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Friday 29 May 2009
Letters: Campaign for democracy
Fundamental flaw in the thinking of all the party leaders
The contributions from the three main party leaders and those from most of the "free-thinkers" suffer from the same fundamental flaw. They believe that the solution to the crisis is for "them" (the political class) to take the initiative in designing a package of reforms, or promises to consider reforms, which they can present to "us". "They" can do this as it is their right to give "us" whatever rights, liberties and privileges "they" consider "we" deserve. (A student of early 17th-century history would note the similarities in this mindset to that of James and Charles Stuart between 1603 and 1640, and be alarmed).
Just as the approach of the Stuart kings was doomed to fail in early 17th-century England, so the approach of the political class is doomed now. It does not address the need to put Britain's constitutional arrangements on a footing consistent with those needed for the UK to become a modern democratic polity, that is, one where political authority flows only from the people.
This requires a written constitution, which cannot come from an Act of Parliament, but from the deliberations of some other body. The body would then consider which matters were appropriate for constitutional protections and which were matters left outside.
Among its most important provisions would be that the constitution will place Parliament in the position of needing to act in line with it. So the keystone of the British constitutional arch would no longer be the supremacy of the Crown-in-Parliament, but would be the supremacy of the people set out in the Constitution. After the body has completed its deliberations, the body would place the constitution before the people for their approval in a plebiscite. Any future changes would also needed direct popular approval.
The key question is, how do we get this process started?
The three parties are competing about how they would reform parliament. Parliament must reform parliament. It should not be reformed by the party that wins the election and then controls the over-mighty executive, which itself is part of the problem. That means no party's manifesto must be the blueprint.
The reform must be effected by all main parties and a very large majority of members. So manifestoes should include an all-party modus operandi for reform. The election must not be fought on who's got the best reform of parliament. How can voters choose between reforms?
It's a serious matter: it needs at least a couple of years to research and consider and make decisions, then to implement. We can't have this reform decided largely by one political party through the ballot box in a few months.
What's happening is macho-management gone mad. The leaders are all competing like stallions for the mares. Why do we as a nation now always crave a strong man to decide huge and precious and difficult things in the space of a week? It's all about Alan Sugars, City managers, tough decisions, dynamic action, strong leadership; but that's the route to hype, "not fit for purpose", "dumbing down", quick fixes, Berlusconi, Putin and in extremis to Hitler. How different is Obama.
So David Cameron thinks that suddenly we will believe he intends genuine political reform? I'm sorry, but the Conservatives have been on the wrong side of any political reform for their entire history as a political party. The clue is in their name.
Mr Cameron may think that because he has proved more popular than his immediate incompetent predecessors as Tory leader he has acquired "street cred" but he is wrong. What has happened is that our political establishment and most of the media have swung behind this Blairite clone as the logical continuation of a right-wing consensus which has throttled reformist politics during the Labour years.
Cameron doesn't want to change anything significant. Yes, some slight changes at the edges might be vaguely considered but the big questions have already been ruled out. Labour and Conservatives have nothing to choose between them. Both have MPs fiddling their expenses and both share a right-wing agenda. Both support the pointless Trident II and both believe being the puppet of America makes Britain great.
Four basic points are required to begin genuine reform of Westminster: embrace genuine electoral reform because FPTP inevitably leads to untouchable, unreachable, unpopular government; abolish or elect the House of Lords; force MPs to drop all outside interests as soon as they enter parliament; and remove the oath that stops republicans from entering parliament.
David Cameron wants none of these, nor does Gordon Brown, so where's the difference between them?
There is an effusion of platitudes being spouted by our discredited MPs about "returning power to the people" and making the "political elite accountable to citizens". Two words will make these people revert to their self-serving type: "English Parliament".
The only reason Westminster MPs oppose an English Parliament is because it would put them all out of a job, just as the Scottish Parliament has made them all redundant in Scotland. The MPs with the smallest workload are those in Scotland, but many claim the largest expenses.
We need an immediate general election, then parliaments for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, to make us equal to the Scots. The UK Parliament can then be vastly reduced in the number of MPs, and funded by the devolved parliaments in a truly federal system.
For once a Government front-bencher has seen the light. Alan Johnson's statement that a referendum on proportional representation should be part of the modernisation of our political system gives some hope. It is sad that the Tory front bench base their opposition on the fear of a weak government and Italian political chaos.
How can a government opposed by 65 per cent of the electorate hold any legitimacy? How come Italy is always referred to in PR matters when most of mainland Europe seems to function and thrive under the PR system without having monthly or yearly elections?
