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Pam Giddy: Conservatives should play a full role in the public debate on democratic renewal

Picture 12 Pam Giddy is the Director of POWER2010.

The Government’s deathbed commitment to electoral reform reveals just how bankrupt our politics has become. A major constitutional change, flung into the pre-election cycle for no reason but to cause problems for the Opposition. If this is how our politics is reformed, little wonder it – and its practitioners – have sunk so low in the public’s esteem.

And what’s there to look forward to? In Wednesday’s Telegraph, David Cameron wrote:

“When it comes to the things we ask from politics, there is a sense that the system is self-serving, not serving us.”

True, not serving “us”, David – but sure enough serving you. It’s a sorry state of affairs that the reform David Cameron chose to promote in response to Gordon Brown’s proposals is to cut the number of MPs by 10%. 10% less abusing of the public’s trust, fine; now Mr Cameron, what about the other 90%?

Cutting the size of Parliament is OK but should not be the focal point of Conservative policy for democratic renewal. Other proposals lie in the Conservative armoury such as strengthening select committees and increasing the number of free votes. In POWER2010’s Deliberative Poll last month these two proposals received resounding support from a gathered microcosm of the population, given sufficient time and information to understand the proposals they debated; meanwhile, support for Brown’s Alternative Vote actually fell over the two days from 43% to 36%!  The public deserve real representatives, with the power and independence to defend their interests against a colossal executive, not just fewer of them.

This would be a step in the right direction. But democratic renewal is about more than the changes we’d make to politics, it's also about how we make them. Where is the robust and sustained Conservative engagement in public discussion, debate and consultation? Mr Cameron’s article continued:

“The truth is that people don’t want a new voting system.”

A bold assertion - but is there not a discussion to be had here? The Deliberative Poll drew up a shortlist of 29 ideas to reform British politics and to renew British democracy, these ideas are now open in a public vote where a move to a more proportional voting system is currently in the lead with over 5,500 supporters.

People in the UK are now hungry to make a real change, and not just in the suits that line the Government benches. The expenses scandal, while terrible for the reputation of Parliament, was simply the final nail in a coffin and with the burial of an old politics an opportunity presents itself for the birth of a new. This cannot be given by tribal politicians, squeezed onto the back pages of their manifestos, unless their parties truly engage in public debate. The way to ensure this is for people themselves to take back power, reassert their authority and express their needs and aspirations.

POWER2010 aims to do just this. It starts with what the people want our democracy to look like, not what Westminster wonks and party hacks think will wrong-foot the opposition. Anyone can vote in POWER2010’s online poll for ideas that will make politicians directly answerable to the people they are elected to serve and represent - ideas like a right of recall, which would allow voters to get rid of disgraced MPs caught cheating and fiddling without having to wait up to five years to do it; ideas like expanding the Freedom of Information Act which would enhance transparency and put an end to the sleaze and secrecy that degrades public life.

Come February 22nd, the top five reforms will form a pledge that, together, local constituents will invite their candidates to sign up to. Already Conservative contributions like a fixed term parliament, an idea floated by Mr Cameron at the height of the expenses crisis last year sit high at number four on the leaderboard as a step towards a mature rule-bound democracy – all that remains is for the Conservative party to catch up.

This is a window for the Conservatives to truly enter the fray of public debate on democratic renewal, following the lead of groups like the TaxPayers' Alliance, the Tory Reform Group and the Countryside Alliance. At the end we’ll see a people’s set of proposals for democratic renewal and a force to make the political classes listen up. Real power lies at the grassroots, the people of Britain will have their say and be represented.


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