consideration. "Mapping" of quangos and other bodies, regular listing of ministerial meetings with business representatives and lobbyists, an independent national statistical agency and the statutory involvement of the public in decision-making by public bodies would all contribute to transparency - the lack of which currently fuels all manner of suspicions about the way in which government operates. A clear demarcation of powers and responsibilities between the executive and the legislature and between central and local government, as the report also recommends, is long overdue.

This is a hugely important report that should be considered and acted upon without delay. And while some parts could be implemented separately, it offers a clear and comprehensive blueprint for reform that deserves to be treated as a whole. The Government's sudden rediscovery of House of Lords reform as a priority this weekend may be a sign that it hopes to deflect attention from the many other aspects of this report by accepting a partially elected House of Lords. This would be to slide out of its wider responsibilities. Sympathetic MPs and peers must unite with the voting public to make sure that this does not happen.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn arrives to take part in a Labour party leadership final debate, at the Sage in Gateshead, England, Thursday, Sept. 3  

Jeremy Corbyn is here to stay and the Labour Party is never going to look the same again

Andrew Grice
Serena Williams  

As Stella Creasy and Serena Williams know, a woman's achievements are still judged on appearance

Holly Baxter
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones