Darren Hughes: “Constitutional crisis shows Westminster system no longer fit for purpose”

Posted on the 5th September 2019

  • Statement for immediate release, 5th September 2019. 

In an opinion piece published today [1], ERS Chief Executive Darren Hughes argues the current constitutional crisis is down to Westminster’s ‘broken’ political set-up – with a voting system that fails to translate people’s views into representation, and an unelected second chamber.

Calling for a citizens’ assembly on Britain’s constitution, Mr Hughes writes:

“The current constitutional crisis is just part of the wider picture: a political system that is not fit for purpose.

“Two hundred years since the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester saw people die for the right to vote, the majority of our lawmakers remain unelected, thanks to the bloated and unaccountable House of Lords.

“It is a chamber that is home to nearly 800 members that nobody voted for, 92 of whom are there on a hereditary basis – with a lifetime ticket to make our laws for no reason beyond their ancestry.

“The outcome of our politics, the laws that we make and the very people who get to decide on them are all dictated by the system we have – and as it’s become clear, a major cause of our current predicament.

“Our voting system is in dire need of reform. Westminster’s ‘first-past-the-post’ elections see millions of votes wasted at every polling day. Because only one person wins in each of the 650 seats – and all other votes are ignored – millions of people across the country go without real representation in Parliament.

“Too often political reform has been seen as a distraction from other political issues. As we’re now seeing, the rules of the game have an absolutely pivotal impact on the policies that affect us all.

“There are just better ways of doing politics. We’ve recently seen a rise in interest in Citizens’ Assemblies – forums that bring together a representative group of citizens to engage in open, respectful and informed discussion and debate, over complex issues beyond the adversarial politics we see in Westminster. They then come to conclusions.

“Ideas like this could help bring people together to tackle the problems we see today and help us with the concrete plans we need for long-term reform. This current political crisis shows why our system is no longer fit for purpose.

“The outcome of our politics, the laws that we make and the very people who get to decide on them are all dictated by the system we have – and as it’s become clear, a major cause of our current predicament.

“The political culture at Westminster can be absolutely toxic. We’re all tired of the yah boo, binary mentality that presents people working together as a betrayal and talks of political difference as somehow traitorous. The mantra of ‘we won, you lost’ belongs on the football pitch, not our democratic institutions.

“To move on means not just toning-down our divisive political rhetoric, but changing how we act, too. That must include overhauling the Commons’ winner-takes-all voting system, and the unelected Lords.

“The more fairly-elected governments of Wales and Scotland are used to working across parties to find solutions, and increasingly, involving citizens directly in political decision-making. Westminster is lagging behind.

“This is a pivotal time in our country’s history. It’s easy to point the finger at politicians for the mess we’re in, but look closer and you’ll see it is our whole political system that is to blame.

“It’s no surprise that only four per cent of people feel able to influence decisions in Parliament; according to polling for the Electoral Reform Society, they are locked out.

“It’s about time all sides of this debate were heard. We can see the cause of the problems, now let’s fight for reform to fix them.

“One solution: a Citizens’ Assembly on our constitution to help find consensus on a way forward and to make recommendations to prevent governments going rogue in future.

“Because we’re not simply ‘defending’ our flawed democracy as it currently is, but demanding a better one.”


[1] https://metro.co.uk/2019/09/05/our-outdated-political-system-is-to-blame-for-whats-happening-in-parliament-10678207/

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