Leading Labour figures and democracy campaigners have urged the Labour party to get behind major political reform, following the launch of a new party-commissioned roadmap for constitutional change.
A newly launched internal Labour party report, ‘Remaking the State’, set outs proposals for a new federal arrangement for the UK, intended to move power out of Westminster.
It comes as debate grows across all parties for a new relationship between the nations and regions – and for an overhaul of the centralised political system at Westminster. A poll for the Electoral Reform Society at the end of 2019 showed that just one in six people believe Westminster is working well, and only 2% of people feel they have a significant influence over decision-making.
The report – more than two years in the making – lays out in over 200 pages options for moving to a federal relationship between the nations and regions of the UK, replacing the Lords with a proportionally-elected Senate of the Nations and Regions, and backing the principle of proportional representation for the Commons. The report backs extensive devolution within England and greater, enshrined autonomy for the nations of the UK.
Pressure is growing on the Labour leadership from all sides to back policies that will empower the public, with a stronger say for local communities and for democratising both houses of Parliament. The vast majority of votes go effectively ignored each election under Westminster’s one-party-takes-all voting system, while the Lords remains entirely unelected. Last year saw the launch of a new group – backed by the ERS and many others – called Labour for a New Democracy. It is growing quickly and pushing for real reform.
Groups including the Electoral Reform Society, the Compass think tank, and soft-left group Open Labour have urged the Labour leadership to take note of the report, and commit to key principles for reform, including proportional representation.
Labour is currently in the process of establishing a ‘constitution commission’ to lay out proposals for spreading ‘power, wealth and opportunity’ outside of Westminster, but campaigners want to see clear commitment to ambitious democratic change.
The Conservatives are also exploring the relationship between the nations of the UK through the yet-to-be-published Dunlop review. The Conservative manifesto pledged to ‘look at the broader aspects of our constitution’, including the ‘role of the House of Lords’.
Welcoming the ‘Remaking the State’ report, Kieron O’Neill, co-chair of Open Labour, said: “It’s good this report is seeing the light of day. Labour has to go into next election offering an overhaul of how we do politics.
“The report is encouraging, but it is only the first step – this is part of wider discussion of the movement about how we’re going to take power out of Westminster and Whitehall.
“There has to be a senate of the nations and regions elected by proportional representation, and we need to the change voting system, for a House of Commons elected by PR.
“An obvious next step is the party adopting policy at conference in favour of proportional representation and changing the voting system. The movement needs to come together and agree programme of reform, then offer it to people at the next election. That’s the only way to win” he added.
Willie Sullivan, Senior Director at the ERS, also called for Labour to reflect on the report. He said: “Politics in the UK too often feels like a London-dominated private member’s club, with citizens locked out.
“We welcome a debate in Labour and across parties on what can be done to empower the public and bolster our democracy. From an unelected House of Lords, to the fact that most votes go ignored each election, there is much that needs to be done to revitalise our politics and give everyone a real say. That means all parties need to get serious about the corrosive crisis of trust in our politics.”
Nancy Platts, from the trade-union linked (and ERS-backed) Politics for the Many campaign said the report was an important contribution to the debate on Britain’s constitutional future. “It’s clear that Westminster isn’t working, with politics super-centralised. Voters feel powerless and locked out, unheard not just between elections but often at the ballot box too.
“The whole Labour movement should look at these proposals on how to move power out of the centre through a proportionally-elected Senate of the Nations, and with a clear principle that Commons seats should match how people actually vote,” she said.
A major YouGov study in December also revealed far-reaching discontent with how democracy is working in the UK.
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