It is deeply to be wished that the national conversation will move to choices for democratic renewal over the next few weeks and months, or if not the national conversation then at least the online conversation. For when the campaign has been fought, we need an agenda. Brown is working on some risible National Five Year Tractor Plan which will no doubt sink without trace like all his other plans. We can ignore Brown. I offer the following as my own view on the choices that should be under consideration; this isn't a political manifesto, and these are cross-party constitutional issues:-
1. A Boundary Commission 'big bang' change - A Commons stabilised at around 550 seats, down from the current 646, for the UK would give an electoral quota of around 82,000 electors per constituency. Many English constituencies are already operating above this level - including the Isle of Wight at 108,000. Many Scots and Welsh constituencies are way below - the worst has only 22,000 electors. A universal electoral quota should apply across the UK, unlike the separate quotas for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as at present. See this post for more information. Changes should all be in place by the next-but-one Parliament - 2015 or so.
2. Fewer ministers and government jobs for MPs - One of the most pernicious effects of the corruption of Parliament by a political class who see politics as a 'profession' is the undignified scramble by MPs for place and position under government. The parties have created ever more government jobs as bribes to their own side, and to silence dissent in the House. Fewer jobs means a more independent Commons, and if government starts to devolve power should not be hard to implement.
3. End the guillotining of legislation - Ill-considered and rushed legislation is worse than no legislation at all. Both houses need time and resources to fully consider new Bills. The simpler the Bill, the less Parliamentary time it will need - a good check on a deeply corrupt civil service who now 'gold plate' every draft Bill with provisions that increase incrementally the power and control of the State.
4. Greater power and status for Select Committees - these should carry the real power and authority of the House. If MPs aspire to anything in the Commons, it should be a job on a select committee, not a ministerial post.
5. Increased Commons decision making over domestic and EU legislation - All EU legislation should be debated in the House, not hived off to an obscure committee that no-one has heard of. Fewer decisions should be delegated to ministers by Bills, the use of regulations (Statutory Instruments) should be curtailed and the issue of 'Statutory Guidance' by civil servants that effectively has the force of law should be stopped altogether.
6. Restore PM's questions to two fifteen minute sessions on Tuesday and Thursday - A single weekly appearance in the House by the PM is not enough. This signals not only greater accountability to MPs by the Executive, but 'pins' the PM to the Commons rather than to the news studio.
7. Constituency power to recall their MP - the bar should be set high enough to prevent frivolous or vexatious attempts at recall, but not so high that a cogent and compelling widespread loss of support for an MP by their constituents cannot be remedied. Despite California having had this power since 1911 they have only used it once - to dump the corrupt Gray Davis.
1. Proportional Representation - I still think first past the post is the most stable and sustainable electoral system. PR also leads to the anathema of closed party lists - the parties deciding the order in which their candidates will take seats, and deprives voters of a direct link to a local MP.
2. Fixed-term Parliaments - I'm deeply instinctively against these, despite the arguments that this would weaken a government's power. The aim of constitutional reform is not to create a strong Parliament and a weak government, but a strong Parliament and a strong government. Determining the date of an election is one of the power balancing factors that should remain with the government.
There. I think that's enough for now.