The Steamie

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Caron's Musings: Where the Parties stand on Political Reform

Political reform was the theme of the day today as David Cameron and Gordon Brown responded to Nick Clegg's speech on the subject. This includes issues like cleaning up party funding, so that parties aren't beholden to any paymaster. The Labour Party is bankrolled to the tune of millions by the Trade Unions. As for the Tories,I find it bizarre that a political party in a modern democracy is comfortable with allowing one of its major donors to hold high office within the party and to sit, unelected, in our Parliament when he is domiciled in Belize for tax purposes.

There have been some all party talks going on since 2007 to try to iron out a way forward on party funding, the Hayden Phillips talks. Recently published minutes show that neither Labour nor the Tories were willing to cut their ties to their respective paymasters, something that Nick Clegg raised with Gordon Brown at the last PMQs of this Parliament yesterday.

Gordon Brown announced what he called "the most comprehensive programme of constitutional reform for a century". A century ago, we were on the verge of the introduction of the Parliament Act which directly came out of Tory Lords refusing to pass the Liberal Government's People's Budget of 1909 which started the process of introducing the Old Age Pension. The bland package announced by Brown today tinkers at the edges - fixed term parliaments, and, get this, a referendum on a mild change to the voting system (which they had themselves dropped in Parliament hours before) and getting rid of hereditary peers. Labour seems to forget that it got a fairly whopping mandate in 1997 for an elected House of Lords - and didn't bother to do anything about it. And Brown was very wrong when he said this was the greatest reform in a century. I reckon women getting the vote was a bit more of a game changer myself.

What I find interesting about Labour is that it's generally considered changes to the way Westminster runs as something to be held at arms length, at the end of a very long spoon which you only use when you go to sup with the Devil. Anything that gives away real power from the centre is regarded by them with great distrust. However, it seems to me that the reason for Labour's interest in political reform is because they want to win back Liberal minded voters who left them for the Liberal Democrats over the Iraq war. That's right. It's a cynical, politically opportunist move generated by data from focus groups. End of.

Oh - I forgot to say that Labour also want to stop MPs lobbying. If you're wondering why, google "Stephen Byers cab."

As for the Tories, bless them, they've decided they want to give people the right to sack corrupt MPs. If they're so committed to that idea, why did they not vote for it when the Liberal Democrats proposed it in Parliament? They want a "mainly elected" second chamber. Oh, and they want to cut the number of MPs by 10%. That seems to be that. This is the party that had to be dragged kicking and screaming to accept the devolution that Scotland and Wales desperately wanted. By their nature, they don't really want to change the old established power. Anything you hear from them on political reform is from a desire to be seen walking the walk and is only skin deep. They will reform as little as they can get away with.

As for the SNP, as far as I can see, they don't have a policy for reforming Westminster. Their 2005 manifesto (remember that snappy title If Scotland matters to you make it matter in May) is silent on these issues. I can't imagine this year's will be any different - if it's not independence they don't want to know. Yet another reason they are irrelevant in this election in Scotland.

Finally, we Lib Dems are for fixed term Parliaments, real proper Single Transferable Vote which gives maximum power to voter, minimum power to party machine and will breathe new life into our political system, transparent and open party funding, giving people the right to sack corrupt MPs and a fully elected House of Lords. Thing is, when I first got involved in politics during the 1983 election, all but the sacking of corrupt MPs were our policies then. And they weren't new ideas 26 years ago. The principles of decentralisation, giving power to people, increasing the legitimacy of Parliament, stopping the Government manipulating constitutional matters to its advantage - all that is in our DNA as Liberal Democrats. Nick didn't make up these policies on the back of a fag packet after listening to a focus group - it's part of what the Liberal Democrats and predecessor parties have always stood for.

His speech today outlined these issues and again emphasised how the real choice in this election is between the Liberal Democrats and those pesky Labservatives.

He raised this issue at the last PMQs of the Parliament amidst a cacophany of catcalls, with the occasional crash of toys being thrown out of prams and the popping sound of dummies being spat out, on both Labour and Conservative benches in the Kindergarten of Commons. "You've failed. It's over. It's time to go." he said to Cameron as much as Brown. Amen to that.

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