Many years ago I signed up to a document by the name of Charter 88 which called for a new constitutional settlement which would:
- Enshrine, by means of a Bill of Rights, such civil liberties as the right to peaceful assembly, to freedom of association, to freedom from discrimination, to freedom from detention without trial, to trial by jury, to privacy and to freedom of expression.
- Subject executive powers and prerogatives, by whomsoever exercised, to the rule of law.
- Establish freedom of information and open government.
- Create a fair electoral system of proportional representation.
- Reform the upper house to establish a democratic, non-hereditary second chamber.
- Place the executive under the power of a democratically renewed parliament and all agencies of the state under the rule of law.
- Ensure the independence of a reformed judiciary.
- Provide legal remedies for all abuses of power by the state and the officials of central and local government.
- Guarantee an equitable distribution of power between local, regional and national government.
- Draw up a written constitution, anchored in the idea of universal citizenship, that incorporates these reforms.
All thing which you would expect to see in a mature democracy. However, over the year there has only been slow progress towards some of these aims, but at the same time there has been an increasing centralisation of power. The first past the post system has led to a situation where for most people their vote makes very little difference unless they live in a “key marginal” constancy. The two big parties spend large sums of money to run expensive poster campaigns in these key marginal. To run these campaigns they rely on large donations from a few individuals and the support of a few senior media editors and owners. Our so called leaders are becoming increasingly remote from we the people.
Maybe it was always so, but there was a time when people were far more engaged with the political process and felt they had so influence on it. In the last century the power of the squirearchy was broken by electoral reform, by giving the vote to the people, the universal franchise, thereby giving them power and their using it. However, that time has long gone there has been a constant drop in the number of people voting in elections and a loss of support for political parties, general signs of a failing democracy. What we desperately need is a change to a fairer electoral system, to a system of proportional representation.
Now suddenly the prime minister wants a referendum on changing the electoral system. OK so his preferred system “alternative vote” is far from ideal and this can be seen as a cynical attempt to hang on to power, but it is a sign of progress. It is a small step in the right direction, but not a substitute for a fully-fledged proportional system. So why are the Tories opposing it? What are they afraid of, that we may start moving towards a true democracy, where the people can actually have a real say? Every constancy should be a key marginal, not parachuting in of candidates with patronage into safe seats. So come on what are you so afraid of? Why the fear of giving the people the freedom to decide? We want a meritocracy, not mediocrity. We need Proportional Representation for the health of our democracy.