If we wish to engage the voters, especially the young ones, to take an interest in our democracy, PR is a must. The threshold for obtaining parliamentary representation can be set at a level where only parties with significant national support will be represented. This will avoid single-cause protest parties but ensure any party with a significant national vote will be represented and scrutinised.
S U Sjolin
Bury ST Edmunds, Suffolk
Dr Stephen Leah (letters, 28 May) correctly points out that reducing the number of MPs will leave proportionally more MPs as ministers, bound to support the Government. As long as ministers also serve in the Commons, the Commons will provide no effective check on the executive. They are too entwined.
The solution is to appoint ministers from outside and from the Lords, with confirmation by the Commons. Any MP who becomes a minister, including the Prime Minister, must resign their seat. This, combined with fixed-length terms, will separate the branches, ending their cosy complicity.
Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire
Church must speak against the BNP
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have warned voters to resist the British National Party's ambitions presumably to make further inroads into those "few troubled towns in the north-west of England" which you mention (Leading article, 25 May).
As a minister of the United Reformed Church, in an area targeted by the BNP, I have written to the local press more than once because I do not wish to have the politics of hatred spoiling the initiatives for peace and inclusiveness where we live and work. How can people of conviction resist speaking out when it is so close to home?
Rev Peter Sharp
There are three reasons for the BNP website being apparently "more popular" than the Tory, Labour and Lib Dem sites. First, the big three have many local sites, MPs' sites, MEPs' sites and regional sites. The BNP doesn't. Add up all the regional sites and the BNP are not winning on the internet. Second, there are many independent blogs for followers of the big three, and fewer for BNP fans. Third, the nation's anti-racists (and journalists) do not go sniffing around on the Green Party's site, worrying that the fascists are on the rise.
Yes, I looked at their site myself; yes, I was there quite a while. No, I am not "open to persuasion" from those people; "not buying, just looking".
Moss Side, Manchester
Justice for the Orkney Council
I am unaccustomed to defending employees and officials of Orkney Islands Council, but your attack on their expenses (26 May) is unjust. You cite a trip to Easter Island as an extravagance. Given that sites in Orkney such as Skara Brae have World Heritage status that puts them on a par with Easter Island, a fact-finding trip to see how Easter Island is managed is not outlandish.
People who do not live on Orkney cannot appreciate how time-consuming travel can be if one does not fly. Unlike councillors in, to choose a random example, London, Orkney officials cannot travel to meetings in neighbouring authorities easily other than by plane.
This is not a luxury. Travel by boat is time-consuming in a way that no one would consider efficient, and any boat trip would subsequently have to be followed by a lengthy train or road trip. This is not sensible financially or time-wise. Try travelling to Orkney without flying.
Allan D Forrester
Now that British Airways has witnessed a significant falling-off of demand for flying (report, 23 May), is it not time that all the Government's plans for pointless airport expansion also fell off the edge of the runway?
Godfrey H Holmes
Here in the west of Norfolk, we would normally expect to hear the cuckoo every day at some point during the spring (report, 28 May), but this year I have heard him only once, calling at half-past midnight. I had never heard this before and it made me wonder if this solitary bird was so desperate for a mate that he was still calling at this unearthly hour. There was an eerie silence, broken only by this creature's plaintive call across the fen.
She's right and wrong
John Hawgood complaining about the reference to ships, countries and mountains as "she" (letters, 27 May) would have his work cut out writing letters to newspapers should he live in France, since everything is allocated a male or female gender in French. And in German the gender allocated to many things is not the same as that in French. But he might be content with "a young girl" in Germany being considered to be a neuter item (Das Mädchen).
Graham A Feakins
Integrity's the goal
Yet another sale of an English Football Club to a foreign owner, only three years after a sale to a Franco-Russian tycoon, who now says he does not have time to spend on the club (Sport, 28 May). The need for restrictions on foreign ownership of football clubs to avoid such instability as in the case of Portsmouth, promised by the World and European football governing bodies, has never been greater. Action rather than soothing words is needed, without further delay, to restore some integrity to football.
Professor Ian Blackshaw
The International Sports Law Centre, The Hague
Are the halcyon days of the once-powerful trade unions over, now that hundreds of businesses are either going to the wall or making massive redundancies, with the now toothless unions apparently unable to protect jobs any more?
Bridlington, East Yorkshire
Watch this space
Sorry to be pedantic, Dee Quinn, (letters, 27 May), but Helen Sharman was on a Soviet space station, so she was a cosmonaut, not an astronaut.
Like many, Alex James (Rural Notebook, 27 May) seems a little confused about cattle. Most of the beef we eat comes from castrated bulls. They are variously called bullocks or steers or stirks and, because of their emasculation, are usually fairly docile.
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