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Guy Aitchison: Real reform of the Lords means giving ownership back to the people

Friday 05 March 2010 01:00 GMT

David Cameron certainly knows how to stay one step ahead of the news agenda. Launching his draft manifesto on "Fixing our broken politics" last month, he warned of the "next big scandal waiting to happen" which has tainted our politics for too long: the issue of transparency and the "far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money".

Fast-forward a few weeks and the Tory leadership is frantically distancing itself from its deputy chairman and largest donor, Lord Ashcroft, following the billionaire businessman's admission that he is a "non-dom" who has been avoiding UK tax. Cameron's failure to apply his rhetoric to his own party is striking, and this scandal distils precisely what's wrong with our democracy.

A non-elected plutocrat making laws and bankrolling elections, whilst refusing to pay taxes towards the society whose politics he aims to shape and influence. Typically, most of the media speculation has been around whether "dom-gate" will harm the Tories' election chances and tip the balance in favour of Labour now that the polls are narrowed. But the real victim of this saga will not be any one party, but our politics and democracy as a whole which sinks even further into the gutter in the public's eyes.

Both Brown and Cameron talk a good game when it comes to "restoring trust" but their proposals for reform are vague and cosmetic and lack credibility from leaders who so obviously fail to live up to the democratic values they preach. Yes, as a bare minimum, let us make sure people who make laws pay tax, but let's also clean out the whole rotten system, replacing the appointed cronies and aristocrats in the Lords with a properly elected and accountable second chamber.

From "cash-for-peerages" to "cash-for-amendments", to the outrage of non-dom donors, how many scandals will it take involving the Lords before the place is reformed?

The scandal and sleaze we've become accustomed to in public life must not become an excuse to switch off and disengage. Instead, we should build the anger and energy into a positive movement for reform. It's only once people feel ownership of our politics and have the power to make a difference that trust can truly be restored.

Guy Aitchison campaigns for Power2010

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